Every franchise organization has a culture, the same way every person has a personality. If your franchise brand is serious about growth and development, ask yourself these two questions: 1) Does our franchise system have a strong, positive culture?; and 2) Is it a culture that promotes selling franchises?
If you answered "No" to either (or both) questions, you've just uncovered major issues hindering your ability to sell franchises. The good news is that you can turn things around and supercharge your franchise sales.
Whether you manage a new or a growing franchise organization, you might be asking, What exactly is corporate culture, and how do I know if it's strong and positive? To answer that, ask yourself these questions: What is the vision of my company, and What is our core set of values and beliefs?
If you can't answer right away, this could be a sign of trouble. Every stakeholder in the organization should know the answers to these questions. Does your senior management team know? What about your corporate employees? Your franchisees? Your franchisees' employees? Your suppliers? And what about your customers? In franchise systems with strong corporate cultures, everyone in the organization understands the vision, values, and beliefs of the company.
It's important not to confuse culture with mood. Culture is systemic to an organization, something ingrained within the organization that doesn't change from one day to the next. Mood is the euphoria people feel, for example, when they leave your conferences after attending a motivational presentation. Mood is not permanent.
A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a prospective client before their franchise conference. They were having major problems in their organization. Franchisees were very upset: they felt neglected, and had felt this way for many years. After the conference, when we continued the conversation, the client assured me that the conference went very well, and that people were now feeling so good that they no longer had a problem.
I understood how he felt. With all the excitement and energy generated at the conference, attendees left motivated and enthusiastic. Unfortunately, habits don't change quickly; and when the mood wears off, attendees usually return to how they felt before the conference.
Remember, culture is not mood. Culture is critical to an organization. It can take years to build, and even more years to change. If you have a strong, positive culture, the good news is that you have built something that will be hard to undo. Conversely, if you have a negative culture, it will take a lot of effort and time to change it. Don't expect one great conference to change everything. Yes, one great conference is a good start, but it's only a start.
When you create a strong, positive corporate culture, it means that everyone in your organization understands the mission and vision of the organization, and that they are working in unison toward that goal. When I say everybody understands, that means all of your stakeholders, which includes your franchisees and all of their employees. It also means that your customers get it. And while they may not "get it" in the same sense someone directly affiliated with your organization does, they feel its impact in each transaction they make with your brand, or whenever they see your stores, logo, and marketing.
There's an incredible charge when people in your organization have a common purpose and goals. When you think about companies with strong corporate cultures, you'll instantly understand what I mean. Think of the experience you expect and anticipate when you go to Walt Disney World. The same holds whenever you walk into a McDonald's or buy an Apple product.
I know what might be thinking: This isn't an article about culture, but an article about the power of a brand. In some ways that's true, because a company's brand is really a reflection of its culture. Culture is what builds the brand - it's not the other way around. Great advertising is not what made Disney successful - it was the company's true belief in its mission and vision that created the experience we know and expect from Disney.
I believe there is a lot of confusion around creating a brand. Most people believe a brand is created with the help of great marketing. The reality, however, is that the most important part of creating a brand is first creating a great culture in the organization. People who can feel or sense a company's culture understand the difference between a fake and a real brand experience. A real brand experience is one in which the marketing reflects the reality of the experience. If the marketing sets an expectation that isn't matched by the experience, it will, by nature, fail.
So, how does a strong culture sell franchises? People gravitate toward companies with strong, positive cultures; people like being around others who are passionate and who have a shared goal. Similarly, prospective franchisees look for organizations that have a strong, positive culture. While they may not ever ask direct questions related to your organization's culture, they are, on some level, trying to determine exactly what it is. When a prospective franchisee speaks with current franchise owners, they're listening for passion, and for commitment to the organization and its vision; and when they speak with franchise employees, they're looking for the same thing.
When a prospective franchisee fails to find a great culture, they don't buy. You can attempt to make sweeping changes to the structure of your management team or to an entire department to positively affect your franchise sales results - but if you don't have a strong, positive culture it won't make much difference. If you've ever sat back and said, "It's such a great concept, I just don't understand why prospective franchisees don't get it," perhaps you need to examine your culture. It's easy for senior management to understand your organization's culture, but if you want to expand the brand it must filter through the entire organization.
Next month we'll examine how to create a strong, positive culture - specifically, how to create a culture that helps sell franchises.
Evan Hackel is principal at Ingage Consulting (ingageconsulting.com). He can be reached at 781-569-5900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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