Your franchisees are the eyes and ears of your business. They know what is working and what is broken. They are the first to hear your customer's complaints. They overhear important industry gossip from your vendors.They are most likely to identify inefficiency and waste.

Obviously, you need to know what your franchisees know as soon as they know it. That is why it is important to create a company-wide tradition that encourages open communication and collaboration. It is the prerequisite to creating a highly flexible and nimble organization that can respond quickly to fast changing customer and competitive circumstances.

Setting up a 21st century suggestion box is a simple way that many organizations capture franchisees ideas. However, it does not go far enough. Instead, you should leverage your franchisees' suggestions to create your company's Continuous Improvement cycle.

What is Continuous Improvement?

Continuous improvement is the goal of the most popular quality management approaches. For example, CMMI, (the Capability Maturity Model created by Carnegie Mellon University for the U.S. Department of Defense) offers a five step business improvement pyramid.

Notice that Continuous improvement is at the top of the CMMI pyramid.

Business improvement models, like CMMI, are helpful to explain the importance of adopting management theory. However, most organizations struggle with practical implementation.

To help, the Breakthrough Book suggests a simple three step approach to create an franchisee-powered continuous improvement cycle:

Step One: Capture your franchisee's idea, suggestion, issue or other information using a "Communication Switchboard."

Step Two: Assign a "Switchboard Operator" to forward the issue to the appropriate Process Team and to monitor resolution.

Step Three: The Process Team resolves the issue.

Communication Switchboard Template

The Breakthrough Book provides a Communication Switchboard template to help you create an ongoing tradition of communication between franchisees and the franchisor's teams.

To use the Switchboard, ask franchisee to report their ideas, suggestions, customer complaints and other issues directly to the Communication Log Switchboard Operator.

he switchboard operator then forwards the issue to the appropriate process team for resolution. The operator maintains a communication log that managers use to hold process teams accountable for resolving the reported issues. Also, the log is used to credit (and reward) employees with the ideas they contribute. The Breakthrough Book also suggests using coaching and team meetings to encourage employees to report their ideas, and ask process teams to report their progress in resolving critical issues.

In a very small company, the "switchboard" can be a spiral notebook hanging next to your water cooler. In a larger company the "switchboard" can be maintained by a receptionist, executive assistant or quality manager.

The switchboard logbook should have the following column headings:

  • Date: The date the issue was first reported.

  • Date: The date the issue was resolved.

  • By: The franchisee who reported the issue.

  • Process Team: The process manager responsible for resolving the issue.

  • Idea Description: A sound-bite description of the issue .

  • A sound-bite explanation of the issues resolution.

  • Impact: An estimate of the financial benefit of the resolved issue.

How Continuous Improvement Can Work

To illustrate the benefits of initiating your company's continuous improvement cycle consider the following scenario:

A franchisee is frustrated because her employees are wasting valuable time looking up warehouse location codes that could be easily added to pick lists generated by the company's sales order software. Correcting this issue would improve productivity, speed order processing and reduce cost. The franchisee reported her suggestion to multiple field representatives over the years.

Promises were made, but no action was taken.

Now consider the quick resolution that is possible if the company facilitates communication between its franchisees and field representatives who are empowered to optimize and improve their procedures:

  • franchisee reports her suggestion directly to the Switchboard.

  • Switchboard forwards the issue to the Order Taking field representatives team.

  • field representatives team discusses the issue. Several resources from the IT department are included in the collaboration. The decision is made to add the warehouse location code to the product database and add it to the pick lists generated during order taking.

  • field representatives team creates a project to manage the steps necessary to implement the change.

  • Order Taking process team updated related procedures and training materials.

  • procedure change was communicated to all affected franchisees and their employees.

  • issue was resolved quickly because franchisees and franchisor employees from multiple departments were empowered to communicate, collaborate and resolve problems that related to their areas of responsibility.

The above scenario illustrates how culture, effective process management and open communication work together to optimize your company. It is simple, organic and stealthy. It institutionalizes a culture of excellence. It leverages your franchisee's insights and creativity. It helps make your business flexible and resilient.

You will likely need to dedicate 5-10% of your franchisees' time to improving your company. Consider it the cost of your freedom. It is also a cost that should result in a significant return on investment.

Your company will finally have a way to capture your franchisee's ideas for saving money, making money, minimizing waste, and increasing quality, consistency and customer satisfaction.

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