The six steps of an effective field visit
Each year I have the privilege of training hundreds of franchise support executives in our Field Manager Bootcamps. These are the people who visit franchisees in the field to keep them engaged with the brand and improve the performance of their businesses.
While a range of titles exists for this role, titles are not as important as the purpose of the role, the competence of the people performing the visits, and the processes they use. In this article I am going to focus on a proven six step process for structuring an effective field visit where a franchisee is expecting you. More details of the attributes of effective field managers and other useful processes can be found in my book The Franchisor’s Guide to Improving Field Visits.
Step 1 – Joint preparation
You have probably heard of the 6 Ps – ‘poor preparation produces pretty poor performance’. This is particularly relevant to field visits. To prevent this, a week or so prior to the visit contact the franchisee, by email or text, with details of the visit including time, duration, what you would like to cover, and the process you intend to follow.
We call this process joint preparation because you also need to invite the franchisee to share anything they would like covered during the visit. And so a joint agenda for the meeting can be created.
This enables you both to prepare properly. In your case it may involve the review of KPI s for their business or the gathering of information you think will be helpful. From the franchisee’s point of view, they may want to roster additional staff so they are free to talk without being interrupted.
Step 2 — Respectful initial contact
The first ten seconds of the visit in particular set the tone. If things get off to a positive start the rest of the meeting will flow more smoothly. Take a few minutes to prepare yourself mentally before entering the franchisee’s premises. Clear your mind of distractions or problems you have been dealing with and focus on the person you are about to spend time with. Review your notes and the agenda for the meeting. Remind yourself of the purpose of your visit and what you hope to achieve.
It is a good idea to deliberately ignore any apparent operational problems until you have properly greeted the people in the business by name, including the franchisee’s staff.
Remember you are entering their space and you are not aware of what has been going on before you arrived. So don’t jump to conclusions about anything you see that appears to be out of place. Just make a mental note to discuss this if, and when, the time is right.
Step 3 — Agree on the process
If you have ever renovated a house or repainted a wall, you will know how important and time consuming good preparation is. For instance, it may take you five hours to sand and prepare a wall which then takes just 15 minutes to paint! Yet we know that if you jumped in and started painting before preparing the wall properly, you would have a very rough wall and the paint would probably soon start to peel off.
So while you may now want to jump in and get on with the business of the visit, there is still one more step to ensure you get a good result from your time together. This means going through the ‘what and how’ of the visit together - the topics you want to cover and the processes you will use.
First reconfirm the time you have allowed and check this is still okay. Maybe something has come up and the franchisee now doesn’t have as much time as he or she thought they would. Observe the franchisee’s behaviour. How engaged do they seem? Do they appear happy to see you? Are they paying attention or do they look distracted?
Next go through the agenda, checking the franchisee is still comfortable working through these topics with you. You may need to remind them that the agenda was prepared together with their input.
Finally, agree on the sequence and the processes you will use. For instance, you may start by reviewing some agreed reports and figures together to arrive at a shared understanding of how the business has been performing.
Then review progress on the franchisee’s business plan or goals. Then do a walk around the business together. Finally, revisit the franchisees plans and action plans. Also there may be some new initiatives from support office that you want to discuss and get their feedback on.
This is a useful way to engage the franchisee as a partner in the visit and prevent the visit being hijacked by problems or distractions you are not ready for or prepared to discuss. Obviously you need to be flexible and responsive to a franchisee’s concerns, but not at the expense of the productive visit that you both have pre-planned together.
Step 4 — Getting into the nitty gritty
Now you can roll up your sleeves and get into the cut and thrust of the visit. Stick to your agreed agenda and process, and cover off everything you said you would. Here are some specific tips you might consider during this step:
• Casually observe their behaviour and watch for signs of defensiveness, boredom or distraction.
• Consider whether you need to slow down or speed up depending on their behavioural style.
• Consider whether you need to focus more on facts and data, or on feelings and people.
• Ensure the physical environment is appropriate for the discussions you are having. Minimise visual distractions and ensure customers or staff cannot overhear you.
• Ensure you are both operating from the same set of facts and information, especially if there is a difference of opinion.
• Invite them to share their insights or interpretation of specific events that have impacted on their store or the network.
• Ask for their opinion on why certain numbers are trending in a particular way before sharing yours.
• Remember to ask their permission before giving advice or launching into solutions to problems they may already have an answer for.
• Share information on the criteria or process you have used to arrive at certain conclusions.
• You may want to frame up a discussion by referring to, or drawing on, information and agreements from previous visits or discussions.
• Keep your phone off and focus on what is happening. If you are expecting an important call explain this to the franchisee.
• Link discussions back to profitability and brand alignment at every opportunity.
• Always keep in mind the visit should be done with the franchisee, not to the franchisee.
Step 5 — Review outcomes and check commitment
Once you have worked through your agenda and process, review what has been achieved, discuss agreed outcomes and make a note of actions you or the franchisee will take. This will provide an opportunity to clarify any areas of uncertainty and give you both a sense of satisfaction that the visit has been productive.
Do not assume the franchisee will be committed to take action on agreed items. Agreement that something is a good idea is not the same as agreement to act on it. You may want to check their commitment by asking a question such as “How do you feel about doing this?” or inviting them to share what specific action they are going to take.
If the visit has been emotionally charged, this is when you can both re-establish a sense of trust and commitment for the future. Keep the big picture in mind - what you are all here for - to maximise profitability and protect the reputation of the brand.
Step 6 — Positive end and follow up
Field visits should ideally end on a positive note. How this visit finishes sets the tone for the start of the next one. If either of you has been brash, pushy or obnoxious the next visit is unlikely to go well because residual resentment will colour the relationship.
At this point we recommend you ask the magic questions:
“What aspects of the visit were useful?” and “What could I do to make my next visit more useful for you?”
Never stay around at the end of the visit longer than you need to as you and the franchisee have work to do. A good practice is to send an email or text the following day thanking the franchisee for their cooperation. Also ensure you do what you have agreed and check back with the franchisee on how they are going with their actions.
Finally, a cautionary note. These suggestions are not meant to be overly prescriptive or to stifle your natural creativity. Be yourself and let your own personality and strengths shine through.
Field visits provide franchisor support executives with a powerful opportunity to make a real difference to the success and satisfaction of their franchisees. Thousands of field managers have told me these six steps help them to achieve this.
Greg Nathan is a psychologist and Founder of the Franchise Relationships Institute (FRI), recipients of the FCA’s 2016 Supplier of the Year Award.
For more information about FRI’s publications, Field Manager Bootcamps and Annual Franchise Operations Conference contact Greg directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org www.franchiserelationships.com