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We all know what 2021 looks like. We all probably have a good idea about 2022. Depending on the country you live in, your view will no doubt range from mild optimism to continued frustration – and maybe even despair. Travel looks to remain limited for at least another 12 to 18 months, or until there is a widespread application of vaccines. We’re in for a long haul of pandemic management and continued remote business management.
Travel isn’t as easy as it was. Some governments are banning entry. Quarantine makes business trips long. Running any company across borders has to be one of the most challenging aspects of leadership right now. Franchise businesses are ‘high touch’ businesses. As a founder, CEO or COO, nothing beats meeting face to face with franchisees, their teams, customers and suppliers. A good franchise company for me has always had a flat hierarchy compared to other business models. No matter their size. I found it easy to reach into a network to connect with key stakeholders as no one was far away from one another. High-performing franchise organizations shouldn’t be difficult to navigate or create robust communication structures and methods. Getting into the field was always one of my favorite things to do in a franchise company. I look forward to doing it again.
Of course, I have also spoken to franchisors who say it’s been okay to manage through disconnection, as the independent nature of the way franchise models work across domestic and international borders can mean risk is somewhat negated as business owners and markets can adapt more quickly to their particular situation and have a degree of independence and resilience. I am curious about how they have managed to stay well connected across borders. From these businesses I have found out some useful tips about staying connected and keeping a franchise culture on track.
The new normal
Just to confirm how much communication has changed, let’s look at a few numbers. Think of the many different communication software applications out there right now. Zoom’s story is well known. Explosive revenue growth for them. Slack, Workplace from Facebook, WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams and Skype to name just a few - they’ve all experienced explosive increases in daily active users. Reports have stated Teams went from approximately 32 million daily active users last March 11 to approximately 44 million by March 18. By April it was 75 million daily active users. Workplace has also experienced exponential growth. One report states that the messaging platform went to five million paid users up from three million in a matter of a couple of months. That excludes those that are using its free version. Even if you exclude the number of people using multiple applications, the growth in the use of technology to stay connected and communicate is staggering. Now, it is important to note that not all these applications do the same things. Some are for very specific purposes and some are very rich with functionality and capability.
“Running any company across borders has to be one of the most challenging aspects of leadership right now”
I’ve used many of them. My personal favorites are Teams and Workplace. Teams is easy to activate and is embedded in Outlook. It’s very simple to book a Teams call. Like all applications, it is a mobile-first solution as well as you can download the app onto your smartphone or PC. You can have many callers on a call and record it.
Workplace is rich with functionality, too. Its live broadcast capability, real-time two-way interaction, captioning and multilingual functions are fantastic. The number one plus to me is that it is just so easy to train people to use it. Why? Well, it’s just like using Facebook, and since so many people these days have at least a rudimentary understanding of how to use Facebook, training people to use Workplace is just about the easiest thing you can do. Both of my favorites are inexpensive and talk to your other company applications like your CRM and financial applications. Integration is a breeze. Workplace case studies have also shown how dramatically emails reduce in a business when they embrace a social approach to communication using its application. I am always happy to spend less time scrolling through my email inbox!
This didn’t happen overnight when the pandemic hit. The use of these applications was happening well before that. What we are witnessing is a pandemic-led acceleration of technology and new communication methods. The transformation was already taking place. It’s just sped up like a rocket which won’t be slowing down anytime soon. It certainly will become more sophisticated. But I believe it’s here to stay. That’s the socialization of business activities and organizational culture.
Having a comms plan that works on culture is not optional anymore.
So, with all this wonderful tech, I have noticed franchise organizations investing more in the creation of tangible and thoughtful communication plans to minimize disruption, keep company culture on track and increase the connectivity of its people. Engaging a communication specialist to help you embrace and be successful at this accelerated new world of communication and connection is a must. Seeking input from team members across borders is an important part of that process. Setting etiquette rules and being open to creating safe ways for people to express their views is essential. This can be a challenge in a franchise company as emotions can run high. Remember, franchisees are heavily vested along with senior leaders and founders. All these applications have rich resource centers that can also help guide your business to execute your communication plan well.
“What we are witnessing is a pandemic-led acceleration of technology and new communication methods”
Franchises are network businesses. It is natural that they behave like a social network. The tech allows it. What franchise leaders need to do is not fear these open communication methods and be prepared to engage with franchise networks in an open mode. Embrace all the feedback, establish protocols for usage and use video to help communicate your message and gain feedback. Nothing tells a story better than moving pictures! Here’s a tip. Many of the applications that exist have the ability to create snap polls and surveys. If you really want to keep your finger on the pulse of your organization culture, try short polls and surveys to keep up with team sentiment across borders. Report back to the team on the results and what action (if any) you will take in response to the findings.
Where to from here?
We all know, depending on where we are in the world, that life isn’t going back to normal anytime soon. We will continue with remote communication and management across borders. Meetings will continue to move from the formal and to be more informal. Friday night drinks and tailgates are happening regularly. I hope they continue and don’t fall victim to remote meeting fatigue. I love a good informal chat with franchise colleagues all over the world. We have so much in common yet still so much to learn from one another. The insights are gold and I appreciate the willingness to share not only business lessons but personal and life lessons. We need to stay connected more than ever before.
I am hearing more about the agile nature of communication plans to sustain healthy organizational cultures. Subtle changes to meeting formats, content, length and meeting breaks are happening. Has anyone noticed how much shorter meetings are now?
The reality is we are all in a truly long haul to a new world. I personally am busting to travel freely again, domestically and internationally. I truly believe meeting in person for business is essential to maintaining good working relationships and to keep organizational culture on track. Founders and leaders will always keep their finger on the culture pulse a little better when they are out of their office and travelling meeting franchisees, their team members suppliers and customers.
“Even the most techno-phobe founder or senior executive is now using technology like never before”
I miss a good convention gathering. I have sat through a few excellent virtual events. They’re really good, but is it just me or does everyone take less notes now that everything is recorded? However, unfortunately, they do lack something. That human need to connect in person. I look forward to them returning but no doubt with a new etiquette in place.
Admirable efforts are being made to avoid “remote fatigue” as well as early signs of blended in-person working and meeting - where people can meet in person they will, alongside a large screen that has remote team members joining in.
We only use a small fraction of available technology – how many of us know or use even a third of the features of our smartphones? Even the most techno-phobe founder or senior executive is now using technology like never before. This ultimately is a good thing. Use that technology to stay connected. It will be a bit of a haul but it’s so easy to stay connected. Let’s not stop working across borders now. Let’s double down in that tech to keep us together.
Michael O’Driscoll CFE has been in the franchising sector for 30 years. He has been a CEO, COO and board director of several franchise systems. He is former director of the Franchise Council of Australia and holds an MBA in International Franchise Strategy.
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