Are You Listening? Listening is the fuel that powers great franchises
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Are You Listening? Listening is the fuel that powers great franchises

Are You Listening?  Listening is the fuel that powers great franchises

Ask a room full of 100 of your franchise owners to name their biggest frustration with your franchise company, and I am willing to wager that at least 70 will answer: “They just don’t listen to us.”

Terrible, right? But is it really so terrible they said that? I don’t believe it is. Because if that many think you aren’t listening, you can effect a huge increase in their satisfaction by doing just one thing. And that thing is listening. They told you what they want. And then you deliver it. How powerful is that? 

What an opportunity! You don’t have to hire an expensive consultant to identify areas of dissatisfaction among your owners. You don’t have to take them on a retreat and spend days surveying them and holding focus groups. They’ve told you what they want: for you to listen! Now you just have to do that.

Improving your ability to listen

If I were writing this article for a group of general, non-franchise business owners, I’d recommend they learn some basic skills to improve their listening. I’d advise them to stop interruptive listening (when people start to formulate an answer while a speaker is still talking.) 

I also recommend something I’ve developed called “ingaged” listening. This is listening for what is not what is when another is speaking. After hearing and identifying kernels of wisdom in what the speaker has said, you work with them to amplify and develop the ideas they have given you.

The problem within franchise systems, as you know, is that a number of structural barriers prevent regular, one-on-one interactions between members of the parent company and individual franchisees. In many franchises, conversations between franchisees and executives from the parent company are infrequent, inconvenient, and maybe even uncomfortable. How much good will excellent listening do if you hardly ever get to talk with franchisees? 

So before you practice enlightened listening, you must build some structural bridges between management and franchisees. What can those bridges be? I’d like to recommend one that I’ve used and know works.

Establish franchise councils

These are groups of franchise owners who meet regularly, every 6 months or annually if possible, to help make decisions that steer the entire franchise. (I have just authored a book on the importance of franchise councils that will soon be published by Ingage Consulting.)

So how should your franchise council work? Here are some best practices.

  • Don’t only bring your council completed plans you’ve developed. The purpose of the council is to actively develop new ideas, not to rubber stamp ideas from headquarters. Turn people loose in general meetings, let them present their biggest ideas, and capture those ideas on a whiteboard. Then develop those ideas in the general meeting or by assigning them to task forces of council members.
  • Remember, your franchise council isn’t a voting body. They are there to put on their thinking caps and participate formulating plans. Voting is not the same thing as communicating and listening.
  • Encourage franchisees to meet and interact in breakout sessions where executives from the central office are not present. This may seem to run against the theme of this article, which is to improve listening skills. How can you listen to your franchisees if you aren’t even in the room? Of course, you can’t. But when you keep top executives out of the room, you demonstrate a high level of trust, and that encourages franchisees to introduce topics they might not if management is in the room. When you let franchisees meet in autonomous groups, you’re also encouraging them to connect with each other as mentors, as expert sources of information, and even as friends. If you do this, your entire franchise will become energized and engaged.
  • Create sub-councils to focus on issues such as marketing, technology, training, and branding. If you divide your main council into these sub-groups and turn them loose, the insights they develop will surprise you. 
  • Don’t compensate council members. Doing so sends the wrong message. Members are there to make a personal, committed contribution to your organization, not for compensation. 
  • Rotate membership. Because the purpose of your council is to support the flow of new ideas, consider appointing members for a limited term. One year works well. How do you select new members? Current council members can recommend potential new members. Or if your franchise is small, members can be appointed from headquarters. Regularly bring in new members, and their fresh new perspectives and ideas.
  • Continue to communicate. Send email advisories or newsletters with information about how their ideas are being developed and used. Send surveys and questionnaires that solicit ideas and feedback throughout the year. Continue to breathe fresh life into your council so it will remain vibrant and effective.

How will it work?

This depends on the number of franchise owners, the size of your council, the geographic distribution of your members, and other factors. If you have a council of 25 members or more, try to bring them to a central location. Your franchise should pay for travel and accommodations. 

Even though we live in a time when video meetings are the norm, in-person council gatherings at least once a year send a message that serving on the council isn’t just another meeting. Your council should be a place where franchise owners are listened to and their ideas are heard. What a difference that can make in the overall success of your franchise!

Evan Hackel, a 35-year franchising veteran, is CEO of Tortal Training and principal and founder of Ingage Consulting. He is a speaker, author, and host of “Training Unleashed,” a podcast covering training for business. Contact him at evanspeaksfranchising.com, follow him at @ehackel, or call 781-820-7609.

Published: February 12th, 2023

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