Business Transformation

Five Ways Franchise Owners Destroy Their Teams

Scott Greenberg

“You just can’t find good help these days.” “These days” must be a long time, because employers have had the same complaint for generations. During the ten years I ran franchise businesses, I admittedly had those thoughts myself sometimes. I hear them from other franchisees all the time. Many business owners really struggle with their teams. It’s tempting to blame the labor pool.

Good help has always been available. It’s good management that’s in short supply. Too many people are in leadership roles without leadership skills. When they don’t get the performance they desire, they fault their team members.

This problem is quite evident in the franchise space where performance varies so much from one independently owned location to another. Employee management skills are typically not part of the vetting process when franchisors evaluate prospective owners. They’re eager to sell a new unit. In most cases if the prospect is financially qualified and can present themselves as moderately professional, they’re in. More sophisticated brands are selective and also check for cultural fit. But even if someone subscribes to the same value system, that doesn’t mean they can develop and manage a team. It’s a hard thing to test.

It’s also a hard thing to teach. Most franchisors are experts in frozen yogurt, pest control, carpet cleaning, etc. They’ve perfected systems for marketing, selling and delivering their products and services. People management may not be part of their expertise. The other problem is the franchise industry’s threat of being considered “joint employers.” This legal status would make them liable for employee activity at the store level, even when the stores are independently owned and operated. Consequently, while they’ll offer plenty of help with operations and marketing, many franchisors are reluctant to get involved in employee matters. They want brand uniformity across all locations. When it comes to how employees are managed, however, it’s the Wild West. That’s a big reason why performance varies so much among franchisees.

Every owner comes to their business with a different background, skill set and philosophy about managing people. Most lead the way they were led. If they had poor role models, they’ll likely take on the same approach. It’s all they know.

It’s good to know the common mistakes franchise owners make with their teams, and the opposite approach of top franchisees. Here are some of the most common:

They fill positions. It’s always a relief to hire the help you need. The more desperate you are, the greater the chance you’ll like the candidate who’s sitting in front of you. Many franchisees make the mistake of just focusing on whether applicants have the skill set or can easily learn it. “Yeah, she can learn to scoop ice cream. She’ll do.”

Most employee issues aren’t a result of skill set but of mindset. Their attitude, their personality, their ability to collaborate— these are the things that matter. If you don’t screen for these when hiring, or if you settle because you’re short staffed, you’re going to have problems. One bad ingredient is all it takes to ruin a recipe.

Rather than filling slots, top franchises build cultures. They consider how each applicant will fit with them team. They see their work environment as something sacred. It’s a tight knit family that must be protected. Their employees value their team so much they’re willing to work harder and longer rather than bring in someone who doesn’t share their values. The franchisees who build these teams will wait longer and interview more people until they find the right people. If they mistakenly hire someone who doesn’t fit, they don’t let the problem fester. The stakes are too high. They hire slow and fire fast.

They only direct work. Some franchise owners focus their leadership around tasks. Everything is about completing work. Get the shelves stocked. Crank out the pizzas. Get the place clean. Their employees are just cogs in a wheel. It’s easy to fall into this perspective. Running a business is hard and there’s a lot to get done. You’re paying employees to do it. You want to move them along.

The problem is that unlike cogs, people have feelings. They have goals. They can quit. Paying them doesn’t relieve you of caring for them. Also, unlike cogs, they won’t last just going around in circles. They want to feel progress.

Rather than directing work, the best franchisees develop people. They grow employees into leaders. They continuously train them and work to make them better. The work still gets done, but now with employees who are more invested. Feeling personal growth engages them in the business’ growth. It also makes them more independent and less in need of ongoing management.

They’re too busy. Many franchisees see employees as a burden, a necessary evil to running a business. They want to get them working as quickly as possible. They rush through training and don’t give them the attention they need. They just want them to be good. Or, when employees are good, they leave them alone altogether. They fail to keep the fire lit. Invariably performance suffers. Or, hungry for growth, recognition and more opportunity, these employees move on to other jobs.

Busyness is the enemy of leadership. Managers exist because employees require ongoing external support. Whether it’s a new employee who needs training, a struggling employee who needs assistance, or a superstar employee who needs praise, everyone on your team needs to be led. Just as a good financial investment yields you more money, a good time investment will yield you more time. There is no better investment of your time than what you put into your employees. The more you set them up for success, the more they’ll be able to step up and do everything that’s got to get done – and get it right the first time.  These great teams run the business so franchisees can focus on growing the business.

They’re driven by ego. Many franchisees use their business as a means to feel good about themselves. They love being the boss and exerting their power. They belt out orders. They talk down to employees. They dispense with courtesies such as “please” and “thank you.” They believe paying someone for their time means they own them for that time. In their eyes, employees exist to serve them. That perspective isn’t good for business.

Smart franchisees believe employees exist to serve customers. That’s who matters. These franchisees think of themselves as servants to their employees. That doesn’t mean they’re subservient. They just see their role as supporters of employee success. Employees feel this support and pass it on the customers. Instead of building egos, these locations build sales.

They’re too nice. It’s obvious why being a jerk isn’t good. Some franchisees go to the opposite extreme. They walk on eggshells with team members. They’re afraid to confront them or hold them accountable. They don’t want to be mean. They let things slide. They mention things they want changed but downplay them. They worry too much about being the cool boss. This leads to employees not getting the feedback they need.

Effective leaders are willing to be tough. That’s part of helping others achieve excellence. Good parents set rules and expectations. Coaches push athletes. The conversations they have with those they’re helping are not always pleasant, but they are productive. Being respectfully tough conveys an interest in your teams’ performance. It shows you care. You shouldn’t call them names or insult them. You don’t want to focus on who they are. You want to talk about what they’ve done — the behavior.

There’s a big difference between telling someone they’re an idiot and telling someone that their work isn’t up to standard. The conversation will not feel good to them. That’s OK. It will make an impression. You may be concerned they’ll feel bad and quit. They’re more likely to feel bad and want to do better, especially if you’re otherwise respectful and invested in their development.  People want to work in a place that stands for excellence. They’ll respect your intolerance for anything less.

Employee performance is less a reflection of the generation they’re from and more a reflection of how they’re led. There are many people out there who want to help you grow your business. It’ll take some work to find the great ones. It’ll take more work to keep them great. But all of this work is less work than running a business with a poorly led team.

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Scott Greenberg
Scott Greenberg in an internationally recognized speaker, author and coach who helps franchise owners grow their businesses, build high-performing teams and create unforgettable customer experiences. He has given presentations in all 50 states and throughout the world with franchise clients that include McDonalds, Great Clips, GNC, RE/MAX, Smoothie King, Global Franchise Group and many more. For 10 years, he was a multi-unit franchise owner with Edible Arrangements, winning Best Customer Service and Manager of the Year awards out of more than 1000 locations worldwide. Learn more about his new book, The Wealthy Franchisee: Game-Changing Steps to Becoming a Thriving Franchise Superstar (Entrepreneur Press; November 17, 2020). Scott Greenberg is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.