Leading through crisis
Published March 22, 2024

Leading Your Franchise Through a Crisis: How to Create and Execute an Effective Response Plan

Would you be ready if a crisis hit your franchise tomorrow? Implement these steps today to ensure you’re ready when the inevitable occurs.

In a world of war, ethical dishonesty, economic volatility, product recalls, foodborne illnesses, and pandemics, it’s inevitable that some crisis will eventually hit your franchise, resulting in a sudden drop in sales, lawsuits, damaged public opinion, or a hemorrhage of departing team members.

As Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” Because the very definition of a crisis is that it’s unexpected and won’t happen the way you are planning, it’s the exercise of planning itself that develops the contingencies and flexibilities that can minimize the impacts of a crisis on your franchise.

While every crisis is different, crises do have commonalities. When it comes to franchising, an effective response to a crisis consists of:

  • First, deciphering the loud and voluminous voices calling for a wide (and often contradictory) range of actions.
  • Second, utilizing discipline and clarity to assess and decide on clear and concise actions to take.
  • Third, confidently executing those specific actions to address the situation.


Six Things You Need to Know to Navigate Your Franchise Through a Crisis

Here are six proactive steps you can take to prepare and lead your franchise through a crisis when panic is swirling:

1. Establish the right team NOW to assess and recommend next steps. Identify a small group of subject matter experts within your franchise system best qualified to assess rapidly changing circumstances and recommend next steps. When emotions are running high in a crisis, this consolidates and focuses volatile feelings that will be surging through through the system. For example, a food brand might tap representatives from Human Resources, Food Safety, Supply Chain, and Operations to analyze impacts on the business and make immediate recommendations to the senior CEO. While not every recommendation may be approved, team members will know where they can air their opinions about the situation, and it allows for a cool and level-headed review of next steps by senior franchise leadership.

2. Consolidate your organizational and communication structures. Official decisions and the resulting communications must be controlled, or a bad situation can quickly mushroom with the rumor mill and grapevine running wild. Designate a single point person now as the official communicator of your company’s actions and positions to both franchisees and corporate employees to prevent internal emails and water cooler talk from turning into misunderstood marching orders that can be counterproductive.

3. Remember that done is better than perfect. In a time of crisis, once decisions are made, as U.S. Army General George S. Patton was known to say, “A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution ten minutes later.” Preparation followed by quick adjustments with rapid, yet efficient execution carries the day. There’s no better example of this than the brands that were able to quickly spring into action during the pandemic to implement contact-less curbside pickup or create impromptu drive-thrus in parking lots using orange cones, chalk, and paint on the asphalt to service customers. Were they a bit ugly and less than ideal?  Definitely. But focus  on moving quickly on actions that adhere to your core safety and operational efficiencies and remain in line with your company mission and values while keeping the ship operational. Cleaning up loose ends and aesthetics can come later.

4. Over-communicate the actions and priorities you are pursuing. What wins in times of crisis is “Comms, Comms, Comms.” Poor or no communication around what is being done to address the situation leaves team members, franchisees, and customers assuming the worst—that nothing is being done at all to rectify the issue. This can irrevocably damage morale and erode belief that the leadership team will resolve the crisis. Be very clear in your messaging to all stakeholders—franchisees, internal team members, and external guests—about what your business is doing. It will go a long way to instilling trust and will be appreciated and respected long after the storm clouds depart.

5. Show support to franchisees and team members when it matters—not afterwards. You simply cannot service your franchisees and retain guests through a crisis if your own team members leave, so convey how important they are to you each day. Don’t be a stingy giver. If your company talks about how your culture is “like family,” be prepared to back that up in the bad times as well as the good, or a rude awakening of disgruntled franchisees and mass team member defections awaits when you need their support the most.

6. Help your teams understand everyone is in it together. When everyone at all levels of the company understands the pain and need for urgency, everyone rows the boat in the same direction. Get your corporate leadership teams out into the field to better understand the situation and franchisees’ pain points. Set up a weekly touchpoint meeting to field questions in-person or share updates on the situation in addition to digital messaging.  When team members see franchise leadership hustling in stores like them, the resulting feelings of camaraderie and goodwill make for smooth collaboration on all sorts of initiatives.

Your franchise brand will be under the microscope, so it is imperative that you and your leadership team understand the pulse of franchisee, team member and guest sentiment to help steer your company through the crisis.

Implementing survey tools for franchisees, employees, and customers now, such as those offered by Franchise Business Review, enables you to establish a culture of trust and transparency with franchisees and employees so that when a crisis occurs, you have a solid foundation and a formal tool to check in with the system, ask for feedback, identify concerns in real-time and make adjustments, and collect data to evaluate and improve response plans post-crisis.

With the right planning, formal listening mechanisms in place, and following the six steps outlined above, you can quickly adjust to the rapidly changing dynamics of a crisis and successfully sail through it!

Start Preparing Now: Free 10-Minute Demo

Ready to take the next step and implement the listening tools you’ll need in place to manage a crisis?

In 10 minutes, we’ll show you how to implement:

  • Franchisee satisfaction surveys
  • Employee engagement surveys
  • Pulse surveys

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About the Author: Romney Stewart

Romney Stewart has spent more than 20 years helping lead global, national, and regional brands within the franchising industry. Looking for other ways to successfully scale and grow your franchisor or franchising business? Visit www.bluestagconsultinggroup.com.
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