Tweak the Model … Update Your Franchise Operations Manual

Necessity & Opportunity ?

In the 35 years since I founded Manual Writers International, there has never been a more pressing need for franchisors to provide franchisees with detailed operational guidance – nor a better opportunity to prepare the groundwork for ensuring that The Manual is in good order ready for growth after the Covid-19 Crisis has passed. Check out my article with examples of franchise systems and procedures that may need to be updated in accordance with the Contract so that the text remains authentic and reflects all changes to the System – or within the marketplace.

Franchisors, as entrepreneurs, think creatively and laterally. New competitors arrive, trends change, and the introduction of technology facilitates new products or services with new or different ways of working. Mostly, major changes to a franchise model are phased in against a well-considered strategy with time to embed new systems and train franchisees accordingly. 

Unprecedented times for managing a business require unprecedented actions so, to survive, many franchisors have needed to react swiftly to modify their systems and introduce new ways of working so that franchisees can provide their customers with continuity within the restrictions placed upon them currently and throughout the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis. 

For example, some restaurants and pubs have been able to switch to a ‘take-out’ and/or ‘delivery’ model, while others are now making much more use of cloud computing platforms; and Yoga and music classes are being conducted via a virtual gym or classroom on Skype. Local groups supporting their vulnerable communities today, will form the acorns from which future social enterprise franchises will grow.

The Manual – A Work in Progress

The Operations Manual is always a ‘work in progress’ – and a means for encouraging continuous improvement across the Network. Under the Terms & Conditions of the Franchise Agreement, the Franchisor must keep the Content of ‘The Manual’ up-to-date and is responsible for providing timely operational details of any alteration to the Business Model so that the text remains authentic and reflects all changes to the System – or within the marketplace. Now, as franchisors think creatively and seek different ways to engage with their customers and develop new pathways to deliver service excellence, franchisees need to be issued with clear, detailed, unambiguous, operational documentation. 

‘Regarding COVID-19 and the legal point of view,’ comments Vicki Mitman of NMW – a bfa-affiliated law firm, ‘many franchise businesses are adapting their business model in order to continue providing services to their customers. If required, the Franchise Agreement can be updated to incorporate the modified business system. The ability to update the Franchise Operations Manual quickly, and to communicate those updates with the franchise network, is essential.’ 

Content that may need to be originated or updated includes Policies & Procedures, Checklists and Hints & Tips. In the short term, these may be issued as a series of bulletins. However, in the longer term, they should be incorporated into a comprehensive Operations Manual – preferably accessed through a password protected portal – ready for growth and new franchisee recruitment. 

In addition to Continuity Planning and Crisis Management, these are examples of the type of operational Content that Franchisors will need to consider in order to maintain Brand Standards: 

  • Employment & HR – e.g. providing detailed procedures for crisis management and helpful information following government guidelines, cutting through the noise and giving franchisees clear, guidance on what they should be doing; and how they should be managing their teams in the field and/or operating from home.
  • Health & Safety, Hygiene – e.g. introducing or revising Risk Assessments; introducing new or additional safe systems of working incorporating strict social distancing to reduce social interaction between people with effective measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19); obtaining and using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) effectively.
  • Training – e.g. engaging franchisees remotely via video and online training to introduce new systems and procedures as remote working looks set to kick-start rapid and widespread digital upskilling; and refresher training. 
  • Working Remotely – e.g. how to operate from home safely; creating a quiet space in which to work effectively; time management; managing the stress of isolation from family, colleagues and friends. Most franchisees thrive on customer interaction and being the very best they can be. Therefore, working from home in social isolation can be particularly stressful and this can lead to mental health issues. It’s only natural to be worried and anxious at the moment – but remember that we are all in this situation together and franchisees, and if appropriate their employees, are not alone. 
  • Communication & Communications – e.g. being compassionate, caring and understanding. Communication should be reassuring, empowering and give space for open dialogue. The goal is to ensure that franchisees, who are struggling, feel able to come forward and tell you. It can be as simple as taking the time to ask how they are, then stop, wait for an answer and listen to the response. Providing greater levels of support via phone and email; and using technology to interact – such as Skype and Zoom – for personal calls, conference calls, webinars, etc. It’s vital to stay connected during this time. We’re designed for face-to-face human connection so franchisees and their teams may struggle because their physical contact with friends, family and colleagues has been cut. There’s no such thing as over-communication!
  • Customer Service & Care – e.g. maintaining a professional image; delivering exemplary service and providing excellent customer care; exercising stringent social distancing measures for vulnerable groups.
  • Social Media – e.g. enhancing procedures for keeping in touch with customers – such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – so that they know what’s happening; promoting innovation within the franchise, maintaining continuity of dialogue; and communicating posts with insight, understanding and empathy.
  • Supplies & Suppliers – e.g. managing stock and stock control – especially when supplies are short; sourcing and approving new suppliers; introducing new products and equipment; changing cleaning products to contain Lysol or bleach so that any flat surfaces are not receptive to Coronavirus – i.e. tiled floors, wooden floors and, of course, all surfaces that might be touched. 
  • Property Management & Maintenance – e.g. operating from or closing premises; security and/or safety arrangements; maintaining brand standards including signage.
  • Reporting Requirements – e.g. submitting weekly/monthly/annual reports to the Cloud; and KPIs.
  • Data Protection – e.g. assuring GDPR compliance and protecting sensitive data while working from home.
  • Audit Requirements – e.g. conducting virtual audits and assessing quality standards remotely.

These may include: 

  • taking images or video footage via a smartphone/tablet to demonstrate compliance and uploading them to the cloud
    • assessing standards via live webcam 
    • issuing additional checklists followed up by telephone interviews 
    • using coaching questions to test validity of results 
    • drawing up more frequent Action Plans to support continuous improvement

We spend a lot of time wondering when things will get back to normal. But, what if ‘normal’ isn’t coming back? If it proves to be true that the coronavirus pandemic will change how businesses and individuals work forever then, having up to date, comprehensive Operating Procedures to assure quality and consistency across the Franchisee Network will be vital to the ongoing success of the franchise. 

In the 35 years since I founded Manual Writers International and as a bfa Affiliate, Consultant and Professional Editor, there has never been a more pressing need, nor a better opportunity for franchisors to update their systems and procedures, get their Manual into good order – and make it the fount of knowledge that your franchisees need and deserve to deliver services that customers expect. 

Providing exceptional service in exceptional times is what franchisors and their franchisees do best and, long after this Global Crisis is over, customers will remember those who deliver it.

Penny Hopkinson © April 2020

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