It's Time to Stop Emphasizing Defense and Start Playing Offense

Particularly in the multi-unit franchise sector, now's the time for owners keen to break out of a pandemic rut to get dynamic, positive and proactive.

By
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Multi-unit franchise owners have been dealt a tough hand: A pandemic, economic lockdowns, a labor crisis, price increases, supply chain woes ... the list goes on. Whether in-person retail, restaurant, fitness or services operations, franchises have faced a litany of woes and spent considerable energy responding to these challenges. In other words, they've been forced to play a lot of defense.

For the operator responsible for maintaining results during all of this, one response can be summed up in a single word: "Unfair!" It's natural to think, "There's one issue after another affecting us that I didn't create, which I cannot control and yet I am still accountable for the results."

And yes, it's easy to fixate on all the things we cannot control. It's just not productive. While there have been many factors affecting results that we cannot control, there are two we absolutely can: our plan and our ability to execute it — and the sooner we make the shift to focusing on those the sooner we can start playing offense again and improve results.

This starts with a shift in mindset, but that's only the start. The day-to-day running of the business (what we call the "whirlwind") has a way of pulling us right back to playing defense. These regular tasks needed to keep the doors open can be roughly categorized as urgent activities, whereas critical goals for moving the business forward (aka offense) are made up of important activities. Unfortunately, when urgent activities clash with important ones, urgent ones almost always win. Because it's right now… it's the customer calling, the email notification, the due date on that supplier bill.

This is why, even if you are incredibly persuasive and explain the importance of new directives with force of personality and your team responds with, "Right on boss! You've got it!", you may realize weeks go by and you are no closer to your objective. This isn't because your team is defiant, lazy or stupid, it's because your team is busy. In a sense, you are losing to the whirlwind. Now, this is not actually a bad thing: In many ways the whirlwind is keeping you alive, but it can also keep you solely playing defense.

Related: Entrepreneur's Franchise Center

Here are key disciplines for moving to offense in the face of a whirlwind of distractions.

Focus on one wildly important goal (WIG)

Notice that this heading stipulates one goal, not twelve. The whirlwind will go on, so you need to pick a single and specific target that, if achieved, would make the biggest difference. To define a WIG, ask yourself, "If every other aspect of the operation held, what is the one key area that — if we created a breakthrough — would have the greatest overall impact?" Then give that WIG a starting line, a finish line and a deadline. For instance, "Decrease window-time pick-up from 3:45 to 2:15 by 6/30/22" or "Increase fully-staffed from 73% to 88% by 5/1/22."

Act on lead measures

One way to describe "lead measures" is to explain what they are not, and that is lag measures. A clearly defined goal gives you a lag measure. The WIG gives you a lag measure. New product revenue, a customer service score, speed of checkout, percentage of fully stocked — these are all lag measures: By the time you see the score, you can't change it. A lead measure, however, is a metric related to an activity your team believes will help hit that lag measure. The most common example of lead measures are those used to improve the lag measure of weight loss, which are (you guessed it) diet and exercise metrics. Lead measures are predictive of goal achievement, but can also be directly influenced by your team. If I have a WIG (or lag measure) to improve the number of subscription members at my day spa, I might have a lead measure of, say, interviewing 80% of first-time clients.

Related: What You Aren't Measuring Could be Killing Your Company

Keep a compelling scorecard

People play differently when they are keeping score. If we do not activate the lag measure and corresponding lead measures into a real-time scoreboard, the whirlwind of day-to-day activities will quickly make everyone forget they even existed. The reaction you want from your scoreboard can be summed up in two words: "Game on!"

The activities associated with the lead measures on the scoreboard may only take up 20% of the team's time and energy, leaving 80% for the whirlwind. However, that 20% makes all the difference when it comes to the morale and engagement of the team, because it's no longer stuck just playing defense. The two biggest drivers of employee engagement? First, "Are we winning?" and second, "Does it matter?"

Create a cadence of accountability

Think about steps 1, 2 and 3 as a way to set up a winnable game: number 4 is how you play that game. One technique might be that the team have a meeting every week where each member makes a commitment to one thing that will help achieve the lead measures on the scoreboard.

This is not an operations meeting and you do not discuss whirlwind items in it. It's also short. Team members report on their commitments from last week, review the scoreboard and make commitments for the upcoming week. This keeps them focused on the lead measures that will drive the WIG's success. It also keeps your "winnable" game remaining as a "high-stakes" game!

Related: Accountability: The Crucial Inner Work that Leads to Success

Are your people still dealing with a lot of uncertainty? Yes. Are there still a lot of difficult issues outside of your team's control? Yes. Is the whirlwind of distractions more intense than ever? Of course. For all of those reasons, it's more important than ever that your people feel like they are winning at something that really matters. To achieve that, they are going to need to play offense.

Take our franchise quiz to find the perfect match for you.