By Marla Rosner, Senior Training Consultant, MSA Worldwide
Field staff perform multiple functions in a franchise system. They monitor franchisee compliance with system standards, to be sure; however, it is important for franchisors to understand and leverage the enormous value that field personnel can contribute to system growth beyond completing a site visit checklist.
As business coaches and consultants, effective field reps can guide franchisees to take their stores to the next level of revenue and profitability.
Field staff should enter locations armed not only with a checklist, but with the ability to analyze the business’ performance, to impart brand knowledge that assists franchisees in developing their business, and with the interpersonal skills to engage franchisees in a manner that wins trust and prompts action. Additionally, they play an essential role in a feedback loop from the field to the corporate office as eyes and ears about patterns of brand execution system-wide; what products, programs and processes are being successfully implemented, and which ones are not.
Recruitment and training of field staff can be a time-intensive affair in a franchise; if field personnel are to have credibility – the first criteria in a franchisee’s eyes for receptivity to field staff guidance – then they need deep brand knowledge, franchise knowledge, and business savvy. As with any employee position, successful field staff candidates can be hired and/or trained, with pros and cons associated with both scenarios.
Training the Home-Grown Candidate
Internal candidates for field positions have strong credentials if they have had the right orientation and training. Typically culled from unit management positions, they have a deep understanding of day-to-day operations and an eye for quality and service. Structuring the transition from unit management to coaching franchisees should be well thought through, however.
Depending on the franchise system, unit managers have varying levels of profit and loss accountability, as well as decision-making responsibility for marketing tactics, so they may need training to fill in knowledge gaps. Additionally, the role of manager vs. the role of coach or consultant to the franchisee calls for different mindsets and approaches to communication. The manager role is automatically imbued with the authority and power inherent in supervising direct reports. Field staff, however, must first demonstrate expertise in order to win the ear of franchisees, especially those that have been operating for a period of time.
There is no fast way to develop field staff; there is a great deal for a newbie to learn, whether they have been promoted internally or recruited from outside the system. Key areas include:
- Franchise Knowledge – The new field rep promoted from within first needs to understand the relationship of the franchisor and franchisee, which starts with exposure to the franchise agreement and demystifying the legalese therein. This lays the foundation for field personnel to understand not only the obligations of the franchisee, but also the obligations and boundaries of the franchisor. Key to speaking on behalf of the franchisor in the field is recognizing that the franchisee is neither an employee or a business partner. Prompting a franchisee to take business-building action requires communication skills including effective listening and question asking, as well as the ability to lay out clear benefits for embracing recommended initiatives. The new field consultant must also understand that they don’t provide direction or feedback to the employees of the franchisee; avoiding any whiff of co-employment is essential.
- Deep Brand Knowledge – Obviously a thorough reading of all Operations Manuals and training materials provided to franchisees is required, along with recent communication to franchisees from the corporate office. This affords the new field rep the current standards and requirements so that he or she can recognize whether franchisees are or aren’t following the system. Additionally, sitting through new franchisee training and any management training provided allows the field person to understand not only what the new franchisee is provided in training, but also provides an opportunity to observe how corporate role models communicate to franchisees and impart the corporate culture.
- Business Savvy – Profit and loss analysis, understanding business reports and data gathered by the franchisor, and an understanding of the company’s array of marketing tactics and restrictions is key in being of help to franchisees. Some field staff who come from outside the franchise system can add valuable guidance to franchisees because they bring a breadth of small business savvy to the job. Their learning curve then focuses on digging into the system’s unique brand standards, operations, and marketing tactics. Those who are promoted from within the franchise system may need one-on-one coaching to be brought up to speed in business analysis, and in knowing what strategies to propose to franchisees to improve business performance.
In addition to orientation via franchisee training attendance and delving into manuals, one of the best approaches for developing field staff is to schedule job shadowing with mentors who are seasoned field reps outside of the area the newbie will be taking over. This enables new recruits, whether internal or external, to both fully grasp the business assessment and action planning process that should occur with every visit, and to absorb the nuances of the relationship that field personnel have with franchisees. It also preserves their credibility with the franchisees whom they will ultimately assist, if they can avoid exposing their knowledge gaps to them on their way up the learning curve.