Leveraging Peer Groups In Franchising

Franchise systems appropriately tout the benefits to franchisees of being part of a network of peers who can learn best practices from one another. Generally the synergies that come from peer-to-peer sharing are left to develop organically and supported by gathering at annual conferences or regional meetings. Surprisingly though, one tactic of leveraging peer-to-peer relationships is largely neglected in the franchise arena yet holds tremendous potential for franchisee and system success: franchisee peer groups.

Outside of franchising, mastermind groups, highly popular in the U.S and elsewhere, are characterized by people in non-competitive businesses coming together regularly to support one another to achieve greater success. Popularized by Napoleon Hill in his book, Think and Grow Rich, self-facilitated mastermind groups offer a combination of goal setting, peer accountability, brainstorming, and support in primarily self-facilitated groups. Involvement sharpens participants’ business and personal skills and such groups are widely reported to be transformative to those who fully commit to them.What better way to build franchisees’ success than by catalyzing group meetings with peers, who share in the challenges of executing the same business concept?

So why isn’t peer-group mentoring common practice in franchising? Some possible obstacles include practical challenges such as lack of market density which prevents convenient face-to-face meetings of franchisees. High performers may not feel there will be value in collaborating with less successful franchisees. Or, there may be an overall mind-set on the part of the franchisor and franchisees that the franchisor “owns” all the knowledge and experience and therefore there’s little value in generating peer group support. Yet none of these are insurmountable hurdles and the pay-back these groups can generate if franchisees increase revenues and profitability are a win-win for both franchisees and the system as a whole.

A roundtable discussion at the recent International Franchise Association convention in Las Vegas, addressed structuring peer mentoring groups including pros and cons of different approaches. Breaking up groups by performance levels is straightforward. High-level performers working with one another gain the most of course, while low performers may lack motivation, commitment and savvy to share with one another. However these latter drawbacks can be overcome by providing a well-trained field consultant who brings both facilitation and educational content to lower performing groups. Groups such as these can “graduate” to self-facilitation when their performance and self-management dictates.

CEO Jim Canfield, of Renaissance Executive Forums, the facilitator at the roundtable discussion, points out that when field staff facilitate such groups it’s critical that they maintain the confidentiality of the group or be transparent about the type of information they will feel compelled to report back to the corporate office. Otherwise, franchisees may not be fully forthcoming about their challenges, a core component to successful peer groups. Alternately, a high performing franchisee with a “give back” spirit, may be a good option to facilitate such groups.

Regardless of how the groups are divided, the franchisor can be helpful by spearheading the initiative, assisting in establishing groups and providing elements of successful peer-group mentoring programs:

  • Clear criteria for participation which is made known to all franchisees.
  • Confidentiality of all information shared within the group.
  • On-site visits to one another’s businesses followed by frank feedback.
  • Written and “publically” articulated goals generated by each participant with regular group check-ins on goal achievement.
  • Candid disclosure by group participants about their business challenges and financials.
  • Commitment by the group to provide each member with an equal share of time and attention. This can come in the form of rotating focus at every meeting or at each meeting focusing on a different individual’s business.

Remember, one of the benefits of a franchise system is the cross fertilization of ideas and savvy within the franchisee community. Overlooking peer-mentoring groups may mean your system is missing a valuable tool to boost performance.

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