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Your System Is Only As Strong As The Weakest Franchisee

The incredibly popular British, later American, game show ‘The Weakest Link’ made it seem simple to identify the weakest performer, and shove them off with a quick goodbye.

Not so in this real world, as many factors can blind a franchisor to what’s going on in their network of units.

Also, when a weak link is identified, you can’t simply bid it good riddance. You owe it to your franchisee and your company’s success to work the issue out, and move forward.

As a kid, I was told the idiom of the weak link, and it sticks with me to this day. Coaching high school soccer teams, in business, discussing issues with my friends and family, and even when I perform routine maintenance on my bicycle, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” runs over and over through my mind.

Call it an obsession, but I remember that, always. Losing sight of that fact can have disastrous results, which can manifest quickly.

One example of the ways this can manifest in the small business environment was a recent event at a fitness franchise in Wisconsin. On a dry erase board at the location, someone drew a figure of a person kneeling, described the components to a new class, and named it the “‘I Can’t Breathe’ Workout.”

Within hours, images of the dry erase board circulated through the online world, noting where it was seen, and demonstrated to the general public a lack of empathy for the then recent death of a person in police custody, a death that sparked national protest and civil unrest.

This poorly thought out act of the franchisee’s employee quickly compromised the culture of the franchisor, who necessarily took immediate, public action to address what happened but definitely not before the damage was done. Coming back from something like that can be a PR nightmare, maybe a PR specialist’s dream, but the price to pay can be severe.

When a brand, such as in this example, appeals to a wide spectrum of prospects and customers, being regarded as insensitive or tone-deaf to current affairs can be the end of said brand.

Now, what happened, and who’s to blame, or share blame?

First, it’s worth pointing out the brand began recovering from the incident, and the originator of the workout program came forward with a lengthy explanation of how the name came about, plus what the name represented to that person. Regardless of your personal opinion on the event, the fact is that stops could, and should, be in place to help avoid similar situations.

The company culture at the franchisee level may do well with a bit of tightening up. They may need a temporary policy that all new workouts and their names go through a channel or two for approval, and that imagery come from a pre-approved list.

Still at the unit level, what is the peer-to-peer relationship like? Do they have a diverse group amongst themselves to help vet ideas for communication within the business?

If not, maybe they can reach out to their local community, and diversify their feedback. In turn, from the franchisor to its franchisees, perhaps a semi-frequent reminder of suggestions on topics to showcase and avoid, how to engage with clients, and sharing ideas for positive interactions with, or direct benefit to, the franchisee’s local community.

Also for the franchisor, review codes of conduct, and for areas that could be seen as not securely buttoned down with what is and is not acceptable, especially in light of current events, circulate an update.

In the game of business, you must protect your image, your business, and your brand. Done well, at the end of the day the benefits run deeply. But you need total buy-in from new franchisees and from their employees. This takes everyone’s cooperation to move the enterprise forward. Your system is only as strong as its weakest franchise.

You started a business with a great product or service, a mixture of commitment to community, great pricing or customer service, and by believing in yourself. Find the words to convey your passion, and people will follow.

This article was written as part of Alfonso Flores' curriculum in the The Institute of Certified Franchise Executives (ICFE) via the University of Kentucky. Special thanks to the instructor who posed the question, Bett Mickels, DBA, whom you can reach at betty.mickels@louisville.edu. Also, to learn more about IFE’s wide range of continuing education programs for professional development, go here.

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