The Power of Group Thinkers in Franchising

You’ve heard it before: The whole is better than the sum of its parts. There’s no “I” in team. Teamwork makes the dream work.

You’ve heard them all, enough to recite like a lackluster version of the Pledge of Allegiance, but have you really felt them?

My journey to the full-body, visceral wave of the “go-team” pompoms started at the International Franchise Association’s (IFA) annual convention in February.

Colette Hittinger, senior global manager of operations and training at Ben & Jerry’s*, spoke about an organizational development approach that their team has woven into the fabric of the franchise system.

Appreciating Appreciative Inquiry

“Appreciative Inquiry (AI),” is a management philosophy first penned in 1987 by social psychologists David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva.

Appreciative Inquiry tackles change management from the standpoint of establishing group consensus surrounding positive change. But before we get too deep into the nuts and bolts of it, what we’re not talking about here is an allusion to George Orwell’s “1984.”

When we say group consensus, we’re not talking about “groupthink.” This isn’t a disenfranchised, dystopian consensus. It’s the product of “group thinkers” — an empowered group of individuals with a shared organizational purpose rallying around positive change.

So, instead of approaching necessary change from a “what problem are we trying to solve?” or “what went wrong?” standpoint, Appreciative Inquiry flips the frame: “What are we really good at as an organization? And what would we like to build?” After individual members of the team contribute to that discussion, the team collectively works to design and execute that “dream.”

Photograph of three women looking up

It’s a change in mentality that puts the potential of the group over the shortcomings of previous projects.

Ben & Jerry’s Core Academy: AI Integration for Social Change

The Ben & Jerry’s organization is full of individual thinkers, doers and believers. They’re more than 18–24-year-old newcomers to the workforce; they’re a force for positive change in the world.

All of that potential, paired with the company’s steadfast values and powerful, three-pronged mission (quality product, strong economic position and societal betterment), made it a strong candidate for the AI approach to change management.

Ben & Jerry’s, said Hittinger, applies Appreciative Inquiry at every turn — from annual planning to work with the franchise advisory council to day-to-day meetings focused on goal achievement.

“When you ask each other about what is great, people automatically smile, they positively engage, and their willingness to participate in activities to become even better grows exponentially,” she said.

AI was also the inspiration behind Ben & Jerry’s Core Academy. The online institution houses four voluntary post-secondary academic courses free for all Ben & Jerry’s employees across the franchise system.

The curriculum, co-written by Champlain College of Burlington, Vt. and supported by the Story of Stuff, spans four four-week courses focused on developing transferable workplace skills that, if mastered, will transform a young workforce into institutional leaders.

Courses offered include “Beyond the Job,” with class material dedicated to developing an emotional IQ (EQ) and workplace communication skills; “Activism Academy,” which challenges students to channel their passions into a plan for change; and “Social Equity & Inclusion,” which encourages students to examine how stereotypes and bias affect working relationships.

All of this course material gives students a diverse perspective about how they can work better together to learn and grow.

From a January 2016 QSR Magazine article, Hittinger, also project manager for the academy, said:

“We wanted to create something where someone doesn’t just feel like they just scooped ice cream for a summer. One of the founding principles for the Core Academy is that if someone says they work for Ben & Jerry’s and just sell ice cream, we have failed.”

IFA 2018: Unity Rules

When reflecting upon IFA 2018’s keynotes and presentations, threaded among all was the theme of group unity. Together, franchisors, franchisees and suppliers use their individual strengths and intelligence to generate results for franchise organizations.

Appreciative Inquiry in Action

We want to ask you: As franchise professionals, what would happen if, instead of letting our differences drive our actions — in organizational hierarchy, in expertise, in location — what if we were motivated by positive change for the system instead? What if we aligned and empowered the group thinkers among us?

Photo of a group fist bump

For Ben & Jerry’s, the results speak for themselves. Said Hittinger in an August 2017 SHRM article: The scoop shops with employees who have graduated from the academy have higher sales trends and better customer service ratings.

Doug Barrese, a Ben & Jerry’s Charlottesville, Va. franchisee, said of his five millennial and Gen Z employees who have completed the program:

“As owner and supervisor, to see them develop this sense of mutual respect [as a result of the academy] — which is entirely uncommon [in this age group] — and to think how their actions affect each other as a team … was very cool and rewarding to watch.”

Plus, he says, it works as a retention tool.

So, the next time your franchise system hits a rough patch in the road, instead of listing all of the things that are standing in the way of positive change, start with all the things that aren’t.

Use Appreciative Inquiry, and let your team examine and explore what’s possible when smart, motivated individuals band together in the name of the team.

*Ben & Jerry’s is a former client of re:group’s.

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