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Refocus the Operating Model on Your Franchise Players

As they drift along the default path toward struggling bureaucracy, companies very often lose focus on the employees who really matter—those in mission-critical roles. We refer to these employees as “franchise players.” They are the people who deliver the insurgent mission to customers.

Imagine, for instance, I’m a big box specialty retailer of kitchen and bathroom plumbing fixtures. My insurgent mission is to deliver “well-designed, contemporary kitchen and bath fixtures at wholesale prices.” Now imagine I’m a consumer attracted by that mission and I head into the store to buy a modern rain shower-type shower head. Who delivers that insurgent promise to me?

Well, first it must be the store category manager who is responsible for the shower head aisle. She has arranged the aisle, kept it clean, and made sure the right choices are easy to find. She’s also probably walking the aisle ready to advise me. All in all, she’s delivering the benefit of customer intimacy that is part of any great insurgent mission.

But, she isn’t alone in helping me. The other critical player in delivering the mission is the global buyer for shower heads, who delivers the benefits of scale. Based on the company’s size and deep consumer insight built over years of learning, he has found me the best range of products at the best prices. Together, these two franchise players deliver what I came in for—a broad range of attractive products at great prices. Now let’s make several observations:

  • It’s tempting to define franchise players as all frontline employees, but that isn’t always the case. First of all, one of the franchise players in our example—the global buyer of shower heads—is nowhere near the front line. But there are also lots of other frontline folks in that store, including the cashiers and store greeters. While they are important to delivering the mission, they aren’t vital. I could have a bad cashier experience and still walk away happy if the product lived up to the promise of “well-designed and contemporary at wholesale prices.” The store manager is also important, but she’s actually a span breaker for the CEO, providing a managerial layer to coach all those category managers.
  • Chances are, this organization isn’t designed around these franchise players in the slightest. There are typically layers and layers of folks between the CEO and the category heads in the stores. And the category heads probably sit time zones away from the global buyer. In fact, it’s very likely they’ve never met.
  • It’s also likely that these two critical employees have been taught not to like each other very much. As the frontline folks struggle to give customers exactly what they want, they fight for the broadest range of products and find their voices ignored by the center. The global buyer, meanwhile, is constantly working to deliver purchasing scale and synergies across the widest possible assortment, but the stores are never happy. These natural biases can turn into momentum-killing conflicts if these franchise players are locked in separate silos. When their contact is limited, the healthy conflict between scale and intimacy is never resolved quickly, and that hurts the customer.
  • At the same time, all the folks who should be supporting these two franchise players don’t consider that part of their job description. In many companies, if you ask finance, HR, legal and so on what their day job is, they’ll talk about dozens of staff activities, but they never say, “My job is to support our franchise players as they struggle to deliver our insurgent mission to our customers.” Typically, they don’t know who the franchise players are and aren’t sure what support is needed. Very often, they can’t even articulate the insurgent mission.
  • Worse yet, as companies drift toward stagnation, execution frequently becomes less important than thinking. The franchise player’s job of delivering the insurgent mission is ultimately about executing and getting things done. But often, these doers are no longer seen as the heroes of the company. That distinction increasingly falls to the professional managerial class—the “thinkers” who manage these doers. Execution becomes something to do when you’re junior, and HR departments are encouraged to promote you out of those execution roles as fast as possible. Instead of rewarding you for serving the customer, they reward you by distancing you from the customer.
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About the Founder's Mentality

The three elements of the Founder's Mentality help companies sustain performance while avoiding the inevitable crises of growth.

And there’s the problem. To deliver both scale and intimacy requires a team of franchise players, supported every day by a group of folks who value execution. But many organizations have lost sight of their franchise players, discourage teamwork and drown them with the shallow work dreamed up by staff people. To rediscover your Founder’s Mentality®, you need to identify, empower and support your franchise players. This demands you rethink your model, which generally involves three distinct steps:

  1. Identify your franchise players and invest time in understanding both how to support them and how to get out of their way. Remember, the language of “front line vs. staff” or “local vs. global” doesn’t help here. You’re searching for the team that best delivers the benefits of scale and intimacy, period. Listen to them. Talk to the customer through them. Nobody knows better than they do where your company’s customer journey needs help.
  2. Identify the most important members of the team that supports the franchise players and rewire their jobs so they are truly supportive. Find the trade-offs that must be debated, and create a conflict-resolution process to work through these trade-offs quickly. This requires a rethink of structure, accountabilities, governance and ways of working. And it’s critical to view this process through the lens of the franchise player.
  3. Finally, try to get everyone else out of the way. Cal Newport has written a book called Deep Work, and in our context, deep work defines the six focused hours each day when an employee works on the specific tasks that make the best use of his or her talent and, ultimately, move the bottom line. Shallow work is everything else. Cal argues that modern technologies, social norms and organizational activity all conspire to drown us in shallow work, preventing the company from getting the most from its people. Deep work delivers the insurgent mission to customers. It happens directly though franchise players and indirectly via the team that supports them. This third step is about minimizing everything else—the shallow work that keeps both individuals and the enterprise from delivering to their full potential.

In their book Time, Talent, Energy, my Bain colleagues Michael Mankins and Eric Garton argue that the scarcest resource in a company isn’t capital, but the time, talent and energy of its people—resources that are too often squandered. Refocusing your operating model on your franchise players is all about managing TTE as carefully as you manage your capital—maybe more so. As CEO of Intel, Andy Grove understood this well and once said famously: “Just as you would not permit a fellow employee to steal a piece of office equipment worth $2,000, you shouldn’t let anyone walk away with the time of his fellow managers.”


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