In order to prosper, or perhaps even survive, in a world that is changing at an ever-increasing speed, any franchise network or group needs to continually improve its methods and tools and the products it offers. It must also adapt to the constant changes occurring in its industry and its competition and be on permanent lookout for ways to better meet the needs and expectations of its customers and its market.

This means that the franchisor has to make regular changes (sometimes minor, but also sometimes more substantial) to its concept, its methods and its tools. These changes may also be made necessary by new legislation or regulations or by amendments to the existing legislation and regulations that apply to the franchise network or the group.

Even when a franchisor and its officers are persuaded that the changes are good ones and are useful and even necessary, they often run up against some form or other of resistance (sometimes active, but more often passive) on the part of some of their franchisees. This may become a frustrating exercise, however, particularly when the franchisor's officers believe they have rallied franchisees' support for the changes, only to discover later that this was not really the case.

There is an important principle in dealing with resistance to change that tells us there are two kinds of changes: (a) changes that we choose, and (b) changes that are imposed on us.

Changes that we choose are motivating and stimulating because we know and understand their purpose, value and benefits, and also because they are, to some extent, under our control.

Conversely, changes that are imposed on us can cause feelings of insecurity and be demoralizing and frustrating because they may be seen as a threat, and also because we have little or no control over them. In that case, we may feel like victims rather than stakeholders.

In the context of a franchise network, it is generally the franchisor that decides the changes to be made, while the franchisees often have changes imposed on them.

It is therefore entirely natural to see a degree of resistance on the part of franchisees who are affected by changes or who have changes imposed on them.

When franchisees are informed about changes that have already been decided by their franchisor, their first reaction is often one of mild shock.

In that phase, they are not really receptive to the franchisor's explanations; rather, they are trying to assess the costs, consequences, risks and threats that the changes represent for them.

Often, a franchisor's officers try to discuss the change with franchisees when it is announced. However, the franchisees may then keep their thoughts to themselves and adopt a somewhat passive posture, even when they are invited to ask questions or make comments.

In their enthusiasm in the moment, the franchisor's officers may interpret that silence incorrectly and view the absence of questions or objections from the franchisees as acceptance of the change, when the reality is quite different. They will often come to see it later, when the opposition is ultimately expressed, or, more often, when franchisees are recalcitrant or delay implementing the change.

What can be done?

Four pieces of practical advice for better managing resistance to change in your network:

Involve your franchisees

Resistance to change arises when a change is imposed on us.

The first and best way to reduce that resistance is to involve franchisees, in one way or another, in the decision-making process leading to the changes, and keep them informed of progress and about the benefits of implementing the changes.

An excellent way (but not the only one) to involve franchisees in this process is by forming an advisory committee or committees composed of a number of franchisees (ideally chosen by the franchisees themselves) and members of the franchisor's management and providing them beforehand, for consultation (and not decision-making) purposes, with the franchisor's various proposals and ideas, including about the changes that the franchisor wants to make to its network or operating methods.

Avoid taking your franchisees by surprise

A second way of better managing resistance to change is to go about it in a way that is anticipated and does not takes franchisees by surprise.

When franchisees see a change coming, they are better able to prepare for it, at least psychologically.

In fact, there are even cases where they are the ones asking for changes to be made when they see the need or perceive benefits for themselves.

Explain how the changes will benefit franchisees, from the franchisees' perspective

In their enthusiasm for a change they have been planning for several months, a franchisor's officers are eager to extol its merits for the network (read: "the franchisor") and describe how it will be implemented.

What about for the franchisees?

It is important that when the franchisor's officers announce and explain a change, they put themselves in their franchisee's shoes and make very sure, as their first order of business, to describe what the advantages and benefits for the franchisees will be.

Allow franchisees time to absorb the changes properly before having to react to them

Particularly if the change has not been anticipated by the franchisees, they must be allowed time to absorb it and properly assess the advantages, constraints, costs, disadvantages and risks to themselves that are associated with it before they are asked to react to it.

For example, if the change is announced at a meeting, rather than asking the franchisees to ask questions and make comments immediately, it might be preferable to ask them to submit questions and comments in the next few days or weeks, or to arrange a second meeting a little later to discuss the change with them.

It can also be worthwhile to meet with them a little later either individually or in small groups, to offer them a safe environment where they can voice their concerns, their questions and their problems openly.

Resistance to change is an undeniable fact of life, but it is entirely possible to manage it in a way that does not paralyze or slow down growth and the capacity to adapt and improve a network.