New Model for Franchise Employee Training in a Post-NLRB World

The National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) rulings on franchisors’ joint-employer status with franchisees has cast a chill on the relationship that can threaten both organizations’ ability to deliver a consistent brand experience.

Franchisors now feel the need to further distance themselves from franchisee employees in order to reduce liability risks. But at the same time they still have to protect their brand image and give customers what they expect.  

The recent wave of mobile digitization of employee training may provide an effective solution for franchisors to maintain the appropriate liability distance from the franchisee, while still insuring a consistent brand experience.     

The NLRB ruling has created a false dichotomy between franchisor liability and brand experience.

Poorly or ill-trained employees can severely impact the brand experience for customers if brand standards stray and vary from restaurant to restaurant.  To solve the problem, franchisors can turn to digital solutions to create the context, resources and content that employees actually want to use – training material that is fun, compelling and easy to consume. It’s a carrot versus stick approach. Voluntary versus mandatory.

The new employee training model fully leverages the mobile technologies that are so deeply ingrained in the lives of the millennial employee, who thrives in a digital world heavily influenced by social engagement and micro-content.   It only makes sense: just as restaurants are turning to fast wireless networks, mobile apps and digital tools to attract customers to their restaurants, enhancing the employee training experience with the same kind of dynamic rich media can have the same positive effects.

The new training model eliminates the need for long interruptions in off-site training sessions and greatly supplements the peer-to-peer training in the restaurant.  High frequency exposure to small increments of engaging training is far more effective for improving employee operational performance than longer training sessions every quarter.

Using their own or a company-provided mobile device, employees can spearhead their own training regimen by consuming on-demand video and fun, interactive training content when it works best for them. They feel more empowered because they are in control – rather than being controlled – and the device platform is a natural extension of their everyday lives.

Restaurants can boost employee engagement with features like “gameified” training content, automated virtual assistants, and social media channels that link employees with each other as well as coaches and mentors. Social media also provides a great platform for group discussions where employees can brainstorm collectively and allow experienced employees to pass down their knowledge to newer employees, dramatically reducing the learning curve.

Restaurants can also utilize live web polls over their WiFi networks, presenting a customer service scenario or other training simulation and then prompting the employees with answer choices on their mobile devices.

Case studies can come alive through humor and video storytelling. Interactive quizzes can make testing fun. And being digitally rewarded in some way for their diligent, self-directed learning can build confidence and self-esteem in employees.

The newer mobile training solutions also help management by making it easier to track a student’s participation, ensure compliance with corporate mandates, and communicate with employees in a more casual (i.e. less intimidating) online environment.

The bottom line is that the NLRB ruling has created a false dichotomy between franchisor liability and brand experience. Using a new networked, digitally-driven, consumer model for employee training will turn employees into eager directors of their own professional development, maintain a consistent brand experience within the franchise, and reduce franchisor risk under the new NLRB norms.