Why the Soft Side of Business is the Hardest

I’ve just returned from our second Advanced Field Manager Bootcamp in Brisbane. The openness of people to learn and grow has been inspiring. Yesterday, we had Steve LeFever as one of our guest mentors. Steve, an international expert in franchising financials, was explaining to the 38 field managers in the room why they need to understand how to help franchisees improve their profitability. He passionately made the following point. “When franchisees are making money, they are happier, and when they are happier they complain less. And when they complain less it makes your life easier!”

This is one of those basic truths in franchising. But it’s not the whole story. Just as we need the two sides of our brain to function effectively, your field managers also need strong human relations skills to be effective in their role. Some people refer to this as the hard and the soft skills of business.

Execution eats strategy for breakfast

If the truth be known, the soft side of business is actually the hardest to master. How often have you unintentionally offended someone, who then kindly reciprocated by intentionally undermining you? How often have you failed to communicate effectively with a group so they thought you were trying to hurt them, when you were actually trying to help them?  How often have you been unable to get someone to do something you absolutely knew would be great for their business?  These failures to master the human relations side of business are common and costly to both franchisors and franchisees. In around 80% of cases where new initiatives fail to achieve their objectives, it is not due to poor strategy, it is due to a lack of trust or low commitment by the people who have to implement the strategy. It’s why experienced CEOs say “execution eats strategy for breakfast”.

If you want franchisees to support a strategy, they need to firstly trust in the logic of what you are asking of them. While it helps if you can prove it will save them time or make them money, most will appreciate that not all investments produce immediate returns. Franchisees also need to believe that what you are asking of them is fair. Nothing undermines trust like feeling we are being exploited or that others are benefiting unfairly from our hard work or sacrifice. This expectation of fairness is part of our human genetic code because fair play is essential for communities to function effectively. It helps if a franchisor can demonstrate they are sharing the risk or contributing in some way to a costly investment.

Trust is a must but it’s just the beginning

Finally franchisees need to have confidence you’ve told them the whole story. Transparency in the “what and why” of your strategy is essential for creating trust. This also applies to the personal level. The more we feel we know someone the more we feel we can trust them. One of the simplest but most powerful trust building exercises I use when working with groups is to get people to share something personal about themselves.

While trust is a must it is not enough in itself. If a franchisee believes your strategy is a good idea you may have their trust. But it is only when they agree to take action that you have their commitment. And without commitment you have a failed strategy. We will take up the drivers of commitment in a later Tip.

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