I just returned from the Multi-Unit Franchising Conference in Las Vegas and, compared with the other industry conferences I've addressed so far this year, it was a welcome breath of fresh air.
At other industry group presentations this year, attendance numbers were off (one conference was even cancelled at a tremendous cost to the organizer) and the prevailing mood at all of them could best be characterized as an oppressive atmosphere of economic uncertainty and pessimistic forecasts. Not so with the Multi-Unit Franchising Conference group of movers and shakers. Attendance was up and there was an energizing air of cautious optimism. There was a clear consensus that this group sees this particular economic scenario as a time of tremendous opportunity.
In my particular area of expertise (employee recruiting, selection, and retention), people wanted to know how to take advantage of the situation to ensure only the best players are on their teams. Many are already in the process of looking at every single employee and deciding whether to keep them, cut them, and/or to bring in fresh talent from the overflowing labor pool. We talked quite a bit too about all the great management talent that's been freed up by layoffs in the retail, hospitality, and restaurant worlds and agreed that while almost anyone can learn your industry and system, people with a talent for getting the best and most out of others are a rare find. It's a great time to forget about hiring for industry experience and to hire for management talent and skills instead.
At an operations level, many of those in attendance had been in the "find me a warm body, desperation-hiring mode" for years--especially when it came to the front-line, hourly employees responsible for delivering the brand. Now, these employers are being overwhelmed with applicants and scrambling to put systems in place to quickly identify the best and sort out the rest.
The large number of unemployed is also the reason all types of employment lawsuits are on the rise. Desperate applicants are doing desperate things. Applicants who are being rejected are filing suit for any reason they can find. (A common, costly misstep is to tell someone they have too much experience. If the applicant is over 45 or 50, they could easily claim age discrimination.)
So, now, more than ever, you need to make sure that the people who are doing the screening and/or hiring are doing everything by the book. Make sure they are trained and that they do not ask any questions that can get you in trouble, things like: "What year did you graduate from high school?" or "This job requires a lot of heavy lifting. Will you be able to do that?" or "Have you ever been injured on the job?"
In general, there was a lot of talk about the need for "flawless execution" on all levels and how superior customer service is a requirement to even be in the game today. I heard about a number of new training initiatives designed to make sure all employees can deliver on these concepts.
If you ever saw Mel Brooks's classic movie, The Producers, you may remember the scene where Zero Mostel shouts at Gene Wilder, "You're an accountant. Account for yourself!" It kept coming to mind because the most interesting new, hot topic at the conference was "accountability." In light of the soap opera that's played out in the financial markets and among the Big Three in Detroit, this isn't a surprise. Where uncertainty is heightened by the anonymity of those responsible for this economic fiasco, it is interesting how the "moral" of these stories has been discerned by, and has actually influenced, the thinking of these entrepreneurs and their managers.
There's a real, corrective push to hold people strictly accountable for their areas of responsibility. New measurement and tracking tools are being developed and everyone's looking at ways to eliminate any assumptions or systems or chains of command that might cause anyone to think, "That's not my job."
So, overall, it was an upbeat, positive experience. And because the majority of America's workers are employed by the kinds of small businesses these conference attendees represent, I'd say all these signs bode well for our economic future. Let's hope this good news travels fast.
Mel Kleiman is an internationally recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker on strategies for hiring and retaining the best hourly employees and their managers. He is president of Humetrics, a leading developer of training processes and tools for recruiting, selecting, and retaining the best hourly workforce. He is also the author of five books, including the best-selling Hire Tough, Manage Easy. You can reach him at 713-771-4401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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