When Things Go Wrong

I’ve just returned from the Australian National Franchise Convention on the Gold Coast. Each elevator in the resort had a comfortable leather seat at the back. It’s an unusual but nice touch. On the second evening of the Convention, when going up to my room on the 17th floor, the elevator suddenly shuddered and stopped. A red light began to flash and the lady who usually so pleasantly tells us what floor we are on, curtly announced several times “This elevator is not in service”.

Illustration of cartoon man stuck in lift.

You’ve probably seen movies where people are stuck in elevators and someone goes crazy, so I was grateful to be by myself, and that a real human voice responded when I pushed the intercom button. I was also grateful there was a good phone signal so I could catch up on my emails and chat with my wife about my interesting predicament, and her day. And of course I was grateful for that comfortable leather seat so I could lean back and have a snooze while waiting for them to send out a technician to rescue me.

Gratitude is a great thing. It keeps you focused on what’s going well rather than what isn’t. This means we can stay calm, clear headed and productive. Although I must admit my relief turned to annoyance when I was finally released and walked around to the reception desk to let them know I was okay. The receptionist thought I was telling her one of their elevators was out of action, and responded nonchalantly that she already knew this and the technicians were working on it. It was only when I explained I had been trapped in said elevator for 45 minutes, and was letting her know I’d escaped in sound psychological health, that she came to life and apologised. Which is the point of this Tip.

Implementing change in a franchise network

Things will always go wrong, especially during periods of change, and some people are going to be inconvenienced, disappointed or frustrated. In a franchise network it will often be franchisees who are on the receiving end of the change. Because these changes are usually complex and rely on many people, something is bound to not go according to plan. Here’s two suggestions for franchisors to keep in mind when rolling out changes that impact on franchisees.

Communicate four times more than normal. Because the brain is wired to treat uncertainty as a potential threat, franchisees will assume the worst if things are going differently to how they expected, especially if they are being inconvenienced. When the elevator jammed, if I had not been able to communicate with the technician who explained what was going on, (or my wife for that matter), my imagination would have created all sorts of negatives… “Maybe no one knows I’m here… I could be stuck here all night with nowhere to relieve myself… suffocate… plunge to my death… go crazy…” So keep franchisees informed of what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen.

Let people know when things don’t go to plan. You don’t need to make a big deal of this. Just don’t try to cover up mistakes or pretend all is well when it clearly isn’t. This destroys trust, damages credibility and will undermine confidence in the change. After reaffirming what IS going well, mention the problem and explain what you are doing to put things right. This reassures people you are in control. By bringing them into the loop they will also feel more committed to supporting you. If appropriate, apologise and remind them you have been genuinely concerned about the impact of the inconvenience.

When things go wrong, a simple apology, an empathetic acknowledgement of the impact on the person or group, an explanation of what happened, (and if relevant how it’s being fixed so it won’t happen again), is often all that is needed. If there have been strong feelings or significant inconvenience, texts and emails will seldom cut it. Get on the phone or organise a meeting.


Greg Nathan is a psychologist, author and an international expert on the franchise relationship. Connect with him on Google+ or Linkedin.

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