The 10 Habits of Effective Field Managers

Last year on a flight back to Australia from the USA, I decided to review everything I knew about what helps field managers achieve superior performance in their job, drawing on seven sources of information:

• Interviews with national operations managers on what differentiates their best field managers from the rest.

• Focus groups with franchisees on what their field managers did that was most and least useful.

• A study of field managers who were asked to describe the attributes most useful for increasing their effectiveness.

• Observations of field managers at work, noting the behaviours that seemed to create the best engagement and outcomes.

• Research into what builds trust, credibility and positive behavioural change in professional relationships.

• Surveys on thousands of franchisees which have revealed what they want from their franchise relationship.

• Models of franchising excellence developed by the Franchise Relationships Institute, including The Franchisor and Franchisee Wheels of Excellence.

During this 13 hour flight I delved into the evidence, looking for consistent themes on the behaviours and habits that seemed to produce the best results for field managers. By the time we were ready to land I had identified 10 habits.

Franchisees don’t live on baby food alone

Habits are the things we do without thinking – ingrained behaviours literally hard wired into our brains. Good habits improve our effectiveness and satisfaction. They also have a positive impact on the people around us. Bad habits do the opposite.  While some habits are inherited, all habits can be changed or developed through conscious effort and repetition.

Before outlining these habits, let’s put the field manager’s job into context. The franchisor’s role is to ensure relevant systems and support are available to franchisees so they can achieve their reasonable goals and consistently deliver the brand  promise to customers. Field managers are largely responsible for delivering this support and checking on whether franchisees are doing the right thing by themselves and the brand.

As franchisees move through their business journey their support needs will change. While baby food was great when we were babies we now appreciate something more substantial. Mature franchisees also don’t like being fed the same type of basic  support they received when they were rookies. Field managers need to adjust their support to suit the sophistication and needs of each franchisee.

In summary, the field manager’s job is to ensure franchisees are given the right type of support so they do the right things and do things right.

The 10 habits explained

Habit #1: Maintain personal vitality

As a field manager the energy you project will make a huge difference to your credibility and whether franchisees decide to engage with you. The nature of your job, especially the travel involved and the uncertainty you face as you visit different people in their businesses, will place additional loads on your energy.

Effective field managers know how to look after their physical, mental and emotional energy. They pace themselves when necessary and regularly dip into the best of all sources of vitality – a strong sense of conviction that what they do is important.

Habit #2: Be comfortable in your own skin

The operations managers we interviewed regularly referred to a certain ease and confidence that helped their best field managers function in difficult environments. They said this relaxed confidence enabled their field managers to defuse tense  situations by listening in a non-defensive way. It also created a positive climate for open and frank discussions.

To be comfortable in your own skin you need to be clear on who you are and what you stand for. Personal courage is important. Speaking of skin, it also helps if you have a thick one because you will regularly face unfair criticism for things outside your control!

Habit #3: Deliver constructive feedback on brand alignment

Another word for your brand is your reputation and this largely comes from the direct experience of customers dealing with your franchisees. It only takes one badly delivered customer experience to produce a social media backlash for an entire network. Brand alignment means all elements of a franchisee’s business are consistent internally and with all the other businesses in your network. Effective field consultants understand what the brand stands for and can explain in a logical and persuasive way how this translates into practice. They use this knowledge to discuss compliance problems and to bring franchisees back into alignment when necessary. This depersonalises the feedback and makes it more of a business, than a power or control, issue.

Habit #4: Keep discussions solution focused

The financial anxiety and performance pressures that franchisees often face, means they can easily slip into an emotional and pessimistic frame of mind. While dwelling on details of past frustrations and disappointments may seem to be useful, it seldom is.

Research into coaching conversations has consistently found the best results occur when discussions are solution rather than problem focused. So the best field managers know how to skilfully shift negative conversations into a more positive  direction. They do this by drawing on the first two habits and using solution focused questions that get franchisees thinking about what they want and how they can take action to make this happen.

Habit #5: Stimulate franchisee commitment to grow

Sales growth is important for a franchisor’s revenue stream and for a franchisee’s profitability. If sales are not growing as fast as costs, profits will decline. Ray Kroc, of McDonald’s fame, apparently coined the phrase, “When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe you rot.”

So franchisees need to grow their knowledge and capability as well as that of their team. A business that starts to outgrow its owner or the people that run it will quickly become stunted. There are many reasons why franchisees may not want to grow. They may have become complacent, they may be lacking the motivation or energy to grow, or they may lack the confidence to manage a larger business. Field managers need to understand these barriers and build the confidence and capability of  their franchisees to maintain a growth mindset.

Habit #6: Maintain a metrics perspective

Franchisees can become so embroiled working on day-to-day operational problems, they fail to make the time to take a bird’s eye view of their business. When we asked franchisees, operations managers and field managers to describe the most  important attributes of a field manager, they all mentioned being able to understand finances and the drivers of profitability.

Because numbers don’t lie, a field manager who can read the financial health indicators of a business will quickly identify threats and opportunities for improvement. Such discussions are extremely useful for franchisees who want to maximise their  profitability (which will be most of them) or for franchisees who have been making excuses about taking needed action to protect the viability of their business.

Habit #7: Hold franchisees accountable to their goals

Every successful franchisee we have interviewed is able to clearly articulate their short term and longer term goals. Goals that are specific and meaningful focus the mind and provide a path that unifies the energy of everyone in a business.

One of the most useful services a field manager can provide is to help franchisees clarify what they want and how they will go about achieving it. Weaving these goals into business discussions can help to remind franchisees why they are in business  and motivate them to take action when they get stuck. Often the field manager will be the only person in a franchisee’s life that asks them important questions such as “What do you want?” and “What’s holding you back from doing what you said you’d do?”

Habit #8: Be organised and reliable

The number of businesses under a field manager’s care can range from 5 to 100 depending on the business model and their specific responsibilities. The breadth of responsibilities is also typically wide and varied. Staying organised is essential. Being  reliable and responding promptly to phone calls and emails is critical for establishing trust and credibility because it communicates to franchisees you care about them and the success of their business. Effective field managers factor in time each day  to plan ahead and follow up on their commitments. They also use whatever tools are available to help them maintain their efficiency.

Habit #9: Encourage sharing of useful ideas

Franchisees report one of the most useful services their field manager offers is to bring them ideas that are working for other franchisees. This is just one of many ways a field manager can encourage the sharing of ideas. They can also facilitate direct  discussions between franchisees, for instance at regional meetings through panels, case studies and round tables.

Effective field managers also collect franchisees ideas and concerns, synthesise them and feed them back to support office. This ability to share feedback from the field takes courage and persistence because the feedback is not always welcome. If you feel like you are sometimes “the meat in the sandwich” you might like to state this, as well as reminding your colleagues that without the meat, you don’t have a sandwich - just two bland pieces of bread! Also refer to habit #2.

Habit #10: Cultivate a professional mind set

I have always believed that franchise field managers are a part of an emerging profession. Professions are usually associated with shared, specialised knowledge that is used to help others. Professionals have an obligation to keep their skills up to date and to use their knowledge for the benefit of their clients. Field managers with a professional mindset maintain a certain formality with their franchisees. They understand the difference between being friendly and being friends.

A common area of confusion for field managers is they have a duty of care to multiple parties – their franchisor, their franchisees and the customers of the brand. Professional guidelines are useful here. For instance, while a field manager may want to  support a franchisee’s creative initiatives, they also have an overriding responsibility not to condone anything that could undermine the brand. Also refer to habit #3.

While this article has just scratched the surface on what these 10 habits mean in practice, I hope this article will stimulate further discussion on how field managers can continue to make a difference through their important work.

Greg Nathan is a psychologist, founder of the Franchise Relationships Institute and author of several popular franchising texts including, The Franchisors Guide to Improving Field Visits. FRI conduct regular training programs to improve the capability of field managers. To find out more contact: