Leading with empathy and compassion is now even more important than ever and, when delivered effectively, can provide positive experiences for franchisors and franchisees to grow stronger together
Developing your emotional intelligence and understanding how important empathy is when it comes to improving your franchisee relationships can be transformative for franchisors and franchisees alike. In fact, franchisors and their support teams who have a high degree of emotional intelligence stand out from the crowd. It enhances your ability to tune in to the needs of others, enabling both parties to thrive as they develop a growth mindset. This in turn leads to relationships that are built on a foundation of openness, honesty and trust.
Conversely, low emotional intelligence tends to result in unhelpful, negative outcomes, as people display behaviours that are associated with a fixed mindset. This can create an environment that tends to focus on blaming others, deviation from the franchise system and playing the victim which, if left unchecked, can spread negativity like wildfire. Graeme McKinnon, CEO and founder of Why Leadership, knows first-hand how important it is for franchisors to use their emotional intelligence to forge a strong positive connection with everyone around them. Having spent over 16 years leading and growing three well-known franchise brands in the UK, Graeme now draws on his previous experience as a franchisor, to provide other franchisors with insights and advice from the leadership lessons he has learnt along the way.
By putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, staying humble, and focusing on the needs of others, franchisors have a huge opportunity to continually improve their relationships with their franchisees, whilst simultaneously driving growth and improving profitability. While this has always been important, this point has been amplified significantly over the last 20 months, as people are dealing with all the additional health and wellbeing challenges associated with the pandemic.
Leading with empathy and compassion is therefore now even more important than ever and, when delivered effectively, can provide positive experiences for franchisors and franchisees to grow stronger together. Listed below are just a few examples of some of the key benefits this approach can deliver.
1. Building trust through self-awareness
A franchisor who is self-aware and who has a support team with elevated levels of emotional intelligence is an essential element to building a high-performing franchise. Possessing higher levels of emotional intelligence and empathy also allows people to open up regarding their own strengths and weaknesses, so they can build much stronger relationships at every level. This creates an environment where franchisees and employees are encouraged to speak openly about the challenges they are facing, which is the key to your future success. You will also have a much better understanding of how to turn these challenges into opportunities for growth and personal development. Being open in this way also helps to develop trust and credibility as an emotionally intelligent leader, which will bring out the best in other people. Allowing the interdependent relationship between franchisors and franchisees means the brand can thrive as a whole.
Leading with compassion and creating a trusting relationship with your franchisees requires those in leadership roles to recognise the power of vulnerability. Some leaders believe that showing vulnerability is a sign of weakness whereas, in my view, it is actually a sign of strength. Whilst it may sound counter-intuitive, the reality is that this is part of what makes us human. No one has all the answers and your team does not expect that of you, although they will expect you to admit what you do not know.
The second thing to do is be clear about your sense of purpose. Vulnerability, underpinned with a powerful sense of purpose, makes you relatable, which in turn enables trust to grow. A further way to develop trust and credibility with your franchisees is to show your appreciation for their efforts and commitment, as well as never forgetting that they may well have put everything on the line to invest in the franchise in the first place. This does not have to be complicated as you can show how grateful you are by sending congratulatory messages, offering public praise when your franchisees demonstrate that they are living the organisation’s values, and distributing tangible rewards through internal newsletters and awards.
2. Nurturing the franchisor-franchisee relationship
The dynamic between a franchisor and franchisee must work well for both parties to succeed. I know, you have heard it all before, but how often do you really put the needs of your franchisees before your own? Does everyone in the franchisor team really know what it is like to operate at the coal face, and do your actions actually speak louder than your words? Even if you do these things, do you do them consistently, or are there times when you have inadvertently acted in a way that is more ‘do as I say, and not as I do’. As an ethical, responsible franchisor, it is your job to inspire, lead and support your franchisees to the extent that they are delivering an outstanding level of customer service. The more support a franchisee receives, the better they will run their franchise business. And, as a result, they are more likely to explore expansion opportunities or to suggest ideas that improve the franchise model for the benefit of stakeholders and shareholders alike.
To add value to your relationship with your franchisees, consider their dreams and aspirations for the future, including reconnecting with why they became a franchisee in the first place. What can you do to help them achieve whatever goals they have set for themselves? How can you help them overcome the challenges they are facing? And can you become their ‘uncomfortable friend’ when a situation requires honesty over-politeness? Franchisors who have helped their team to develop their emotional intelligence are much better equipped to provide the support their franchisees need in the moment, including knowing when to deploy coaching, as opposed to mentoring. Of course, nurturing this relationship and creating a coaching culture can be time-consuming, but it is an investment that will pay off in the long run.
3. Empathy and controlling your own emotions
Being self-aware allows leaders to identify any gaps that they might have in their leadership skills and reveals the areas in which they are effective, and even where they might need additional support. Further benefits of being self-aware for a franchisor are that you can identify and express your own emotions more effectively, which helps you make better decisions.
Being open to continually improve your own self-awareness is a great strength. As a proud Scot, Robert Burns put it well in one of his poems when he said: “Oh, would some power give us the gift: to see ourselves as others see us.” In a business setting, this could include introducing and participating in regular 360-degree reviews and feedback processes. This demonstrates that you are open to receiving feedback and creates opportunities for you to shine a light on traits and behaviours that you may not even be aware that you have. Following on from the point above, being a franchisor is no walk in the park. There will be many bumps in the road on the path to success and you will have to deal with everything from customer complaints, challenging franchisees and everything else that comes from running a business in a very uncertain world. You cannot control everything that happens, but by developing your emotional intelligence you can get better at managing your emotions, reducing the risk of burnout, anxiety and stress.
4. Effective communication
There is no denying that effective communication in the workplace can eliminate unnecessary problems and promote better performance. In fact, I would go as far as saying that the ability to communicate effectively within a franchise is essential to increasing productivity and the success of the franchise overall.
As an emotionally intelligent franchisor, you will encourage your network to communicate and feel more relaxed about expressing their feelings and talking openly with you. Because an entrepreneur with high emotional intelligence can be empathetic, solve problems and possess good social skills, they instantly become more approachable. Therefore, people are more willing to talk to you. Think about it: we all know how difficult it can be to communicate with someone to whom you cannot relate. If your franchisees or your employees cannot relate to you on a human level, communication naturally will become more complex and, in turn, your business will suffer.
When running any franchise, always remember that one of the best investments you can make is in developing yourself and your team. Finding a compassionate business coach, mentor, or non-executive director, who really understands how to optimise the franchisor-franchisee relationship, can really help your business to grow and thrive.
Graeme McKinnon, CEO and founder of Why Leadership, describes himself as a leader who is still on his own leadership journey, continually learning and developing. Ever since Graeme’s first career in nursing, he never lost sight of his own sense of purpose (his WHY). Graeme has developed his leadership style over the last 30 years from within the healthcare and franchise sectors, where he attributes his success to the people he has had the privilege to lead over that time.