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3 essential soft skills that deliver hard results


3 essential soft skills that deliver hard results

Scott Greenburg explains how focusing on the human side of business, not just the systems, leads to happier and more effective franchisees

“We’re in the people business.” This is the mantra echoed by every franchise brand, especially those in the food, beverage, and hospitality industries. Intellectually they understand the importance of the human side of business – encouraging franchisees, engaging employees and delighting customers. But when you look at what’s actually happening within the company, most attention really isn’t on the people; it’s on the system.

At a recent franchise operations summit hosted by Franchise Business Review, I led a discussion of 20 franchise CEOs and COOs. I asked them where their franchisees struggle the most – with what they know or how they feel. Everyone agreed most issues lie with how franchisees feel. I’ve been in the industry for a while and anticipated this answer.

Fear, resistance to change, trust issues – these factors hold back business owners much more than a lack of operational knowledge.

But when I speak at franchise conferences and see what else is on their agenda, what are the majority of topics to be discussed? New products and services, marketing, the new POS platform. The spotlight always focuses on operations.

No doubt the hard skills – the “how-tos” of the business – are critical. They’re also tangible. They’re the tactics and tools franchisees ask about. Without a solid and continuously improving system, the brand won’t last in the marketplace.

But franchisees’ soft skills determine how well they execute that system. These human elements directly impact their work, because marketing isn’t just about advertising; it’s also about patience and faith. Managing employees isn’t just about directing their work but also engaging them in their work.

Good customer service isn’t just about facilitating transactions but building connections and elevating emotions. Two franchise owners can stick to the same system, but one can greatly outperform the other because their mastery of the soft skills enables them to execute the hard skills more effectively.

Hard skills are what franchisees know and do. Soft skills are how they think and feel. Franchisors would do well by supporting franchisees with both. Here are three areas of opportunity:

1. Resilience

Running a business is difficult. There will always be a certain amount of adversity – and in F&B, it’s a daily occurrence! The best franchisees can navigate through it better than others. They’re also the first to find the opportunities adversity often brings.

The hard skill side of managing adversity is problem-solving. That means taking the necessary action to restore your circumstances or to adapt to new circumstances. It means determining what needs to be done to stabilize the business and maximize the opportunity.

The soft skill of resilience is coping. That means managing your thoughts and emotions so you can find solutions more quickly and avoid acting on impulse or emotion. Cooler heads make better decisions.

A little bit of brain science explains why this is so. Each of us has two almond-shaped regions in our brain called the amygdala. This is our body’s smoke alarm. When we sense any kind of danger or urgency, the amygdala puts us on high alert. Sometimes this presents as a fight or flight response. It’s useful when we’re faced with a threat. The problem with this is that our amygdala gets easily triggered by our perceptions. The belief of danger is as powerful as actual danger. That belief can come from what sounds like a gunshot or the roar of a lion. It can also come from the loss of a key employee or the announcement of a new software platform. If the franchisee feels a threat to their safety, their business, or their comfort, their amygdala springs to action.

And when the amygdala is active, it blocks the neural pathways to the prefrontal cortex. That’s the part of the brain responsible for logic, reason, and problem-solving. It’s the best part of the brain for running a business. When we’re freaking out about something, it’s harder to access it. That means that before we can problem-solve, we must first cope.

When franchisors sense owners are emotionally dysregulated, they can help by restoring their calm. That literally means helping them disengage their amygdala and re-engage their prefrontal cortex. It entails helping them manage their emotions and not just their operations.

Franchisees may not ask for this kind of help, but a little empathy can go a long way. And you don’t need a degree in psychology to be of psychological help. Mostly you need to be able to listen with patience and compassion. Hold back on the advice in these moments.

Even when they ask for help, they may not yet be ready for action. Give them an opportunity first to express their feelings. The concept of “just being there” literally is just that. It may feel passive, but usually, this is all that’s needed to help someone cope. Once they’re calm, you can offer advice and assistance.

We all know that adversity often facilitates changes that make us stronger and our business better. For so many brands, pandemic pivots such as delivery have led to record profits. For that reason, promoting resilience is a great way to help franchisees level up their operation. (I actually discuss the relationship between adversity and opportunity in a recent TEDx talk called The Importance of Pain on the Path to Resilience)

2. Employee motivation

Here, too, there’s both a hard skills approach and soft skills approach to inspiring employees to act. Most focus on the hard skills approach, known as extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivators are the carrots we dangle in front of team members to promote engagement. Most of the time it’s financial compensation such as salary, raises, and bonuses. It also includes gifts, prizes, and perks. Extrinsic motivators are effective for promoting short-term bursts of activity, such as luring in job applicants or getting employees to work extra hard for a special event. But extrinsic motivators are less effective for retention and sustained performance. Like anything shiny or new, they lose their luster.

What works then is intrinsic motivation. This is motivation not triggered by outside influence, but by inner desire. Something about the task or workplace appeals to the deeper needs of the employee. Think of all the things you do not for financial payoff, but for an emotional one. It could be caring for your pet, volunteering in your community, or training for a marathon. Maybe it’s learning an instrument or indulging in a hobby. There are many things we do not because someone’s lit a fire under us, but because of a fire within us. That’s intrinsic motivation. When it’s there, we don’t need others to push us.

Workers feel intrinsically motivated by environments that speak to their values. Money may not be their biggest priority. Many prioritize flexibility. Others want personal growth. And everyone wants a sense of belonging. Receiving regular praise is also important. And when employees get (once they’re ready) a sense of autonomy and an opportunity to set goals and create action plans, that also deepens their sense of ownership in their work.

Extrinsic motivators are about what an employee gets. Intrinsic motivators are about what an employee feels.

Both are important to initiate and sustain activity.

3. Customer experience

The things that motivate employees are the same things that create customer satisfaction. There’s what the customer gets and how the customer feels. Typical franchisees focus on the hard skills promise – the products or services customers ask for. Perhaps they want a pizza. Or maybe they need pest control, senior home care, or a car wash. All of these constitute what the customer gets. Many franchisees believe it’s enough to provide these things. Customer pays, business provides. Thank you, have a nice day. “Next in line!”

High-performing operators understand that what the customer gets matters less than how the customer feels. With every hard skills request comes an underlying soft-skills need. Groups of teenagers ordering pizza aren’t just filling their stomachs. They’re probably also looking for fun. A person needing home care for an aging parent probably also needs reliability, assurance, and stress relief. When I get my car washed, I find joy in restoring that new car feeling. Customers won’t articulate their emotional desire, but it’s there. Regardless of the thing you sell, the goal should always be to deliver it in a way that elevates emotions. Because that’s what customers remember, talk about, and want to repeat.

Being in the “people business” means understanding human nature. A marketplace is not like a network of computers driven by data, it’s a community of humans driven also by emotion. Franchise agreements rarely require franchisors to provide soft skill support, but those willing to go there are much more likely to drive hard results.

Hard skills versus soft skills

Problem-solving v/s coping

Directing employees v/s engaging employees

Extrinsic motivation v/s intrinsic motivation

What they get v/s how they feel

Facilitating transactions v/s elevating emotions

The author

Franchise performance expert Scott Greenberg is the author of The Wealthy Franchisee: Game-Changing Steps to Becoming a Thriving Franchise Superstar.

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