Empathy Is ‘Greatest Engagement Tool’ for Field Reps
Jeff Tews, far right, talks about the importance of engagement with the franchisor as a multi-unit owner in the BrightStar Care system. Tews, along with Ken Hutcheson, president of U.S. Lawns, and Saunda Kitchen, a Mr. Rooter franchisee, spoke during the Faegre Baker Daniels Franchise Summit in July.
“You don’t lead through your franchise agreement.” That statement might sound odd coming from an attorney whose job it is to represent franchisors—and on occasion help them enforce those agreements—but it’s one piece of advice Brian Schnell offered as he discussed the importance of collaborative leadership and franchisee engagement.
“You might win a legal battle, but you’re not going to win on what you’re trying to accomplish as a brand,” continued Schnell during the annual Faegre Baker Daniels Franchise Summit in Minneapolis. Schnell, who leads the firm’s franchise practice, noted a “culture of collaboration” is much more effective, and panelists agreed, each sharing their experiences and some nuggets of wisdom.
From his perspective as a multi-unit franchisee of senior care brand BrightStar Care in Wisconsin, Jeff Tews said employee engagement is one of the brand’s pillars of success, and that extends both to his employees and also his engagement with the company.
“If they’re not engaged, we lose them,” he said of maintaining a connection with caregivers. “And the same applies to the franchisor—if they’re not engaging me in what’s going on, I’m going to drift away.”
BrightStar has both a franchisee ownership group, where the franchisor is “not at the table,” and a franchise advisory council, both formed with the help of founder and CEO Shelly Sun. “A very real breakthrough for Shelly was to listen to us as a franchise advisory council,” said Tews of a process that eventually helped formalize a strategic response to six “big problems” franchisees faced. “Shelly committed financial and staff resources to fix these six issues,” with BrightStar in year two of the effort.
Saunda Kitchen, a longtime Mr. Rooter franchisee in Sonoma County, California, noted the rebranding of the parent company from Dwyer Group to Neighborly has necessitated “very intense conversations” with the franchisor. Rebranding, she said, can significantly impact mature franchises such as herself, and those at the corporate level, such as field reps, need to understand that.
“What can’t be preached enough from the franchisor to field reps is understand what a franchisee has put into the game,” said Kitchen. “Empathy is going to be your greatest engagement tool.” Kitchen also cautioned against franchisors using the same field rep for coaching and compliance: “That’ll lead to distress for sure,” she said.