What Preschools Get Right and Franchisors Get Wrong
When my son’s preschool was about to go under, I immediately hired his teacher to manage my Edible Arrangements franchise. Jennifer actually had experience running a flower shop prior to becoming an educator and I saw how well she ran my son’s class. I figured if I could trust her with one of my babies, I could trust her with the other. We would collaborate for 10 years, building one of the top Edible Arrangements enterprises in California and winning the “Best Customer Service” award out of more than 1,000 locations worldwide. Jennifer would win the very first Edible Arrangements “Manager of the Year” award.
Much of our success in franchising came from our mutual understanding of how it resembles a preschool. Teaching and managing are all about elevating others. That means giving people both the skills and the confidence to succeed. Sometimes that comes through direct instruction. Other times it’s through praise and discipline. It requires tapping into people’s heads and hearts simultaneously. When I picked up my son from preschool each day, I wanted more than his being able to write his name. I wanted him to build confidence. I wanted him to become curious. I wanted him to grow as a person as much as a student.
I wanted the same thing for my employees. I knew that to get the performance we needed from them, it wouldn’t be enough to teach them the basic arithmetic of their job. We needed to create a safe environment for learning and collaboration. We needed to build their confidence and curiosity. We needed to develop them as people. Certainly, we gave them the respect grown adults deserve, but by adding a touch of the love and compassion one normally reserves for young children, we helped them graduate into a superstar workforce.
When franchisors bring me in to speak, their concerns about franchisees usually revolve around personal, human factors. Some of their owners are complacent. Other resist change. Many have fears and insecurities and trust issues. The struggles within so many franchise brands are less about what people know and more about how people feel. Logic would dictate franchisors would put more resources into managing these human elements.
But unlike preschools, most franchise systems focus almost solely on skills. Operations, sales and marketing are the reading, writing and arithmetic of franchising. That’s what gets the attention. That’s what’s on the agenda at franchise conventions and regional meetings.
Franchisees wouldn’t appreciate being seen as preschoolers, but they’d benefit from a little more handholding. Maturity doesn’t lessen our need for emotional support. Franchisees want praise. They desire feedback and encouragement. They need instruction and, in some cases, additional tutoring. They need help conquering any fears that limit their potential. We assume that because someone is a grown adult with access to capital that they have plenty of self-esteem and courage. But if you’ve ever had that feeling of being a kid who’s pretending to live as adult, you know that so often that simply isn’t true.
And like kids (I’m a former franchisee, and I make this comparison with all due respect), some franchisees push back. They don’t want the help or don’t think they need it. They just want to work, unaware of how their own mindset impacts the results they get. Some don’t trust their corporate office and rally other franchisees to join the resistance. It takes a lot of discipline on the part of the franchisor to look beyond the tantrum and identify what these franchisees really need. (It takes even more discipline for a franchisor to admit to their own mistakes and adjust accordingly.)
Just like teachers, franchisors must be able to listen closely to franchisees and sometimes intuit what they may not be expressing. They need to be patient and flexible. And they need to be thick-skinned. As a toddler, my son could get pretty nasty when he hadn’t had his nap. As a franchisee, I could get pretty nasty when I didn’t have the sales. Franchisees have a lot on the line, and that must never be forgotten. It charges things up.
Some franchisors get this. They deliberately build strong franchise cultures. They regulary put out positive messages to keep franchisees encouraged, while also being truthful about brand challenges. They equip their field support team with skills to be as emotionally supportive as they are operationally. When they say they’re “in the people business,” they really mean it. They take care of their people as people, not just as operators. They lead with love, compassion, empathy and an understanding that a network of human beings needs to be managed differently than a network of computers.
Let us not forget that franchisors are also people. They, too, have feelings and emotions. They also deserve kindness and care and a bit of latitude. The best franchisees, whom I call “wealthy franchisees,” understand this. They treat their franchisors as partners and enjoy prosperous, profitable relationships with them. At the end of the day, we’re all just kids on the same playground, trying to fit in, have fun and do our thing.
Franchise brands would do well to adopt the practices of preschools. Teach to the head and from the heart. Believe that every franchisee has potential and give them the vision, the tools and the love they need to thrive. And definitely wash your hands a lot.