It takes time, desire, discernment to build a healthy culture
Chad Tramuta, our senior director of franchise development, recently had a blog post published in Franchise Business Review about the importance of culture in a franchise system and how (and how not) to build one:
Businesspeople have spent a healthy portion of the last 25 years or so talking and writing about culture: how to define it, establish it, build it, maintain it; why it’s critical to success; why businesses that lack it or have bad ones are doomed.
So why do so many businesses, franchise systems included, still have such a hard time with it?
I understand. Businesspeople deal in data. You can’t load culture into Excel and parse the analytics. But it’s something that can make or break a franchise business, or any business. How many of us know what we want our
culture to be, how to get there and — most important — how to maintain it?
Here’s what we’ve learned in our 10 years:
- Embrace diversity. I don’t mean ethnic diversity, although that’s a good thing, too. I mean diversity of background, experience. Entrepreneurs as a group are impossible to pigeonhole, which is why we love them! Our franchise owners, like the good people of south Louisiana, come from every possible background. One is a former landscaper and environmental engineer. Another was a waiter. Still another was a real estate attorney. Our guy in Texas, who just opened his first location, used to pilot tugboats on the Mississippi. Without having to articulate it, we’re saying: If you have the financing, desire and skill, it doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done — there’s a place for you here. That’s powerful.
- Some things are more important than short-term profit. One of our franchise owners, Joe Scardino, was diagnosed with cancer five years ago, when he was managing one of our company-owned stores. When he found out, he went straight to the office of Tony Avila, our CEO, who told him to do what he had to do and not worry about his job. Joe was out for seven months getting treatment. He stayed on salary the whole time. Now he owns and operates the store he used to manage — and he’s cancer-free. Was keeping Joe on salary a good short-term business decision for a small company? Probably not. Was it the right thing to do? Absolutely. That pays off in ways you can’t quantify.
- Building your culture takes time and desire. It can’t be just a check-the-box exercise or the drafting of a mission statement. It has to be real, genuine and reflected in everything you do, every day. I alluded to some of this in a previous post for FBR. It took us awhile, but we ultimately decided what we were looking for in our franchise partners: people who are as comfortable serving brisket and greens as they are managing payroll; as good at leading people as they are at making money; as adept at writing and executing a detailed business plan as they are at charming the socks off a lunch crowd; who can blend business and fun until business becomesfun. We want people to have a good time at VooDoo, and our employees and franchise owners have to embrace that. We had a vague notion of what that meant when we started in 2002, but it’s only been through time and trial-and-error that we’ve learned what it means and how we can make it real.
- Know what you don’t want. Sometimes we talk to people we can tell are interested in VooDoo only because New Orleans cuisine is a saleable commodity. It is, of course, but if they lack a genuine enthusiasm for the food and culture of the Crescent City and for everything we represent — no, thanks. Same with people who want a little side business and figure they can hire a good manager. We’ll pass. Absentee ownership can work in some franchise systems; we’ve found it doesn’t work in ours. Discernment is critical, and you have to know when to say “no.”
- Have as much fun as possible. You should enjoy the work, and everyone connected to your brand should, too. If not, something’s wrong with you or them or both — and sooner or later, you’ll all fail.
Now, how do you make your culture a reality? It’s up to you. That’s what makes it so glorious and frustrating. You can read all the books and attend all the seminars you want, but you can’t reduce culture to a formula or order a culture kit — you have to build it piece by piece every day over the years.
I’d be lying if I said it was easy. But it’s something a great franchise system can’t do without. And you’ll find it makes your job a lot more enjoyable, too.
Interested in joining the party and building your own great culture along the way? Download our free franchise information report on this site and learn why VooDoo BBQ isn’t just one of the hottest brands in restaurant franchising — it’s a model for corporate culture as well!