Four Best Practices in Franchise Manual Wording

If a methodical and conscientious approach to the language of franchise manuals was not a priority in your system before, the current climate around joint employment issues should serve as a wake-up call to review your materials now with these best practices in mind.

By Marla Rosner, Senior Training Consultant, MSA Worldwide

Whenever I present a seminar on franchise system Operations Manuals, I always address one of the main challenges for anyone wordsmithing such manuals in a franchise system: the importance of proper wording for your target audience.

For some who take on the daunting task of writing such manuals, it’s tough to even put words to paper; other writers are prolific, but suspect they may be including too much detail. Even when words flow and topics are well articulated, there are verbiage issues that require a laser-like focus by writers and reviewers of franchise system manuals.

And, if a methodical and conscientious approach to the language of franchise manuals was not a priority in your system before, the current climate around joint employment issues should serve as a wake-up call to review your materials now with the following best practices in mind:

1. Recognize the reader

Often, a company's processes and procedures are initially documented on a piecemeal basis for use in company-owned stores. When source documents have been written for company personnel, this creates the legal danger that verbiage relating to the franchisor’s employee polices about absenteeism, employee benefits, company human resources departments, etc., can inadvertently migrate to the franchise system operating manuals.

Beware: if your franchise operations manual contains remnants of an employee handbook, not only will it be confusing for franchisees to read, it is also especially problematic in light of co-employment risks for franchisors.

In such cases it’s essential that the material be reviewed by a fresh set of eyes to be sure the material was fully transformed into a franchise system manual with the franchisee and franchisee’s manager in mind as the intended readers.

2. Scrupulously avoid wording that implies joint employment

Even companies that begin their documentation within the framework of the franchise model can fall prey to ambiguous wording in manuals when addressing issues related to franchisees’ employees.

Being clear in franchise manuals that it is the franchisees who control employee recruitment, hiring, supervision, compensation, and termination has always been important - but never more so than in the current environment. Examine your material for appropriate disclaimers and wording, and when providing sample employee-related forms, create templates that require franchisees to put their own business names on the forms.

3. Change legalese into plain English

There’s no need to use legalese in franchise manuals - the writer's goal should be to make the manuals as user-friendly as possible. Further, those writing franchise manuals might think of themselves as translators of the legal word into plain speak. Content in franchise Operations Manuals must echo or elaborate upon the appropriate topics from the Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD); however, manual writers should rigorously filter out and replace words like “heretofore,” “thereafter,” and “shall.”

Be aware that your Operations Manual is one of the earliest communication vehicles from the franchisor to the franchisee, and as such establishes a tone for the relationship and also conveys the culture of the business.

A heavy-handed legal tone from the franchisor can subtly convey a negative impression at the outset of the relationship, and can override the flavor of the culture a franchisor may want to convey.

4. Pay scrupulous attention to word selection

While franchisors should avoid legalese in manuals, they should not shy away from conveying system standards and requirements in clear terms. There should be no ambiguity in these areas, and crisp distinctions should be made between system requirements, standards, and best practices. Failure to execute requirements and standards can be a breach of the franchise agreement, while failing to implement a best practice is not.

Words that convey requirements include:

  • Must
  • May not
  • Required
  • Prohibited from

Words that convey best practices include:

  • May
  • Should
  • Recommended
  • Suggested

Franchise manuals can be a daunting task to develop at the outset as well as to update, but once these key writing tactics have been applied, future updates will be much easier. And, there’s no way around it; documenting your franchise system effectively is the first step in replicating your concept consistently for customers. The investment of time is well worth it.

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