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Keeping staff engaged during operational change

Keeping staff engaged during operational change

When poorly communicated, changes in the way your business is run can send shock waves through your franchise network. Here are the pitfalls to avoid.

The world is getting ever more tech orientated, yet how businesses execute their brand promise and the customer experience they create comes down to their customer-facing people.

At a recent event, 50 retail and hospitality brands gathered together to talk about productivity and operational change. Whether the brands operated a franchise or an owned and operated model, the topic everyone came back to, without fail, was the importance of getting teams engaged.

When asked what they would do differently if they started their change project again, they all said: taking more time to engage front-line teams and the field leadership who support them would have helped them deliver better and faster.

One brand operating in the charity retail space said they thought they were setting out on a technology project and quickly realized they were actually delivering a cultural change project that just happened to be enabled by technology.

We all agree it’s important, so what does successful engagement look like? At its worst, engagement can be one-way, top down communication. And, of course, that’s not the sort of engagement that delivers change.

James Bolle, captain at PRPSFL, a consultancy that helps teams love their work, provides this definition of engagement: “when colleagues bring their head, hearts and hands to work”. This definition provides a helpful way of considering how well your own engagement efforts are working and encourages us to think about the rounded, two-way process that covers logic, feelings and operational details that is the gold standard for involving and engaging teams.

The engagement challenge in franchise businesses can be tougher than in owned and operated companies – and is arguably more important. Our experience is that where local franchise operators choose their own staffing budget, there can be significant variance in both business as usual delivery and capacity to deliver change.

We’ve seen operations where the salary spend was reined in too tightly and the result was queues and lost sales. And we’ve also seen a franchise partner who decided to provide extra colleagues to ensure all his customers got a great experience – what he got was an under-occupied team who lacked motivation, and a large salary bill. Neither setup makes the most of the business opportunity or will deliver successful change programmes.

So, what are the secrets of success to engaging teams in operational change?

1 - Make sure your plans, and capacity for change, match

Businesses that are clear on their priorities and know how much change their business can cope with do a much better job of landing and sustaining change.

Speaking at an event on things companies should do when starting an operational change project, Oliver Banks, an expert in retail operational improvement, said: “Take a long hard look in the mirror to decide exactly what problem you want to solve. Get that wrong and the wrong path has been chosen right from the start, leading to wasted money and time.”

Oliver also shared some great advice on creating more champions of the change early on; “Set early deadlines. If you manage to get early momentum by delivering a proof of concept or tangible early deliverables, you’ll be building trust in the project.”

2 - Speak to the head…and heart

Different people are motivated by different things. For some, it’s enough to set out the logic and business benefit to get their buy-in. Others are more driven by their heart and want to know how the world will be a better place. Engagement has got to work for everyone if the change is going to happen and stick.

The best communicators use storytelling and know that a strong start is essential to hook people in. Setting out the context for your change is a great start for your story. It explains what is happening around your business that means the change is needed and sets out the purpose of what you are trying to achieve.

Gary Vaynerchuk, the U.S. entrepreneur, speaker, and author, says this about communication: “If the content is king, then context is god.”

3 - Give clear, on-going help

Franchise businesses can’t just rely on telling people what to do. You work with partners who own their own businesses and need to buy into the changes you wish to make. Brand owners tell us the secret to a successful franchise operation is that central operations teams must operate by influencing and engaging their partners.

All that skillful influencing has to be backed up by clear operational guidance on what you want people to do differently.

A brand at a recent event lamented that while it did a fantastic job at launch communication and training, but it didn’t reinforce it with on-going guidance, so it didn’t deliver over the long term as it had hoped. Engagement to deliver operational change requires more than a one-off hit.

4 - Your people know best

Phil Whittle, retail director at Schuh put it perfectly when he said: “Appreciate that your in-store teams understand the challenges you’re trying to fix better than the people at head office do.”

If the change you are trying to make is simple, it would probably have been done before. For some changes, your teams and franchise partners know best. By listening to them, you’ll help your business, while encouraging them to bring their heads, hearts and hands to work every day.


Simon Hedaux is the founder and CEO of Rethink Productivity.

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