It shouldn’t be difficult to gain agreement on the premise that the success of a quick-service restaurant brand is dependent upon the people that bring a restaurant to life. When a high-performing and committed team crosses the threshold of the restaurant each day, brand leadership can be confident that all of the work put into menu development, decor, operating systems, marketing and technology stands an optimum chance of paying off. Conversely, all other things being equal, the degree to which a restaurant team falls short of a commitment to excellence places a drag on the performance of the business and the brand. The only thing up for debate is the degree of negative impact.
Therein resides one of the great challenges for leaders of quick-service brands. Given the prevalence of franchising within the category, they depend upon other companies for the ultimate success of their own company and brand. Given the respect that should be given to the franchisee’s status as the owner-operator of the restaurant, the CEO of a predominately franchised quick-serve brand has far less ability to ensure a given restaurant is a great place to work than their peers leading brands composed of company-owned restaurants.
At the heart of this conversation is the recognition that companies and brands are different things. Every franchise system has an architecture that can make it a better or worse place to work. Fundamentals such as cuisine, kitchen designs and service systems can make one brand more preferable to another for some employees. The franchisee, having chosen a given brand, has the task of building upon that foundation and making it a great place to work. Their success or failure on that front is a result of their desire and acumen for building and sustaining a great team. Within any franchise system, there is the potential to find both the best and worst place to work in the quick-service restaurant industry.
Working for a great company is one thing, but working for a great brand is another. Forging a brand that inspires superior performance at the restaurant level is something that deserves every franchisor’s consideration, especially when success on that front is likely recognized as much—or even more—by the guest as it is the employee.
For brand leadership, the task starts with a simple question: Does a prospective employee have a reason to prefer working for one of your franchisees instead of another restaurant brand? If you can place an affirmative check in that box, then you’re ahead of the game. I would submit that many brands are not discernible on this front. For many job candidates, a quick-service restaurant is a quick-service restaurant.
How does a franchisor help create points of differentiation? I know it is a well-worn cliché, but having a distinct, well-understood brand culture is (in my opinion) the surest way to set your franchisees up for success. Of course, there’s always the possibility that a franchisee may botch it. But if they do, the reason for their inferior performance will be easily recognized as a failure to embrace the culture of the brand.
Culture is a set of beliefs and values that lead to behaviors. You don’t “see” beliefs and values, but you do see behaviors that are driven by and consistent with the brand’s beliefs and values. The words “my pleasure” serve as one of the most obvious examples.
When the team shares beliefs and values, chances are greatest that the behaviors desired for the benefit of the brand, the franchisee and franchisor, will be exhibited on a consistent basis. For Firehouse Subs, one of our most important values is giving back to the community. We bring this to life through Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, which to date has fulfilled more than $71 million in grants to provide lifesaving equipment, training, and support to first responders and public safety organizations across the country. This doesn’t happen without the franchisee’s team members embracing our values and mission, which in turn manifests itself in the employee asking guests if they would like to “round up” their order for a donation to the Foundation. It is as simple as that, yet can be among the most difficult things to achieve in business.
Never forget that every brand has a culture. The best-case scenario is when a brand is built on a cultural foundation from the very beginning. All decisions are rooted in beliefs and values; actions are measured against a cultural benchmark. The culture can evolve, and change isn’t a bad thing. But when it happens, it is done with thoughtful consideration and intention. It’s important to ask yourself these questions: What does your brand stand for? Why would the employee of a franchisee be inspired and proud to be associated with the brand? If you can’t answer those questions, you may have some work to do.
The culture of some brands isn’t one of intentional design. It more than likely evolved organically, either for good or bad. If it is a great culture, brand leadership will benefit tremendously by capturing the essence of it in a way that can be preserved and communicated. When the culture is poor, it is easy to see because it reveals itself in the undesirable behaviors that reflect the beliefs and values upon which the culture is based.
Transforming a brand’s culture is no easy task. All too often, company leaders try to change the undesired behavior without first addressing the beliefs and values from where those behaviors originated. Perhaps some success can be had in changing behavior for the short-term. But if you want to gain a sustainable advantage in the marketplace and to help your franchisees establish their business as a great place to work, you can’t ignore the beliefs and values that you desire for your brand. The behaviors will follow.
Being cited as one of the best quick-service restaurant brands to work for is an accolade that should swell any CEO’s chest with pride. I applaud every brand leader that has achieved that status.