A time for owners, not Franchisees

A Brand is a promise – of quality, of delivery, of attention. A Brand is organic – it grows, thrives, declines, gets hollowed out and dies.

In times of rapid and complex change, we know that we can only deal effectively with change at the edge, coming into contact with morphing realities. Despite that, most of our organisations still want to “manage” change from the centre.

It reminds me of a scene in the wonderful 1969 film “Monte Carlo or Bust”, where the car, driven by the hapless Dudley Moore, careers over a cliff and the imperious Peter Cooke, pointing over to the left, instructs him to “land over there.” It’s a perfect metaphor for much of what we see in highly centralised organisations at present.

Perhaps, in the current conditions, Franchises are an excellent example of what happens when the centre decides what happens at the edge. In the coffee shop, the people on the front line, or the fast-food outlet, or the coaching business picking up the pieces when the unstoppable force brand they have signed up to meets the immovable object of an unforecast major challenge.

Waiting for the cavalry to ride over the hill can be a very long wait.

The good franchisors (and there are some) take the hit and support their franchisees. The poor ones go to lunch ’till it’s over. Owners are different. Their situation is no more straightforward, but at least they have agency and can act.

There is a point in the evolution of some brands; when they run out of ideas, it pays to retain power at the centre but push accountability to the edge. Get others to take the real risks, but with limited authority to take action.

It struck me last week during the elections. I’m sure where I live is not unusual, but all the publicity and PR was for parties where decisions are made a long way away on the different planet of Westminster. Trying to find out anything about the person, the local candidate who bought the franchise, was next to impossible. They ask us to buy a brand promise featuring celebrity people who like big stages, and who have little to do with the day to day of local politics.

When it comes to rapid change, I think we want to work with people who know what it’s like where we live and who have the courage and commitment to take action as needed, not wait for permission from somewhere far away.

We need owners, not franchisees.

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