This article will address one of the hottest issues in franchising today: how to get franchisee buy-in and commitment to change. A common myth about introducing change into a franchise system is that if you are well-organised and spell out what needs to be done, franchisees will just get on with it.
The reality is that introducing change can be tiring, frustrating and confusing. Often the questions, let alone the answers, are not clear-cut and franchisees may have different perceptions from their franchisor about what is important, what is right and what is appropriate.
Indeed, franchising is full of paradoxes. One that always makes me smile is when I hear a franchisor say something like, “I wish our franchisees would be more entrepreneurial and take more initiative,” followed by, “And if they would also just comply with our system it would save them and us a lot of headaches!”
The dictionary defines a paradox as a statement or proposition that seems to contradict itself or be absurd, and yet to express a truth. The human mind doesn’t like paradoxes. The mind likes certainty and consistency. Paradoxes push us out of our comfort zones and force us to hold two apparently contradictory ideas at once.
One of the most challenging paradoxes for both franchisors and franchisees is the need to balance stability and consistency with constant innovation and change.
All businesses today face the challenge of keeping up with new technology, greater competition from globalisation and a more finicky customer who wants things faster, better and cheaper.
Franchise networks are not immune to these pressures. To be successful they need to continuously update and change their franchise operating and marketing systems. This is a message that most franchisees do not want to hear as it inevitably means additional cost, as well as additional risk should the changes not deliver the desired results.
As well as these commercial considerations there is a less understood, but very real, emotional cost of change. For instance, it may mean that the business a franchisee bought into is different to the one they will be running in the future. Understandably this will raise concerns in some cases, especially if a revised business model requires a franchisee to engage in new types of work or activities.
Most people find change a drain, especially if they feel they have little control over decisions that impact on them.
This brings us to an important distinction, as there are actually two types of change. The first is the change we choose, the change we feel we have some control over. For instance, taking a holiday, buying a business, deciding what clothes to wear or looking for a new place to live. Most people find this type of change to be interesting, motivating and exciting.
The second type of change is the change that chooses us. This is where we find ourselves being told to do something different or where we feel we have no choice because of forces outside our control. This type of change is, at best, challenging but is more often experienced as scary, demotivating, frustrating and, in some situations, depressing. Indeed, when people on the receiving end of change are asked to express how they feel, they usually describe it as an intensely unpleasant experience.
Because franchisors are usually the people driving the changes to a franchise system they are more often experiencing the first type of change. In other words they are choosing the change. On the other hand, franchisees are typically on the receiving end and will thus be experiencing the second type of change where the change is choosing them.
It is not surprising to find that during a change programme the franchisor team are excited, enthusiastic and motivated while the franchisees are simultaneously suspicious, fearful and resentful. Franchisors who don’t recognise the difference between the two types of change find this reaction by franchisees difficult to understand.
There are a number of practical things that franchisors can do to encourage their franchisees to support a change programme. For instance, if they fail to recognise and accommodate the legitimate needs and concerns of their franchisees the change will at best achieve little and at worst cause a backlash that will undermine all the hard work that has been put in to date.
Here are the most common mistakes we see franchisors make when introducing changes to their franchise systems.
Given the fundamental shifts occurring at many levels of our society, it would be difficult for a business to stay relevant to customers without introducing ongoing changes to its products, services or operating systems.
The big question facing franchisors and franchisees would thus appear to be not “Should we change?” but “How can we best change so that everyone that has to make this work is on board?”