The Role of Mentors in New Franchisee Training

As franchise systems grow, they have tremendous potential to breed mentors among successful franchisees who can help new franchisees be successful.

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

In the workplace, mentors are often informal “higher-ups” who, based on their assessment of and affinity for a protégé, make themselves available to serve as a coach, guiding the less experienced person in their professional development. In some companies mentoring is formalized; those willing to mentor may be assigned a promising protégé either by upper management or by human resources.

If only we all had someone wiser and more experienced leading us down our professional paths! Imagine the speed with which our journey through unfamiliar turf and skill development could progress, not to mention the positive business outcomes that would follow as a result of improved performance.

Matching Mentors with New Franchisees

Fortunately, as franchise systems grow they have tremendous potential to breed mentors among successful franchisees. The challenge is how to select the best mentors, incent them to spend time with protégés and – as with everything in franchising – take a consistent approach in what they cover with new franchisees.

Consider the following when establishing a mentor program using franchisees:

  1. Selection is key. Clearly, the franchisees selected to mentor have to be role models. This includes, first and foremost, complying with system standards. A positive relationship with the franchisor is also essential – those who grouse about the franchisor would be the last people to expose to a new franchise.​
  2. Consider what aspect of new franchise development you’d like mentors to take on. Some franchisors bring seasoned franchisees into the initial training program at the corporate office as speakers. Others place new franchisees with mentors in a store prior to coming to the corporate office program.​ In the latter case, what gets covered in the days at a mentor’s location should be structured, with a checklist of topics at a minimum.
  3. Remember that the franchise mentor is acting as an extension of the franchisor’s training program. Leaving the mentor to structure an in-store orientation exposes the new franchise to a potential hit-or-miss approach with critical activities. Given the import of this exercise, franchisors should consider either a train-the-trainer approach with a mentor imparting in-store activities and dialogue prescribed by the franchisor, or a collaborative approach with the mentor with a resulting in-store program approved by the franchisor.
  4. What does the mentor gain from giving a new franchise a jump start in their business? One could argue that there are inherent benefits to all franchisees – including the mentor –when a new franchise executes according to the brand’s standards and has a shorter or better launch as a result of a mentor’s tutelage. Also, some franchisees might simply be gratified by the recognition that accompanies an invitation by the franchisor to help in such training; it is an obvious statement of corporate’s approval of how the mentor operates.​

Do not assume, however, that the opportunity to be a mentor is perceived as having compelling value to a prospective mentor. You are asking a very busy businessperson to divert time and attention from their own business to support new franchisees, whether it’s in the mentor’s own store or as a speaker in franchise training. The inherent value is not always compelling enough for a seasoned franchise to make that tradeoff. Sweetening the deal shows respect for the mentor’s time and savvy: possible incentives include elevating the mentor’s status by providing acknowledgement and an award at a convention with peers, and/or providing remuneration in the form of direct payment, royalty reduction for the month, or reduced cost on product purchased from the franchisor.

Peer Mentoring

Keeping seasoned franchisees engaged in growing their businesses, and providing meaningful contributions to a multi-unit owner who has been in the system for a long time, can be challenging for franchisors. In some franchise systems, franchisees develop more experience in store operations than the franchisor has (think of large multi-unit franchisees and franchisors with few corporate-owned businesses). Peer mentoring can fuel franchise professional development and broaden business savvy for this group.

Here, too, the franchisor should play a role in the selection of participants. Consider how to make this an elite and inviting option for mature franchise owners. Elements of successful peer mentoring groups include:

  • Clear criteria for participation which is made known to all franchisees
  • Confidentiality of all information shared with the group
  • On-site visits to one another’s businesses followed by frank feedback
  • Candid disclosure by group participants about their business challenges, goals and financials
  • Commitment by the group to provide each member with an equal share of time and attention. This can come in the form of rotating focus at every meeting, or by focusing on a different individual’s business at each meeting.

The franchisor’s role in such groups is varied and warrants an open discussion about what franchisees want. The group may want to facilitate its own meetings without the franchisor’s presence. On the other hand, it may help franchisees to have corporate personnel present as well as involved in planning the meeting logistics, such as where and when the meetings will occur, who pays for associated costs of meeting rooms, meals, travel, etc.

Remember that one of the benefits of a franchise system is the cross-fertilization of ideas and savvy within the franchise community. Mentoring in franchise training, whether with new franchisees as protégés or amongst franchisees as peers, leverages this brand advantage. Don’t