Strong leaders with an understanding of their ‘why’ tend to create resilient teams and companies. While the seemingly most obvious reason to go into business is for a livelihood, or to become rich; it isn’t for most.
A purpose can be invigorating and provide all-important context to what a leader does every single day. Understanding the ‘why’ isn’t just for the benefit of the leader or the bottom line; vision and purpose filter down to all stakeholders, employees and franchisees.
A lack of ‘why’ can be debilitating. For a potential franchisee, a lack of ‘why’ could be the reason why they never develop any personal feelings towards the brand. As a result, employees and franchisees alike will develop their own ‘why’ and work towards that, which could be to the detriment of the brand or company.
“You don’t buy a franchise, you decide to change your life. You’re going to join a system that should help you to succeed in your life, not only in the business,” said Stephane Breault, MBA, CEO of Imagine Franchise.
“They go through the process, it’s on posters all across the office and you have it in your email as a tagline. But if you’re not living that, it’ll actually have the reverse effect, it’ll ring hollow, and it’ll make the employees feel like it’s all for show”
This fundamentally filters down to all franchisees and employees. If they feel a lack of direction or purpose, a subset of those employees and franchisees will eventually disconnect from the brand and leave. The flipside is also true, people are attracted to purposeful leaders and brands that are going somewhere; being a part of something bigger than oneself can be the motivating factor in staying with a business or brand.
What is ‘why’ and does it matter?
‘Why’, purpose and vision are virtually synonyms in this context, and it’s what drives a business beyond and to profitability and growth.
A home services franchise, for example, cannot exist simply to add more units and grow perpetually. There has to be something it seeks to solve and a reason for existence. It also needs to think about the environment it builds for its employees and where it wants to go in the coming years. This drives development in a certain direction, and helps to establish the brand as a leader in an area.
“When you’re a leader, you should envision what kind of relationship you want with your clients, what will happen when the employees are in the coffee breaks, what kind of words do I want to hear, where will I be at in three years? It’s not a matter of just doing the job right,” said Breault.
“A vision is nothing if you don’t live it. When the purpose is clear, it’s kind of a self-powered machine, where everyone knows they can contribute.”
It must be authentic too. Franchisees in particular have their guard up against PR-friendly statements that do not reflect the reality of the brand. Employees will feel small, as if their workplace exists solely to make money.
“The vast majority of companies with any kind of history and size to them, will have gone through a mission vision analysis process,” said John Kutac, vice president of franchise operations at Code Ninjas.
“They go through the process, it’s on posters all across the office and you have it in your email as a tagline. But if you’re not living that, it’ll actually have the reverse effect, it’ll ring hollow, and it’ll make the employees feel like it’s all for show.”
While employees may be a little more forgiving on this front than franchisees, a lack of ‘why’ is a good way to lose the best talent. The most hard-working, intelligent and pro-active employees will eventually become frustrated. A lack of ‘why’ is tantamount to a lack of direction, and the job market today is one that is skewed to job-seekers.
“When I think about how employees are reacting in their work environment, one way, obviously, is compensation. But compensation is typically commensurate within an industry,” said Kutac.
“The next two are emotional, and this is where the ‘why’ comes in. Is there something that I believe that makes me passionate? Is this something that that drives me?
“The last one, I always think about how we treat people psychologically, which is, ‘do they care about me’? Getting to know people, and understanding what drives them is important. They’ll remember it for years and years.”
Both franchisees and employees want to know why they do what they do, beyond earning a livelihood and making a profit. Most people have a need to be a part of something greater than themselves, and it’s something their brand can provide them.
How to find your ‘why’
Finding your ‘why’ is a process, and not something someone can unlock, or find the answer to as if it were a math problem. The ‘why’ should to some extent, be something concrete and not abstract, so it is actionable and measurable.
“I’m helping a client now, they’re in their third year, but they hit a bit of a wall after the first 15 franchisees signed up. The brand wondered why people are not really getting with them,” said Breault.
“We just worked on the ‘why’ and when I asked each franchisee ‘why are you in business here and with this franchise’? The only thing I heard was ‘I want to make money’, and everyone was making money. This is it, there’s nothing more.”
“Let’s find what is more, and then we worked on this. In the end, they realized that their ‘why’ was to create more than just economic value. It was impacting the local community, creating value with employees, helping kids to go to school.”
The process of finding the all-important ‘why’ varies between person to person, that’s why enjoyment and satisfaction is an important marker. Starting from there allows a leader to truly be engaged with their work.
What someone enjoys can change too, leaders should not restrict or limit themselves, and should be happy to go out of their comfort zone, as that is often where many answers are found. After that, a person’s natural shift in passion, focus and increasing breadth of experience over time will inform a leader’s purpose or ‘why’.
“I went through a lot of work experience across a lot of industries, and I really enjoyed them all,” said Kutac.
“Always do something that you enjoy doing, don’t just do it for a job, and don’t be afraid to make a change if you feel like it’s needed.”
Sounding boards often help people understand who they are, and mentors are vital in franchising. Leaders can, in a non-threatening environment, ask questions and more importantly, be questioned themselves.
“Having a mentor that is not part of your work circle is absolutely critical, someone that potentially has a little bit more experience, usually a little bit older, that can kind of ask those questions of you in a non-threatening way,” said Kutac.
Ultimately, finding your ‘why’ is a process, and it is different for everybody.
Don’t forget company culture
Labor shortages have been a constant thorn in the side of franchise brands for the last two years as people have begun to revaluate what they want from their careers, and explore remote opportunities.
Now is as important a time as there has ever been for a brand to nail down its company culture and making sure that employees can tangibly see and engage with it. Analysis of over 1.4 million Glassdoor reviews by CultureX suggest that a toxic culture is 10.4 times more likely to lead to a resignation than a lack of compensation.
“You don’t buy a franchise, you decide to change your life. You’re going to join a system that should help you to succeed in your life, not only in the business”
Toxic culture can stem from unethical behavior, widespread lack of enthusiasm, confusion, fear of failure, high employee turnover, office politics and so much more.
Franchise systems aren’t about togetherness and family, though that may be a feature of them. It’s about results and less to do with abstract concepts.
“A franchise system is a team. Why? Because we’re looking for results. Everyone knows what they have to do,” said Breault.
“If this is clear, I think the culture comes from the values that you put together, and for me, values are the behaviour that we value to succeed as a team.
“Having a culture of excellence or performance doesn’t mean anything. So, let’s go back to reality.”
A business can only be as strong as its people, and if they keep finding reasons to leave, there may not be much of a business left soon.
“Most people want to strive to work in excellence, and they don’t like it when people aren’t striving for the same thing, because then that feels like it devalues their own worth,” said Kutac.
Start looking now
Ultimately, people look for more than a pay check from their workplace. A job can provide a sense of being a part of something greater than oneself, community and so much more.
When compensation across an industry and role remains relatively consistent, leaders must start investigating what they can do to separate themselves from others, and how they can make their brand more welcoming to franchisees and employees alike.
While not every leader can be expected to know their ‘why’ or purpose, at the least, they should make a start. It doesn’t need to be abstract, leaders can start with asking themselves ‘why am I in business’ and ‘where do I want to be in five years’?