The Art of Communication . . . Why it’s time for your franchise to break the mold

by:Evan Hackel

Evan Hackel

I was visiting the office of a franchise owner a few months ago. While we were chatting, he happened to be checking his email. I noticed that he ignoring some messages, opening others for a quick look, forwarding some without looking at them, and deleting others. In other words, he was processing the contents of his in-box just like you and I do.

But then I started asking about the messages he was getting from franchise headquarters.

  • “Why didn’t you open that one?” I asked. He answered, “They’ve already sent me four emails reminding me to set up my new store displays, why bother to read one more?” Well, okay. But what if there was other information in that email too?
  • He opened another one from the home office and closed it in about one second, then explained, “It starts with the words, `Effective immediately . . .’ So effective immediately, I am postponing reading it until later in the day.” Again, the person who had sent that email was not connecting with the reader.
  • When he didn’t even open another email, he explained, “I’ll open that later. All I get from the head of marketing is, `Everybody needs to do this . . . everybody needs to do that!’”

Problems like those are not uncommon in franchises. And let me say, they represent serious issues, because communication is the lifeblood of every franchise system. If your messages don’t get through and you’re not truly being heard, your business – and theirs – will suffer.

That’s why it’s time to break the mold. My goal in this article is to help you turn communications from your biggest headache into your most important asset. Here are solutions that are not theoretical – I have seen them work.

Send Fewer, Better, Shorter Emails

People today are bombarded with more and more information than ever before, thanks to emails, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and websites. In an effort to be heard, it is tempting to respond by sending more and more communications. The problem is, your franchisees will become more overwhelmed and tune you out.

One solution is to post detailed information on your company intranet. Then short emails from headquarters can simply say, “Click here to learn how.” You can even track how many people click through and know how many of them have actually looked.

Open Each Communication with a “Why” and “What’s in It for Me?”

Avoid opening emails with “effective immediately” or “do this” and trumpet a benefit that readers want and need. One example? Your reader will increase store-wide profits by $100,000 a year because you are offering a training program that has already achieved that in every store and region where it has been tried.

Communicate in an Energized and Positive Way

Information and instructions come to life when you don’t just deliver. The key is to communicate your “Why” and “What’s in It for Me?” in positive ways that deliver excitement.

Before you send each communication, review it and find opportunities to express more excitement. I have recently found that videoconferencing (such as the Zoom.com platform) offer a real opportunity to tell exciting news in energizing face to face to people. They see you and can feel your excitement directly.

Cultivate a More Positive Company Culture

You can’t fake a positive company culture. To supercharge the effectiveness of your communications, concentrate on building a company culture that is genuinely positive.

Over the last few years, I have discovered an approach to becoming more positive that I call “The Three Things.” I first started using it in my family. I asked each person in my family to come to dinner prepared to talk about three things that happened during the day that made them feel happy. At first my kids resisted. So did one of their friends, who happened to be staying with us. But then we began to notice that as we went through our days, we were on the lookout for good things to talk about at dinner. That process of always looking for good things, not bad, got us to begin to see the world in positive and motivating ways, not negative. The results exceeded all expectation, and I believe that similar approaches can reorient company cultures.

Ingage Franchisees in the Process of Change

I would like to conclude this article with a case study. Back in 2013, the managers of a national consumer brand approached me. Their annual convention was coming up, an event attended by owners of their brand-specific stores across America. The executives were planning to unveil a new store design, and they wanted me to help them increase attendance at the convention.

In previous years, only about 20% of storeowners had attended. And it was a very big priority to get as many of them as possible to attend. Without their buy-in on the new store design, its adoption and use would not be as successful as the company leaders were hoping.

Company leaders were hoping that I could get as many as 40% or 50% of all store owners to come to the convention. But I surpassed that number and was actually able to get more than 85% of them to be there.

How did I help this company achieve those dramatic results? I asked management a simple question. Instead of simply pulling the curtains off a new design at the convention, would they consider bringing three or four designs-in-progress and then allowing franchisees to make suggestions about them? Management agreed and showcased several new designs. After franchisees reviewed them, we encouraged them to make suggestions and refinements.

In that way, I was able to shift the dynamic from, “They’re going to talk to me” to, “They’re going to talk with me.” That changed the whole meeting from “95% listen and 5% contribute” to “50% listen and 50% contribute.” What a difference.

The result was not only a good design, but also one that reflected the front-line, real-world intelligence that only storeowners could provide. People who provided input were excited about the design that resulted, because they had enjoyed a role in creating it. I predict that as stores roll out the new design, their customers are going to love it – and that profits will increase. Great results like those can happen when you strive to communicate with people, not to them.