Success… It Starts and Grows with a Vision

In a recent interview, I was asked my opinion about why some Private Equity firms fail in their efforts at operating what was originally considered a successful franchise system, while others take the system to even higher levels of success… As you’ll see by my response below, I actually started at the end and worked backwards. But in the end there is a common theme and its built around relationships, or lack thereof. Certainly, systems play a big part in the success equation but losing sight of “people” is a sure way to create a disconnect, even within the most perfect systems. My response and theory may be too simple for many to agree, but I do feel it lends towards the foundation of any successful business in one way, shape, fashion or form.

“All too often you hear about founders buying out the Private Equity firm. I personally, know of two that have done so recently, and for different reasons. And, even though only one was a franchise company, there was a common denominator in the circumstances that had developed within the organizations that led to the founders deciding to buy out the PEs… the “parent” company lost sight of its relationship with its “employees & franchisees” and the end-users, “clients & customers”.

My opinion is that “true” mom & pop operations are typically built upon the foundation of relationships, and it’s the strength of those relationships that build the foundation of a strong organization complete with common beliefs, values and mission. It definitely becomes an interdependent relationship. I have rarely seen that occur when PEs get involved where it’s more numbers, numbers, numbers. Don’t get me wrong, numbers are important. But, it’s the lack of balance between driving towards making the numbers and building relationships that is often missing. Ultimately causing rifts in the organization with the customer or client feeling the lingering effect of diminishing service levels.

Let’s look at a similar situation that occurs all too often in a very typical mom and pop setting even without the inclusion of a PE in the equation. Mom and Pop have run a very successful business for 25 years. They have done quite well over the years, building the business very methodically, never taking on too much debt at any one time. But still progressive in growing to meet customer demands. Sure, their product or service stands out as excellent. But it’s the relationships they have fostered over the years that have truly made the business successful.

Looking ahead, Mom and Pop have structured a very strong succession plan. Junior has gotten his MBA and is primed to take over the business. In fact, Pop has insisted that Junior also work five or so years out in the corporate world so he can gain some hands-on experience, and mature. Mom and Pop have met with their attorney and CPA and have everything in place for Junior to take over the family business. What’s next is a situation that occurs all too often when Mom and Pop are no longer in the picture.

Junior, complete with new ideas, a wealth of education, and some successful business experience, begins operating the business. He introduces new technology, replacing the antiquated systems that had been in place since day one. Junior streamlined operations, improved inventory control, and basically tweaked here and there to the point that the business appeared to be transformed to a business that appeared bigger than it was – almost like it was a part of a national chain.

Initially, customers loved the transformation and the buzz within town was full of praise and admiration for the family. But what transpires over the next few years as things begin to change as the business becomes less personal and more structured is actually the beginning of the end.

Strict policies have been put in place for both customers and employees. Product and service lines have become more defined, but at the expense of some customer favorites being eliminated. Customer service, having become more automated has reduced the necessity of a large staff. In-store signage has taken over where courteous employees once stood. Well, the list goes on… to the point of the business losing sight of people and relationships. Employee turnover continues to increase. Customers’ faces are no longer familiar. And, when a true national chain opens on the edge of town, foot-traffic starts to diminish.

You see, with all the great succession planning that Mom and Pop painstakingly put into place, they missed a key component to the success of the business. And when Junior transformed the business he also lost sight of that key component. It basically comes down to WWPD… “What Would Pop Do?”

WWPD is basically the relationship part of the business. To put it simply, Pop knew when to put his arm around an employee. Pop knew when to come out from behind the counter. Pop knew how to make a customer feel special. Pop knew to carry certain items that some of his “regulars” loved. And, again, the list goes on… Pop knew, but Junior didn’t. It’s the classic example of the disconnect between WWPD and MBA, and it’s a similar disconnect between a founder-run business and a PE-operated business.

Now, I’m not saying that it can’t be done, or shouldn’t be done… meaning the sale of a successful business to a PE. Absolutely, it’s the American Way! Instead, along with the financial and legal succession plan needs to be a visionary succession plan that basically outlines and teaches, “What Would Pop Do?”

So, in addressing the original question, let’s just insert Mom and Pop for the franchise, the employees and customers for the franchisees, and Junior for the PE… and the scenario fittingly plays out.”

Culture Is A Work In Progress

Work in ProgressI do believe, in many cases, the level of business success contributes to the decision on whether or not a high performer is let go because their style is detrimental to the culture. In the case of a high performer in a business that is barely making it, that high performer probably stays. This situation works for the immediate time being but not for long-term growth. It’s difficult to build a team in this scenario. A high performer with a bad attitude in an environment with other high performers, probably should go. But not without trying to get the person in line first. Bad attitudes are detrimental to team building. However, often times a bad attitude actually develops as a result of how people are treated by management, or by a particular manager. There are various other scenarios as well.

Culture lives and breathes in all organizations. It must be nurtured – fed and taken care of. If sick, the virus causing the sickness must be addressed. In the case of cancer, it must be identified, isolated and removed – making sure to properly treat closely affected areas to be sure of total elimination. If healthy, it must continue to be fortified – an immune system built and new well-being programs developed.

At the end of the day, Culture is a work in progress! It must be fluid. It must fill in the cracks and gaps, and reach it’s own level. It must be understood by all. It must be allowed to grow. But, it must be managed. The key is whether you do so reactively or proactively!

Recently, I read an interesting article about strategy and its affect on culture. Key paragraphs and link to the article follows…

Does strategy matter?

If you do not think that it matters then you are in good company. There are many who question the value of strategy. And I see many companies where there is no formal strategy; the informal strategy is to keep doing what has worked in the past or to chase what is fashionable today.

Strategy v Execution

When it comes to questioning strategy there are two schools that are particularly prominent. First, there is the school of execution. The execution school which says that strategy is waste of time. Why? Because strategies are generic-obvious and what matters is execution. The ability to turn strategy into the daily live of the organization. Clearly, there is some truth in this school. Strategy which cannot be operationalized is waste of time-resource.

Strategy v Culture

Then there is the school that says “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Yes, culture is powerful. Culture determines what gets done and how it gets done. A strategy that does not take into account the fit with culture will meet lots of resistance. Getting people to enact such a strategy will be like fighting a guerilla war with an enemy who is patient and cunning. What is forgotten is that culture can be and is influenced-shaped-shifted through strategy.

To see strategy and culture as being separate and distinct is a gross misunderstanding. This misunderstanding arises due to our reductionist-analytical thinking. Strategy and culture are interlinked. Put differently, if you change strategy, you will take actions that will influence the culture. And if you change culture it will eventually influence the strategy.

Read more HERE.

When Culture is Out of Alignment

Recently, in a discussion about culture on the IFA’s FranSocial site, the discussion was quite robust and included the following statement… “The challenge becomes determining where things might be out of alignment and methodology to realign.” My response was as follows:

To me, the development and management of culture is much like that of a brand…

It must be planned.
It must be nurtured.
It must be allowed to grow.
It must be invested in.
It must be protected.
It must be promoted.
It must be cherished.
It must be the center of the universe.

I believe it’s fairly easy to determine when and where things are out of alignment in a franchise organization – disgruntled franchisees, frequent franchisor employee turnover… just to name a couple that would be very apparent. Obviously, these are the results of, but not the root of the problem that caused things to move out of alignment. Mostly the problems occur (and fester) due to poor communications and lack of transparency between franchisor and franchisees. Inconsistent messaging adds fuel to the fire. Basically, similar problems to a marriage or other types of relationships that fail.

As for methodology to realign that takes full commitment from all parties to the relationship. However, in a franchise relationship it takes the franchisor to take the bull by the horns and lead the charge. It takes full commitment to open, honest, transparent communications. Even through difficult scenarios. After all, franchisees have made a significant investment and they do need to understand the good, bad and ugly. The precarious issue is, how much is too much? do franchisees need to know everything? Getting back to square one, a benchmark of sorts is critical as emotions running high will dictate more rather than less.

I talk a great deal about positively memorable experiences and I believe it applies to the franchise relationship as well. I won’t get too deep here as I’ve authored an article on the topic that is coming out in this month’s Franchising World magazine. But I will share my thoughts on what I refer to as, “The Emotion Circle”. This circle could be looked at in any transaction or relationship.

Emotion CircleThere are seven key steps within the circle. Think in terms of a clock with the top being the starting point. That’s where the relationship begins. Once something occurs that doesn’t meet expectations the first step is surprise. From there it may escalate to the next steps of disappointment and doubt. Or, it may not escalate but the next “incident” moves the needle along. Sometimes an unaddressed issue moves it. Now, it’s inevitable things happen and expectations aren’t met or even understood. Which is why open, transparent communications are paramount. If the issues are discussed openly and frankly in a respectful way, the needle can be moved back to the 12 o’clock position with no or minimal chance of fueling a fire.

However, if not addressed in a timely and respectful manner the fire burns rapidly and on occasion to the point where it’s out of control. And, just like wildfires in the forest, these fires can jump across roads from house to house and community to community with devastating results. In the case of the Emotion Circle burning out of control, the next steps, often in rapid order include frustration, anger, hostility and remorse (think “buyer’s remorse). The end result is typically broken trust and as we know, trust is the backbone of ANY relationship.

So, in order for there to be realignment, trust must be rebuilt. It’s not easy but it can be done, but it takes a huge commitment.

Entrepreneur vs. Businessperson: Is there a Difference?

sharks1This year the hit ABC reality television show Shark Tank aired its 100th episode, making it the highest rated show on Friday night. Shark Tank, now in its sixth season, is amongst the top most watched reality shows on television. The shows panel usually consists of it’s recurring millionaire and billionaire venture capitalists: Kevin O’Leary, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner and Mark Cuban.

If you haven’t already seen the show, the way it works is that these venture capitalists are presented with new ideas, inventions and services from new businesses that are seeking investments. The people that enter the “Tank” are given the chance to present these VC’s, or “Sharks” as they are known on the show, with an opportunity to invest in their companies.

Many of the people who walk into the “Tank” are told by the “Sharks” that their business is not a business and that they are not even entrepreneurs. Some are dumbfounded when they hear this because they believe that they are serious entrepreneurs—not just another businessperson looking to make a buck.

So what exactly differentiates an entrepreneur from a businessperson? An entrepreneur is defined as, “a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.” A businessperson is defined as, “a man or woman who works in business or commerce, especially at an executive level.” Although the two seem closely related, they actually differ on a major level. In order to understand this concept, we’ll have to use the “Sharks” themselves as examples.

sharks2Kevin O’Leary earned his way to fame and fortune by building his educational software company SoftKey, right out of college. As his empire grew, he eventually acquired The Learning Company for over $600 million—taking the name as well. Eventually, O’Leary sold his business to a company called Mattel for $3.8 billion in a stock swap. In 2003, O’Leary moved on to his next venture, Storage Now, which was later acquired for $110 million.

O’Leary now sits on several boards and operates as an advisor to many companies. O’Leary eventually made his way to the Shark Tank after the success of his other show Dragon’s Den, which Shark Tank is modeled after. O’Leary is known as “Mr. Wonderful” on the show for his outlandish and often brutal honesty—as he so puts. He approaches his investment decisions with the cold hard truth that he believes some ideas are just not meant to be businesses.

sharks3Robert Herjavec got his start by building up his Internet security empire, BRAK Systems, until he eventually sold it to AT&T Canada in 2000. After an early retirement, Herjavec found his way back to the Internet security world when he founded The Herjavec Group in 2003, where he currently operates as the CEO. Herjavec also started out on Dragon’s Den with O’Leary and now holds a recurring spot on Shark Tank. Herjavec appears to be more optimistic than the other “Sharks”, with more of a sensitive side. Maybe it’s the fact that his working-class father immigrated to America in pursuit of the “American Dream” and taught him that hard work pays off—which he’s used as the model for his success.

sharks4Daymond John, who is most famously known for his start-up company FUBU, which he grew with the help of celebrity endorsement and a mortgage from his Mother’s house. John built FUBU into the global empire it is today, with global sales at over six billion to date. Although he is known to be a more reserved “Shark,” taking careful consideration before jumping on a deal, John is known to have a compassionate side and one that has been seen before on Shark Tank.

sharks5Barbara Corcoran built her empire with nothing more than a mere $1,000 loan that she used to start her real estate company The Corcoran Group—which she co-founded. In 2001, Corcoran sold her company to NRT Incorporated for $66 million. Corcoran is responsible for pioneering many revolutionary techniques that changed the real estate market. Corcoran is a wild one—the fun-loving “Shark,” who astounds the others with her business decisions but somehow always proves that she still has her business swagger.

sharks6Lori Greiner began her career with the invention of a revolutionary jewelry box that was capable of holding over 100 earrings. Greiner is now known as the “Queen of QVC”, since she has helped launch over 400 products via the network and holds over 120 U.S. and international patents. She is also the president and CEO of the company For Your Ease Only. Greiner is a savvy investor who has helped grow hundreds of companies. She is a force to be reckoned with—despite her physical appearance she is not to be underestimated.

sharks7Mark Cuban, the richest of the “Sharks”, made his billions despite some claims that were ultimately defeated in court, with the start of his company MicroSolutions in the 1980’s. In 1990, Cuban sold his company for $6 million. After that, Cuban moved on to his next venture AudioNet, which became Broadcast.com and eventually sold to Yahoo! for $5.7 billion. Cuban is probably the deadliest of the “Sharks,” with the biggest bite. He’s known for his ruthless execution and ability to swoop in at any moment and steal a deal right from another “Shark’s” mouth. Although this is true, Cuban has been known to drop out of the race if he feels he can’t contribute more than another “Shark.”

As far as the term entrepreneur is concerned, assuming that it’s not as subjective an idea, but more literal: Mark, Kevin and Robert seem to fit this definition best as opposed to Barbara, Lori and Daymond. The reason for this is due to the fact that these people have started their companies, sold them and started new ones, continuing this trend indefinitely. Daymond is sort of in the middle since his claim to fame is mostly FUBU. Barbara and Lori predominantly gained success from one business, which generated most of their wealth, later allowing them to invest in future companies.

At some point in their lives I believe that all of these “Sharks” were full-time entrepreneurs but as time progressed and success achieved, Barbara and Lori, and to some extent, John actually “switched” positions and became businesspeople, just managing their day to day operations, investing in some other companies, but letting others follow through on the vision, actually passing the entrepreneurial torch on to the next eager person, or better stated, igniting the entrepreneurial torch for others.

Please visit www.FranchiseFoundry.com for more information on emerging brands and entrepreneurs.

Four Steps to Social Media Success

Share Interact EngageYesterday, Deb Evans, president of Franchise Foundry shared with me a great article about things we can learn from teens about about social media. To me, the article was spot-on. Point blank, the reason teens are better at social media than, well, anybody, is answered directly in the article as follows:

“Because teens aren’t on social media to promote or sell. They’re there for 1 main reason… To be social!”

The article reaffirmed some things in my mind about social media that we at Franchise Foundry execute on for both our franchise development and accelerated digital strategies clients, but many companies haven’t even begun to do, are afraid to and/or have no clue how to do. One thing in particular is integration across platforms. Another is community-building. And, another is avoiding brand regurgitation making sure to be social and to make it about the audience, not just about the brand.

The key, the true key is that businesses (and marketers) view social media solely as marketing while teens look at it as communicating (sharing information, interacting, engaging… developing the relationship whereby asking for something, a call-for-action, if you will, is normal to the relationship, it is not out of sync, it is not overstepping boundaries, it is not selfish – instead, it is earned! Yes, these are my four steps to social media success – share, interact, engage and then, only then have your earned the right for a call-to-action… and together they are quite effective as they’re all about communicating first, marketing second.