Operations Manuals are the DNA for successful international expansion, explains Marla Rosner
There is no magic to creating effective franchise system manuals essential to international expansion. It starts with focused, disciplined and painstaking documentation of the business concept by the franchisor at home. The franchisor must articulate in a user-friendly manner the core requirements, processes, standards and best practices of the brand and do so with the end user, the franchisee, in mind.
While the need for crisply written manuals may be obvious, it should be noted that the risk of poor business documentation for international expansion is even greater than for domestic growth. Monitoring consistent execution of the brand domestically, though challenging, pales in comparison to handing over your concept to a distant master franchisee operating at arm’s length from the corporate office. Brand dilution or distortion is a greater risk.
It is important to also keep in mind that it is the franchisee that is responsible for the day-to-day management of their businesses. The overriding purpose of your manual library is to identify brand standards for your franchise system and not to control the day-to day-business affairs of the franchisee. The exercising of excessive or improper controls by a franchisor can lead to liabilities that should be avoided.
Franchise system manual libraries: what’s included
Most franchise systems have a library of manuals, which carve out topics in a manner relevant to the franchisee. For example, topics related to activities necessary to launch the business are effectively segregated in a Start-Up Manual so that the franchisee can focus on guidance relevant to getting their doors open. Operations Manuals typically go beyond day-to-day operations and address all requirements the franchisee must meet once the business is launched, e.g., standards for service and product delivery, financial obligations and marketing best practices and restrictions.
Beyond these core manuals, many franchise systems have supplemental manuals addressing the franchisee’s employees. A unit manager manual may be developed for a location manager and employee training manuals, by position, may be developed for the franchisee to use in training their employees. The Operations Manual should be the ‘hub’ document cross-referencing the other ‘spoke’ manuals and training programs to ensure the franchisee knows all of the resources available to them.
Necessary content adjustments to manuals used in other countries
When expanding to other countries, two steps, both time-consuming, should be built into the planning process: localization of the content and translation. Examples of localization include addressing different regulations that may exist in other countries as well as any franchisor-approved adjustments to products, services, uniforms, equipment, etc., necessary for local cultures, norms and supply chains.
Whether it’s the franchisor’s office in another country that takes this on, or a master franchisee is required to accomplish this, in order for the franchisor to confirm accurate translation, the documents should be translated back into English and re-read by the home office. If you are a master franchisee, this process should be thoroughly discussed in advance of signing a contract so you are clear about your accountability and can plan for the time and costs for translation and localization of the material.
Both franchisors and master franchisees should understand that an Operations Manual, or library of manuals, is one element of a training program designed to replicate your brand. Materials should never be passed off to franchisees with directions simply to “read this”. To leverage the hard work your team has put into developing these manuals, consider the following best practices:
* Assign chapters to read prior to or during initial franchisee training and quiz franchisees to confirm they have read the material.
* Bring the written word to life by structuring training modules around each chapter of the Operations Manual. Not only should you refer to the manual content, elaborate upon it and invite questions during training, franchisors should develop practical activities for training that enable franchisees to apply their knowledge.
* Point franchisees to manual content when they call the office with questions. Explain how to search the document if need be. This supports the franchisee to find answers in their manuals independently.
* Use the Start Up and Operations Manuals to train all corporate personnel, not just those supporting franchise or corporate-owned unit operations. Those in marketing, accounting and IT need to understand how franchising differs from other businesses they may have worked in so they can communicate with master franchisees and domestic franchisees intelligently and appropriately.
Making manuals user-friendly
* “Less is more” should be the byword of your manual authors. While there is a great deal to communicate, concise content is key to encouraging franchisees and their teams to thoroughly read the manuals you provide.
* Keep paragraphs short, i.e., two to three sentences.
* Use bullets to call out items in list fashion rather than in a paragraph
* Avoid cramming pages full of text and instead leave white space to make reading easier.
* Use headers and sub-headers to help the reader identify and search for key topics addressed in the material.
* Format the manual using colors and fonts that align with your brand. Graphic designers can take your manual from a daunting text-heavy sleep aid, to a user-friendly readable resource. It’s worth the investment to have someone on your team or an external resource, ensure the material looks professional.
What to look for in franchise manuals
If you are a prospective franchisee or master franchisee, ask the franchisor if you can peruse their manuals prior to finalizing your decision to join the franchise system. Though franchise manuals house all the proprietary information that distinguishes the concept, and franchisors are appropriately guarded about exposing material until you’ve signed a contract, you may be permitted to take a glance, i.e., thumb through hard copies during a discovery day or during a close-to-final meeting or get limited-time access to a digital version. Look for the following:
* Examine the tables of contents. How detailed are the materials? Do they seem comprehensive?
* Read a few paragraphs. Is the writing clear? Or do you have to read sentences two or three times to understand them?
* Does the formatting make it look like an easy-to-navigate document?
* Has the franchisor invested the time to share their know-how in a manner you can implement?
Operations manuals are a core building block to accomplishing international expansion just as they are critical for expanding domestically. They are the foundation for consistency at the unit level as well as the central, shared reference for all of the company’s players globally: corporate personnel, field consultants, master franchisees, franchisees and franchisees’ staff. Franchisors who take these documents seriously convey their true commitment to supporting the brand.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marla Rosner is the Senior Learning and Development Consultant for Michael H. Seid & Associates, LLC (MSA), a domestic and international franchise advisory firm. Marla consults to franchisors, creating Operations Manuals and structuring new franchisee, manager and employee training programs. Prior to her work with MSA, Marla helped build the Supercuts franchise system from 75 locations to over 1,100 salons as Vice President of Training and Development.
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