A complete overhaul of your company's culture isn't an easy task. It's not an overnight fix, and there must be a consistent, conscious effort to re-establish a foundation of trust with your stakeholders and team members.
Before I became chairman and CEO at PuroClean in 2015 – an emergency property restoration franchise with more than 270 locations throughout North America – there was some internal restoration that needed to be done to our culture. Specifically, our franchise owners were dissatisfied with our system. This meant engineering a comprehensive company turnaround that would reinforce a supportive culture – one in which franchise owners felt valued, respected and heard.
Culture change, and consequently a turnaround, cannot happen if your stakeholders and team members don't buy into your vision for the business and believe that you have their best interests at heart. In my experience, there are three specific strategies that, when implemented with purpose and commitment, can effectively create that trusting relationship that shifts the culture and turns the business around.
1. Lock down your management team.
Securing your management team is the first step in any turnaround plan, and it's absolutely crucial when establishing trusting relationships with your franchise owners. Culture is typically driven top-down, meaning you cannot effectively change the culture if you're not strengthening your management team at the same time. You must set up the management team first. You put your company's credibility in jeopardy if you say, "Here's our new leadership team – we're here for you," and then you spiral into the same scenario as previous regimes: Your CFO leaves for another company, you have to let go of your director of training, and so on. Your vetting process in recruiting this talent must reinforce the significance of your turnaround efforts. If it doesn't, then you run the risk of bringing in the wrong individuals to lead your company and further undermine your relationship with franchise owners.
When my business partner, Frank Torre, and I came to PuroClean in 2015, we changed both our CFO and vice president of operations to reiterate our commitment toward building stronger relationships with franchise owners. These individuals, and others we brought on, were aligned with our vision for the company. However, there may be those who are already with the company – as was the case with Steve White, president and COO – who may be the right leader for the job.
To that point, you'll be more successful retaining talent at the management level if you hire people who buy into the new culture you're implementing. It's your responsibility as a business owner to find talented people, no matter where they are, who will serve as ideal role models for the franchise owners as it relates to the culture you want to espouse. Locking down the right individuals becomes imperative to turn the company around.
2. Don't talk – listen.
Once you have the group of people who you know form the right team, shift focus to the franchise owners and their needs. It's important for business owners to understand the value of listening; don't tell franchise owners how you're going to do something. Meet them. Engage them. Ask them questions to get their insights on how problems should be tackled. Demonstrating concern for their thoughts and opinions goes a long way in creating mutual respect and trust.
Before we began to develop our turnaround plan, we met with over 200 of our franchise owners face-to-face and listened to what they had to say. We listened to new franchise owners who'd just completed initial training and those who had been with us for two decades. We wanted their recommendations on how to improve our franchise system, because they're the ones living and breathing it every day. Because of that concern, the percentage of PuroClean franchise owners who are looking to get out of our system, compared to four years ago, is incredibly low.
Businesses should – and, quite frankly, need – to treat franchise owners with the same concern and respect they expect franchise owners to give their customers. Exhibiting characteristics such as transparency, kindness, trustworthiness, a strong work ethic, and willingness to listen at the management level will go a long way in establishing a company culture that retains and attracts the kind of franchise owners your system wants.
3. Implement initiatives to address concerns.
As a company attempting to orchestrate a turnaround, trust can also be earned by demonstrating your actions and following through with your promises; you actually have to do what you say you're going to do. Listening is critical, but the follow-up actions to address such concerns is what gets people's attention.
For example, at PuroClean, we refreshed our initial training and continuing education programs for franchise owners. Then, franchise owner turnover was the biggest issue we were facing – partially because they weren't properly trained or educated on how to do the job. Now, our franchise owners go through a 30-day pre-training regimen before a three-week formal training schedule. Pre-training includes learning how to operate industry-specific software programs and taking classes through the company's online learning portal, while formal training is where they earn industry certification and on-the-job skills or practices to confidently prepare them for field work.
If a business wants to positively change its culture and grow its relationship with franchise owners, investing in education and providing tools for success is incredibly effective. Planning for and engineering a companywide turnaround can be an overwhelming proposition for any business and its owner(s). However, it becomes a much more digestible and conquerable task when you recognize the importance of relationships. People in your business need to trust and believe in you.
By following through on the strategies above, a business can establish those trusting relationships that make up the kind of culture that will permeate the organization – effectively pushing the business toward its desired goals.