Top Three Tips to Keep Franchise Operations Manuals Current

man reviewing an office manual

To secure franchisee compliance as your franchise brand evolves, franchise operations manuals updates must keep pace with changes to your franchise system.

By Marla Rosner, Senior Learning & Development Consultant, MSA Worldwide

One of the most crucial tools franchisors possess in maintaining franchisee compliance with system requirements and brand standards is their effective communication in “Operations Manuals” referenced in the Franchise Disclosure Document and Franchise Agreement. Whether the franchised system is documented in manuals, PowerPoint slides, or multiple mixed-media formats, keeping material current is critical to ensuring that franchisees understand what is expected of them as the system evolves.

If you’re asking yourself, “When should we update our franchise system training materials?” – there’s a very good chance the answer is “yesterday.”

In the absence of maintaining the organizational discipline required to keep material current, franchisors may find themselves years behind in updates, facing a daunting and difficult task that can even involve starting over from scratch. To avoid this scenario, here are recommendations to stay organized and efficient in updating critical material.

Tip #1: Assign a Manual Custodian

Assign one person the responsibility of keeping a log of system changes and updates, and ensure that all departments know that system changes must be passed to this custodian. The manual custodian should also be accountable for documenting changed content with appropriate version numbers, and archiving changes filed in a digital “vault” so that your organization has records of what was communicated to franchisees and when.

In the absence of a single point person for manual updates, significant problems arise, such as:

  • Various individuals edit the manuals with different writing and graphic styles, creating an unprofessional and confusing presentation to your readers.
  • Multiple departments email new requirements or standards to franchisees which they each determine is critical, but this new information has not been integrated into the Brand Standards Manual (referred to in most legal documents as the “Operations Manual”). The individual department communications become lost in the abyss of emails in the franchisee’s inbox. Franchisees cannot be held accountable for compliance to new requirements when they are conveyed in a haphazard fashion.
  • Franchisees become overwhelmed, and confused, and stop paying attention to the franchisor’s materials.
  • The franchisor loses credibility and control over standards.

Tip #2: Stakeholder, Legal Counsel, and Franchise Consultant Reviews

Provide the manual custodian with a list of stakeholders who must approve changes before they are published. These typically include upper management, designated franchisees, and for some topics, legal counsel. Also, keep in mind that system changes under consideration can benefit from the perspective of a trusted franchise consultant who can provide important information on new trends, technologies, and up-to-date thinking in franchising as well as content editing. These content reviews require time, which should be built into the custodian’s planning. Circulating draft updates may need to begin weeks in advance of the publishing date. Think herding cats.

Tip #3: Establish a Calendar for Publishing Updates

There are no hard and fast rules for the frequency of publishing updates to franchisees, but here are general recommendations:

  • For emerging brands that have recently launched their franchise system, quarterly updates to materials – especially the Brand Standards Manual, the “bible” of your franchise system – are likely required for the first 18 – 24 months. As a new franchise system gets off the ground, there are many new insights about best practices as well as refinements to processes and procedures.
  • As franchise systems grow and stabilize, a reduced publishing schedule may be appropriate; however, that will be driven by the nature of the changes. For example, the addition of a newly required service offering should not simply be announced to franchisees; the standards for how the service should be implemented should be documented in a new section of the Brand Standards Manual, and issued to franchisees in a timely manner corresponding to the date the service will launch. In contrast, a tweak to an operational best practice could wait for the next scheduled publishing date.
  • At least annually, legal counsel will be reviewing and making changes to your Franchise Disclosure Document. Provide your manual custodian with a redlined copy of those changes so that they can determine what modifications, if any, need to be made to the manual.

Maintaining an up-to-date franchise Brand Standards Manual is essential for the long-term success of any franchise system. Franchisors should view this task as an ongoing commitment to their franchisees’ success and the overall health of the brand. By ensuring that manuals are current, relevant, and comprehensive, franchisors perform a key obligation to their brand and to their franchisees: ensuring the consistency that builds value for the entire system.

Do you have questions about franchise operations manuals or training?

MSA Worldwide provides expert guidance on giving franchisees what they need to consistently deliver your brand promise to your customers. Contact us today for a complimentary consultation.

Get Strategic Advice