This article appeared in Issue 3#4 (May/June 2009) of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand
There are many factors involved in franchisee success. Some due to the franchisee, others to external factors such as the support they receive from their franchisor.
Here at the Franchise Relationships Institute, we have spent nearly 20 years studying and researching these factors, particularly the enormous contribution of the Field Manager. These are the people on the front line, working shoulder to shoulder with franchisees in what is a tough and complex role.
What is field support?
Most franchise companies have people performing some type of Field Manager role which would be defined as: visiting franchisees in their place of business to maximise profitability, local market share and commitment to the brand.
Franchisors typically spend between 10% and 20% of their royalty revenue on recruiting and retaining Field Managers to service their franchisees. However in many cases, the return on this investment is questionable. While an effective Field Manager can make a significant contribution to a franchise network’s success, Field Management is still an emerging discipline which lacks systematised training programs, support materials or a professional code of conduct. At the Franchise Relationships Institute, we have been paving the learning pathway to develop and train what we think is the most important and valuable role in franchising.
The Five Field Manager Functions
Most roles in franchising have a specialist element, for instance the marketing department. This team have usually been to university for around three years and studied all things marketing.
The Field Manager however is a true generalist and their function can usually fall into five areas:
- Relating – being the middleman between franchisor and franchisees, communicating information back and forth.
- Advising – providing objective, expert advice on business, marketing or operational issues.
- Coaching – encouraging franchisees to achieve higher levels of performance and assisting them to get through motivational blocks.
- Training – upgrading the knowledge and skills of franchisees.
- Inspecting – ensuring standards are maintained.
The Inspecting function is usually the most contentious. However, the true success of a franchise network depends on every franchisee delivering consistency to every customer, each and every day. It’s part of the Field Managers role to ensure franchisees are compliant with the franchise standards and systems. Each franchise system will have different compliance standards and subsequent methods and reports for measuring compliance.
One of the key challenges for Field Managers is they often need to play both “cop and coach”. They may need to deliver tough feedback about standards to a franchisee during one visit, and then encourage them to commit to their business goals the next visit.
Behind every franchisee is a dedicated and passionate Field Manager
During February and March this year, we had the privilege of co-ordinating and facilitating a world first event for 300 Field Managers around the country – ’Field Manager Week – Celebrating the Unsung Heroes of Franchising’. Why ’unsung heroes’ you ask? The dictionary definition of unsung hero is: not honoured, praised or appreciated. Whilst the Field Manager role is the most important, it is the least appreciated. Field Managers work tirelessly behind the scenes mostly dealing with issues, emotions and problems with little thanks from franchisees.
In the lead up to the event, the research team at the Franchise Relationships Institute conducted an extensive survey with existing Field Managers from over 35 different franchise systems in Australia. We were pleasantly surprised by the findings. In a nutshell, Field Managers are passionate and dedicated people who feel personally enriched by helping franchisees achieve success.
What do Field Managers value?
Our research involved asking Field Managers to tell us about certain elements of their role and how it impacts on their personal and professional lives.
The results demonstrated that Field Managers felt the most important attributes for their role were: showing empathy and care; being honest; trustworthy; operating with integrity; and demonstrating competence. Because of the nature of the role, Field Managers need to build honest and open relationships with their franchisees and get “underneath” the surface. In essence, this means understanding a franchisee’s motivation in both their personal and professional lives. This way the Field Manager can start to influence franchisees and therefore help them move towards their goals.
However, this is a fine line to walk. Whilst the Field Manager needs to be friendly, they cannot be friends with the franchisee. This is because it is primarily a business relationship where certain results need to be achieved. Let’s face it, whilst we might set goals and want help, we don’t like to be held accountable and often the Field Manager will need to remind the franchisee about where they are missing the beat.
It’s a two way street
Whilst Field Managers are clearly passionate and committed to their role and franchisee success, it’s a two way street. One of the most frustrating things for a Field Manager is negative or complacent franchisees. You can probably relate this to the “Negative Nelly” you might have in your life: the person that no matter how upbeat and positive you are, everything is doom and gloom. How quickly does this suck your energy?
This is the same for a passionate and committed Field Manager who wants to help franchisees achieve success and who is met with negativity and apathy. So, franchisees need to step up and take responsibility for their business and their success too. Even the best Field Manager in the world can’t help franchisees who don’t want to help themselves.
Interestingly but not surprisingly, Field Managers said their role had a positive impact on their family life, self confidence and life satisfaction. Whilst we believe the role is the most challenging, it is also the most rewarding, hence adding to a Field Manager’s overall life satisfaction.
Often Field Managers are working with franchisees that have blocks in their confidence, competence, and motivation or have personal issues that impact their performance. Field Managers will then usually have to start working under the “surface” to find out what is driving the block or the behaviour. This is no easy task. For our emotional and psychological wellbeing, we need confidence and self esteem. When there are blocks, confidence and self esteem are threatened and that’s when defences go up and we try to protect our ego. As you can probably gather, not only do Field Managers have to be business consultants they need to work at the psychological and philosophical level too.
The magic and satisfaction occurs when the Field Manager has worked through the blocks with the franchisee and they are back on track. The process usually means having some serious and confronting conversations with the franchisee. This is yet another reason why the Field Manager needs to remain friendly but not friends, so they can remain objective and deliver on their commitment to the franchisee.
The Role of Field Visits
Field visits are potentially one of the most positive and powerful points of contact for franchisors and franchisees. They allow for fresh eyes and perspective on a franchisee’s business. One of the most common traps for franchisees is what is commonly referred to as ’Store Blindness’. The retail industry uses this term to explain why standards often slip. This is because the franchisee and their team have become habituated to their environment. It is much harder to be objective about the business when you are “inside” it. This can mean that franchisees can overlook opportunities and threats that are staring them in the face, unless they are assisted by someone with an outside perspective.
While small business people can seldom afford the input from an external consultant, most franchisees are fortunate in that they receive regular field visits that can provide them with great ideas and objective feedback. In addition, because Field Managers see many different businesses, they have even more goodness to share with you.
Despite all these positives, field visits can also be stressful and threatening to both parties. Here are some tips to reduce the stress and maximise the benefits.
How to improve the effectiveness of field visits
What Field Managers can do
- Organise meetings or field visits in advance with a clear purpose.
- Be professional and make the visit interesting and worthwhile.
- Give the franchisee your full attention. Ensure your mobile phone is on silent or turned off and ask permission if a call needs to be taken whilst in a meeting.
- Take the time upfront to recognise and give feedback about the franchisee’s achievements.
- Always keep commitments made to franchisees.
- Ensure the visit stays on track by maintaining a sense of focus and urgency.
What franchisees can do
- Be clear on the support you want or need from the Field Manager for each visit.
- Be polite, pleasant to deal with and open to new ideas and feedback to improve the business.
- Ensure you are available to sit and talk to the Field Manager without interruption and prepare for the meeting.
- Be open about what is happening in the business or your life so the Field Manager has all the facts.
- Keep your commitments to the Field Manager.
- Stay focused and committed to the outcomes for the visit.
Maximising Field Support
Franchisees should feel confident and assured about the fact they have a passionate and committed Field Manager to help them on their journey to achieving success. The key success factor to maximise this great resource is to work at developing an honest and open relationship where clear expectations are set. Whilst the Field Manager will help, support and guide, they will also ensure franchisees stay true to their commitments and goals.
One thing is for sure: being part of a franchise system means you have the extra benefit of this valuable and passionate resource!
For information about Field Manager Training or the work of the Franchise Relationships Institute, please contact Debb Lowe on 0406 446 802 or email at email@example.com