Leadership lessons learnt in a crisis


Franchise leaders around the world have been sharing their experiences in trying to confront and manage the challenges they face with Covid-19. All agree that the very nature of franchising as a business format calls for not only continual innovation but relies on the combined efforts of both franchisor and franchisee. This, it seems, could be franchising’s saving grace, according to Tony da Fonseca, MD of the OBC Group and immediate past chairman of FASA.

“Franchising is represented by the strength of the collective and highlights the importance of partnerships, which, if harnessed in the right way, can help us overcome this crisis. What it has done is forced us, as a collective, to re-look at new channels and new ways of doing business, accelerate plans for introducing new products and services and changing our media and customer strategies. We have always known that the franchise business format works in good times and now we must all prove that it will also work during the challenging times. I believe franchising can do this and that we will bounce back stronger from this.”

Mike Bidwell, president of international franchisor Neighborly, with close to 4 000 outlets in 9 countries, paraphrases a quote from Napoleon to describe the responsibility that a franchise leader needs to steer his brand through the crisis. “Leaders are brokers of hope’ is the quote from Napoleon which places great pressure on franchisors who put great stock into careful planning, preparation and execution in running their businesses to dig deep to bring hope to their franchise partners and make sure that their brand will survive.

In the case of Covid-19, franchises had never experienced anything of this magnitude nor had time to prepare for it – whether on a logistical, practical or emotional level – and now need to face new leadership challenges every day to steer their franchisees through the ruins to recovery. Some valuable lessons shared through the International Franchise Association include:

Handling the tough questions

Even though the unknown brings with it many unanswered questions, don’t shy away from being brutal in your assessment of the business, where it’s at and where it is going. Are you doing everything to protect your staff and customers under the health regulations? What is the financial state of the business – for you as the franchisor and for your franchisees? What avenues are open to you to re-organise, re-invigorate and reset your business?

Listen and communicate

Whilst you may not be in a position to ensure the way forward, it is important to always answer your stakeholders’ questions almost before they even ask them. More importantly, put yourself in the shoes of your stakeholders – whether they are your franchisors, your suppliers, your customers – and recognize their own challenges and fears. Then assure them that, as a collective, with everyone playing their part, there will be light at the end of the tunnel and a way to forge a viable recovery.

Be transparent with all stakeholders

Face your challenges head-on and address those hard issues with all stakeholders. Above all else, the trust you have built up with your franchisees and stakeholders must be maintained at all costs. This may mean being brutally honest and not side-stepping the important issues that affect everyone. Addressing challenges head-on, assessing the situation currently facing every aspect of the business, then finding workable solutions going forward, will address the negative, allay fears, and take the next steps collectively.

Tap into peer franchise networks through FASA

The franchise community and especially those that are members of FASA, all subscribe to a code of ethics and share common values. In times of crisis use this core group of peers as sounding boards to help when difficult decisions must be made. Other franchisors might operate in different business sectors but they all share the same franchise principles and have all been tarred by the same Covid-19 brush. Arrange virtual meetings with fellow franchisors to discuss common challenges, explore new tactics and get fresh perspectives on how to move forward.

There is no question that franchising, with its tried and tested business format and its principle of duplication and network support, is in a far better position to weather the Covid-19 pandemic, pick up the pieces to come out stronger than ever.

FASA Franchise Association South Africa
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