How to support the loneliest job in franchising
Field managers have a tough job. On the one hand they must ensure franchisees and their staff are not doing anything to put your brand at risk. You could call this the inspector role.
At the other extreme they need to motivate and encourage franchisees to set and achieve meaningful goals. We could call this coach role. In fact field managers have to fulfill eight distinct roles, which also include business consultant, trainer, facilitator, ambassador, operations expert and marketer.
This last role of marketer - which involves helping franchisees to grow their market share and top line revenues - is now more important than ever because of flattening sales in many industries. The unpleasant truth is, if sales are flat or declining while business costs are increasing, you get margin compression, resulting in reduced profitability.
And if this combination continues for too long, you will have an unsustainable business and bankrupt franchisees.
While business failure is obviously highly stressful for a franchisee and their family, it is also stressful for the field manager who is looking after this franchisee, and who will often be deeply involved in the preceding and ensuing drama. The operations or regional managers who supervise and support field managers need to be aware of these types of pressures.
At the Franchise Relationships Institute we have been researching the attitudes and competencies of thousands of field managers for more than 15 years.
When asked what they find most stressful about their role, what do you think is at the top of the list? While you may think it is dealing with challenging or difficult franchisees, it is in fact the isolation of the role and not feeling informed of what is going on strategically in the business.
Remember they are often out on the road, and inadvertently miss out on a lot of the meetings and catch ups that occur back at a franchisor’s support office.
Because field consultants are the face of the franchisor, they also receive a lot of criticism on a daily basis from franchisees who can be stressed and unhappy about a range of issues. To re-balance this, operations managers need to ensure their field managers are getting enough positive feedback.
Regular encouragement and coaching in the form of a daily phone check-in and a weekly face-to-face meeting will usually be appreciated. These days with free video conferencing platforms, it’s possible to quickly and efficiently hold face-to-face meetings through computers or smart devices.
Studies into employee loyalty and commitment have also consistently found that meaningful professional development can be effective for increasing satisfaction and engagement.
So franchisors would be wise to invest in the professional development of their field managers. This can take the form of attendance at workshops or boot camps such as those conducted by the Franchise Relationships Institute, or quarterly internal meetings, with field managers coming together to share their challenges, wins and best practice tips.
One interesting finding from our research into the competence of field managers is that, while they are strongest in the inspector, operations expert and ambassador roles, they are weakest in the business consultant, facilitator and marketer roles.
Ironically a field manager who is strong in these roles can make a huge difference to the performance of the franchisees they support.
So we suggest professional development should particularly focus on increasing competence in these areas.
For instance, a field manager who knows how to facilitate engaging meetings with groups of franchisees can have a huge positive impact on an entire region by creating greater collaboration and sharing of ideas between franchisees.
The annual National Franchise Operations Conference provides an opportunity for field managers to meet with peers from other brands and cross-fertilize their best practice tips.
Not surprisingly, the most common comment we hear from attendees at this event is “I am so happy to learn I am not alone!”