6 ways Domino’s reaches far-flung franchisees

It’s hard enough communicating with a dispersed workforce. That’s compounded when most employees work for a franchise, not the parent company.

Dominos comms lessons

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

Finding it difficult to communicate with your dispersed workforce? Consider the challenge at Domino’s.

The pizzamaker’s corporate umbrella covers 16,500 stores in 85 markets worldwide, 98% of them franchises.

That means roughly 400,000 people wear the Domino’s brand but work for their franchise rather than the company, says Stacie Barrett, director of internal communications at Domino’s.

“That brings another challenge to the table,” she says. “We need to work with our franchisees. And in the United States, we’ve got about 800 of them.”

In her Ragan Training video, “Encourage employee engagement by connecting them to the ‘why,’” reveals why Domino’s succeeds despite the challenge, fueling enthusiasm among franchisees who must cascade messages to their employees.

Pizza making—like the business world at large—is becoming more and more complex. Even Domino’s is testing self-driving cars. (Among other discoveries: Folks accepting a pizza delivery like to chat with their robot vehicle.)

“I have franchisees who signed up to make pizza, and now they’ve got these complex IT infrastructures that they have to run,” she says. “They’ve become a technology company inside their store.”

Here are a few tactics that work beyond the world of Ultimate Pepperoni pies and Spicy Jalapeno Pineapple Chicken:

1. Persuade by explaining why.

It turns out when you ask people to do something, they like to know why. Give a reason, and they are more likely to embrace the mission.

“We can’t just tell people what to do,” Barrett says. “We have to ‘sell’ people what to do. … I need to make sure I’m connecting the ‘why’ and the purpose for all of the change and the investment.”

Some years ago, Domino’s former CEO set a lofty goal: to become the No. 1 pizza company in the world. Franchisees rallied around the idea.

“And guess what,” Barrett says. “We got there, and we got there two years earlier than we planned.”

2. Rally managers who can teach the troops.

Domino’s holds a conference for franchisees in Las Vegas every couple of years. Attendees must pay for their own airfare, food and lodging, so the pressure is on to provide high-octane content that makes it worth the investment. (The company also webcasts the event.)

This includes memorable training that attendees can then pass along to their franchise employees. Domino’s doesn’t want just comprehension, but a familiarity deep enough to teach the lessons.

“I want people to be so engaged in the content that they want to teach it and bring these experiences home,” Barrett says.

When shindig started, it drew 2,500 people. Now Domino’s fills a 9,000-seat arena, suggesting that the franchisees are getting their money’s worth.

3. Form listening councils—and then listen.

When Domino’s enacts major changes, it consults councils with representatives from all over, seeking their thoughts. The idea comes with a caveat, however.

“If you’re going to do this, you actually have to listen to that feedback,” Barrett says. “You can’t say, ‘All right, but we know best; we’re going to do it anyway.’”

Domino’s adjusts its plans based on the responses. The result is teams of advocates who support the change.

4. Use webinar training to vacuum up feedback.

Webinars are a great way for the troops to hear from executives and experts. An additional advantage is that the Q&A at the end allows Domino’s to learn from the folks in the field.

Barrett has leaders in the room, where they can hear and see the questions people are asking. “It’s all about giving people that feedback loop,” she says.

5. Use research to push change.

Domino’s conducted an audit working with Ragan Consulting Group, and the resulting data helped bring about substantive changes.

“Often you know in your gut what’s wrong with communication,” Barrett says. “And you’ve told your leaders what’s wrong with your communication. But they don’t hear you.”

One datapoint made a difference. Barrett asked busy franchisees—who tend to be on their feet all day running restaurants—how much time they spend per week on email. The answer: 15 minutes.

“What?” she says rhetorically. “Do you know what this did? This one piece of data was a game-changer.”

Previously, she says, when people didn’t read emails, the solution had been this: Send them another email!

She asked one franchisee to forward to her every email from Domino’s. In addition to all the emails from corporate, field reps would forward the franchisee the same email. Supply chain people forwarded their version of emails. The result was multiple repeat messages to people who barely had time to glance over their inboxes in the first place.

6. Keep it short. Less is more.

Domino’s used the data about email overload to train front-line consultants working with franchisees to seek more personal connections with their charges.

“We had this beautiful opportunity to connect with people, with human beings,” Barrett says. “I don’t want them forwarding emails. That’s not a good use of their time. I want them having conversations with people about their business. That’s what they’re good at. They’re consultants.”

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