Effective communication skills are vital for any franchise executive. Here are ways to develop those skills.
By Bill Corbett Jr.
Leadership and management experts agree that effective communication by leaders is critical for organizational success both in the short and long term. In the franchise sector, leadership communications offers both challenges and tremendous opportunities.
The size of franchise companies and the number of units under their umbrellas is broad and often far-reaching geographically. In terms of staff, employees and affiliates, the numbers can range from only a handful of employees working directly with a franchise owner to hundreds or even thousands of employees who are a part of a large public franchise company.
In the franchise industry, there is a wide diversity of models in a growing number of business categories. One factor that is clear is that leaders in the franchise sector who place a high importance on communications excel. Achieving growth and success hinges upon a leader’s ability to clearly and consistently communicate their vision for the future to all members of their organization as well as being open to feedback.
To grasp how effective communications leads to success in terms of unit growth, sales, recruitment and retention of talent and operational efficiency, we must understand that the best experts are those who are accomplishing this every day at their companies.
A Clear Vision
Adam Contos, CEO of RE/MAX LLC, the global leader in real estate, oversees a network that spans more than 110 countries and territories, more than 8,000 offices and 125,000 real estate professionals. For him, sharing the company’s vision with all stakeholders is critical. This includes regular communication with his corporate headquarters team and the franchisees and agents who are part of the RE/MAX global network.
“The vision we need our independently owned and operated franchises to understand is simple: ‘We’re a business that builds businesses,’” Contos says. “That vision is applicable to brokerages as well as to agents – and we’ll spend a great deal of time in 2019 communicating it and digging deeper into what it means for every RE/MAX affiliate.”
Communicating an easy-to-connect-with corporate vision and mission regularly plays an important role in bringing organizations together and creating a strong corporate culture. “At RE/MAX headquarters, we’ve adopted ‘MORE’ as a rally cry for how we approach our work: deliver to the Max; be customer-Obsessed; do the Right thing; together, Everybody wins,” Contos explains. “The entire HQ team is aligned under those core values, which drive us forward and enable us to serve the global network at a very high level. We communicate those values and reinforce them through our actions every day.”
According to leadership development expert Michele Rebetti, president of Crestcom Key Alliance, “Communication is the most critical skill a leader must have. It is especially important from the top-down perspective within organizations. Leaders must focus on communicating their vision in many ways, including and not limited to direct spoken communications on the phone or in person, as well as speaking in front of small and large groups.”
“Leaders must also consider the message they are sending when they are directly in front of people,” Rebetti adds. “What you say, your message, how you say it, your tone, and your body language all play an important part. In terms of trust and likability, studies show that 55 percent of likability comes from body language and non-verbal behaviors and 38 percent comes from the tone that is used when speaking.”
However a leader chooses to communicate they must be genuine and this process must focus on building trust on all levels. Asked about speaking at small groups or in front of more than 10,000 people at events like the RE/MAX R4 Annual Convention, Contos responds: “For me it’s the same message, different scale. Being consistent is crucial. As a leader, you simply can’t say one thing to one group and something totally different to another. People will hold you accountable, as they should. Funny thing is that it’s really not that difficult; the key is being open, honest and transparent at all times.”
With a clear understanding of the leader’s intentions, uncertainty within organizations is reduced or eliminated. This plays an important role in maintaining a high level of morale, motivation and trust. An additional benefit from this engagement is higher staff retention and improved talent recruitment. Quality leaders draw people to them and to their organizations.
“At my Club Pilates locations, I am always out among my staff and talking with customers,” says David Wolk, a Long Island, N.Y., area developer and owner of three Club Pilates locations. “I am clear that my three locations on Long Island are only the start for me. I paint this vision regularly with my team. Everyone who works with me knows where we are headed and what the future opportunities will be. This is a great motivator and staff members are constantly talking about it with their friends and family. This attracts business as well as excellent people who are looking to become part of my team.” One of Wolk’s Club Pilates locations has been a top-10 performing studio out of 450 units each month since January 2018.
It is clear to RE/MAX’s Contos (photo at right) that leaders on the corporate as well as on the franchise levels who communicate purposefully will attract talented people. “We see this in thousands of our RE/MAX offices around the globe,” he notes. “The best leaders are intentional in what they do and say. They listen. They care. They keep people updated. And they learn something new every day. Leaders who come up short on those counts are inviting their best performers to leave.”
For individual franchise operators, ongoing communications and a commitment to listening supports long-term success. Evan Bloom, co-owner of several Sir Speedy locations – including one of Franchise Services Inc.’s top 15 Sir Speedy locations worldwide for over a decade – knows this from experience. “Keeping good people and avoiding hiring mistakes is extremely important, especially for a franchise operator like us with 15 employees,” Bloom says. “Leaders who listen to employees build strong cultures, enhance morale and remove uncertainty. When communications are lacking, it creates an environment of confusion and this is the worst situation that a leader could find themselves in. To avoid this, we have regular staff and management meetings and we are committed to communicating with everyone regularly.”
Are You Listening?
Communications is a two-way street. Effective leaders hone their listening skills and seek out and encourage feedback, ask information and vet ideas with others regularly. This process demonstrates interest, fosters engagement and supports effective decision-making.
“We often see leaders fail because they don’t take the time to listen,” Rebetti observes. “Listening with the intent to understand, instead of simply to respond, is one successful approach we see the most effective leaders use.”
Adds Contos: “I love the old adage that you have two ears and one mouth – so you should listen twice as much as you talk. Listening is crucial, because in today’s competitive world it’s impossible to deliver real value without knowing what your customers want, need and expect.”
Why is it that some leaders fail to take the time to listen?
Some are fearful of receiving negative responses or information, while some short-sighted leaders feel that their view is the only one that matters. However, according to Rebetti, “Many are simply too busy and unfortunately others don’t put the proper value on the importance of listening with intent.”
“For me it is important to listen to the leadership and support team from my master franchiser as well as my team,” Wolk says. “Our corporate leaders are experienced and know the fitness franchise business. I receive valuable information about the fitness industry, marketing and sales directly from them. Attending conventions with them allows them to communicate with me and for me to interact personally with them.”
“Listening to ideas, especially from my managers, whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea, builds confidence, which is very important,” says Raj Whadwa, owner of 18 Cinnabon, Auntie Anne’s and Carvel locations in New York, Connecticut and Florida with close to 250 employees. “When they know I am listening and respond to them with thoughtful comments and questions they become more engaged and effective. All ideas are not winners; however, the fact that somebody has taken the time to develop something deserves respect and attention. Attitude is your asset, don’t make it a liability.”
Listening does require time and the need to provide access. Time is a luxury that many leaders don’t have. However, an “open-door” or “access-anytime” policy establishes that they are focused on give and take and collective success.
For many, there is no debate when it comes to an open-door policy. Ferdinando Bruno, a 17-year real estate industry professional and broker/owner of RE/MAX Solutions in Clifton Park, N.Y., believes access to him as the company leader is vital for success.
“Junior as well as seasoned real estate professionals need to know that you are around and available to them,” he says. “Being visible and accessible, from a psychological perspective, is important and reassuring. My team members know that I am always there for them. In my case, I lead a team of RE/MAX real estate sales professionals; each is an independent contractor that needs varying levels of professional support as well as personal attention. For me, the role of an effective leader in the stressful real estate business is to be someone who makes the time to listen and takes a personal interest in each team member’s business.”
“I approach these interactions as an opportunity to listen, absorb information and ask questions to get a complete understanding of the situation,” Bruno adds. “Only when I am ready can I then provide a response, solution or idea. Resolving issues is part of the leadership equation.”
Wolk says his “‘call-anytime’ policy with my team allows for candid communication, which benefits us all. I know as a leader that I must listen first and find out what people want and need. Without this information, it is impossible to lead and make decisions.”
A Supportive Structure
One of the advantages of franchise systems is structure. Franchisees are given access to experts who have information and experience to share to support growth. Franchisors also have the benefit of having their franchisees working in communities around the world and interacting with customers.
Master franchisors that encourage upward communication of ideas as well as concerns have the ability to identify new opportunities as well as address challenges. This two-way communication must be embraced and facilitated by both corporate leaders and franchise owners.
A lack of communication from a leader creates uncertainty, distrust and confusion. For franchise operators, this will impact the ability of managers and staff to interact with customers effectively and business will suffer. Master franchisors who don’t embrace feedback, ideas and suggestions from owners are missing out on valuable opportunities to expand as well as overcome operational as well as competitive challenges.
It is clear that effective, ongoing, open and honest communications by leaders is a cornerstone of success. We see that leaders who understand how regular communications brings people together create success-focused cultures and offer work environments where key people thrive and new, quality people seek employment. Those leaders who place a high importance on listening with intent and sharing their vision have a competitive advantage.