Phases of Franchise Training
By Marla Rosner, Senior Training Consultant, MSA Worldwide
The successful execution of the most brilliant franchise concept depends largely on one key initiative: training. In fact, training, combined with the crisp articulation of your franchise system in operations manuals, is the DNA that enables a business to replicate with consistency. Designing critical elements of training before you offer franchises is essential if your franchisees are to succeed.
Not only will effective training contribute to your brand’s quality and consistency, prospective franchisees view the training you offer - which is conveyed in your Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) - as a key factor in their decision to join your system; they are comparing your investment in their development with other concepts they are considering.
Though established franchisors may have elaborate training programs, new franchisors are creating their foundation, laying one brick at a time to build their training structure. This article addresses where to begin, and the journey ahead as your training programs grow and evolve.
Phase One: Documentation in Manuals
Most franchise systems have a library of manuals embodied in the term “Operations Manual.” Think through who the end user is for each manual you plan to develop. Users could be the franchise or the franchisee’s general manager, unit manager, or employees.
For brick-and-mortar businesses, franchisees will need to begin searching for a site and be prepared to initiate a long list of activities to launch their business. This material goes into what is typically referred to as a Start-Up Manual or Pre-Opening Manual. It is crucial to have the manual completed before beginning to offer franchises since once a franchisee signs a contract you will need to put this manual in his or her hands in the context of an orientation session about launching their site.
A manual typically titled Operations Manual or Franchisee Manual addresses general topics including store operations (requirements, standards, policies, necessary procedures, staffing recommendations, etc.), financial management, marketing, and advertising. The Start-Up Manual and Operations Manual must sync up to key content in the FDD and Franchise Agreement while using plain speak and not legalese.
Depending on the business concept, the manual library may include other manuals that address recipes, food preparation, etc.; and there may be an array of training manuals that the franchisee may adapt for use with their managers and other employees.
Phase Two: Corporate Training
Everyone in your headquarters office needs “Franchising 101” education to learn the differences between working with employees and working with franchisees unless they’ve worked for a franchisor before. And even then, a brush-up doesn’t hurt, since the legal landscape is always evolving and there can be legal ramifications for the franchisor if someone who works for you takes the wrong tack with a franchise or their employee.
The Franchise Development Manager will be recruiting franchisees and representing the franchise opportunity to prospects. There is perhaps no position more vulnerable to legal retribution than the Franchise Development Manager since he or she is representing the franchise offering and fielding questions about potential sales and support. Any misrepresentations, intentional or otherwise, lay a path for future lawsuits that are easily avoided with proper training. Here, your franchise lawyer or consultant may participate in training to clarify what can and cannot be communicated to prospective franchisees. Your Franchise Development Manager should also have basic knowledge of how your units operate so that prospective franchisees can get proper answers to operational and other questions they may have.
Field Consultants usually come from the ranks of seasoned operators within the system. This may be a corporate general manager or, in the event the franchisor has only one corporate store, it may be the founder who functions as the Field Consultant for the first few franchisees! Field Consultants generally already have the operational expertise, but may need training in presentations skills to provide training, business analysis, and consultation skills (e.g., establishing credibility, building trust, and providing advice in a manner that is well received).
Phase Three: Initial Franchise Training Program
Your investment in your manual library will be leveraged even further when you use them as your reference materials for new franchisee training - clearly another essential to launching franchises. Assigning sections of the manuals as pre-work or homework gets franchisees in the habit of using the manuals and conveys the critical information they need to know.
The new franchisee training program should impart the vision of the franchisor as well as the nuts and bolts described in the manuals. Typically, the program consists of “pre-training” webinars, corporate office classroom training including in-store hands-on sessions, as well as on-site training at the franchisee’s location immediately preceding and during the launch week(s).
Unit Manager Training
Unit managers are pivotal to the success of any store operation, and for the most part, are promoted from the ranks with little or no experience in managing. Manager training, as a priority, should fall into phase one, though some new franchise systems don’t recognize this. If unit manager training is not built into your start-up plan, the development of managers falls to franchisees who may or may not have the skills to develop it.
While classroom training that brings managers together is optimal, the cost of having managers out of their businesses and sometimes out of town for this type of program can be prohibitive for some franchisees. Great alternatives do exist: blended learning, or combining webinars and shorter classroom programs, can provide more flexible options that don’t require the manager to be gone for long stretches from the store. As your franchise system matures, you can develop recorded training modules that can be accessed by managers online, which can further reduce their time in the classroom and out of the store. In addition, building a team approach that includes assistant manager training allows new managers to have many of the basic skills they will need for their new position.
Another essential piece of training is the training conducted by franchisees with their own unit employees. Whether there are technical procedures for delivering the service or product, or product knowledge to convey to customers, franchisees can’t open their doors until they have trained their team. However, in order not to flounder in this critical task, the new franchisee needs training materials from the franchisor which they can modify if they choose. Whether the offering to customers is packaging, sandwiches, haircuts, or business services, frontline personnel need specific skills and knowledge to carry out the task. Often these are taught through simple training manuals, training aids, or videos provided by the franchisor that forms the foundation of the franchisee’s staff training programs.
Phase Four: Ongoing Training
Once the franchise system has reached a critical mass, regional or national franchise and manager conventions become great venues for ongoing training and inspiration. General managers can fit into either or both of these audiences.
Conferences and conventions provide the franchisor a vehicle for communicating new programs and products, conducting advanced and refresher training and injecting stimulating new approaches by bringing in outside speakers. Equally as important, these conventions renew franchise and manager loyalty and pride, as they’re reminded that they’re part of a now large, established, and successful company.
Beware Stale Training!
As you refine your system, alter policies, add new products and services, and find more productive and profitable methods for unit operation, you’ll need to revise manuals; franchisee, unit manager and employee training; and reshoot videos.
Manuals should be revisited at a minimum of once a year, along with updating the franchise agreement and franchise recruitment material. Revisit videos every two to three years at a minimum, more frequently if you are adding new products, services, and procedures to the franchisees’ businesses. The better you are at continuously improving your business, the more you’ll need to update your manuals and training.