How CIOs can develop an internal franchise among staff

A management consultant with a background in computer science suggests that CIOs and other IT leaders would have a happier and more productive staff if they could think of themselves as franchisees of a great brand.

In his new book, The Power of an Internal Franchise: How Your Business Will Prosper When Your Employees Act Like Owners, Martin O’Neill says enterprise managers should be spending more time listening to the next generation of leaders and being more transparent about their approach to a given market rather than try to manipulate their workforce and avoid building consensus. The book suggests employees will be more driven if they equate their organization’s success as their own.

“The hardest part of running a business is building a successful system. In franchising, this step is already done for you, and once you get licensed, you simply have to learn the procedures and follow the steps,” O’Neill writes in the book. “In an Internal Franchise, you create your operating manual; give it to your employees; and then coach, mentor, train, motivate, inspire, cajole, and even entice them to operate the business at the highest level possible.”

O’Neill, who runs Corsum Consulting in Maryland, got a degree in computer science and worked in various product and services roles at vendors before focusing on helping companies with leadership strategies. He said much of the advice in The Internal Franchise can be applied to the way CIOs work with IT departments.

“It’s about drawing a line of sight between what they do every day and the performance of the company. Every CIO should be able to draw that line of sight,” he said. “How to do it is get explicit about their operating model. What’s the financial model, what are the operating parameters, how does all that stuff have to work in the business. A CIO has to be this teacher on how his company makes money and how the stuff they’re doing is going to increase market share.”

Although some employers may believe staff are motivated by their pocketbook, O’Neill referred to the “psychic income” that’s key to ensuring employees will truly act like internal franchisees. Apart from believing in their leaders and their vision, they need to fully understand the operating model in terms of how they should be engaging with internal or external customers. They also need to be empowered and feel they have an ability to shape the organization, he added, and that they will not only have the authority to act but that they’ll be supported when they act.

“What keeps them excited? CIOs should be comfortable with this,” he said. “They should want people who think through challenging business problems, who have some autonomy to make their own decisions.”

Facebook CIO Tim Campos said giving employees that kind of latitude is what’s helped the social networking service become a dominant player in its market.

“One of the things that’s really powerful–and what innovation effectively is–is a license to fail. When you’re willing to tolerate failure, people are willing to do things differently. And if you’re not willing to do things differently, you have to do it in a tried-and-true way, which is not innovative,” he said.

When CIOs look at the attributes of their most valuable employees and those of a great entrepreneur, O’Neill said, the two are almost the same, except the risks they take. But risks can be mitigated through proper planning. The point is whether, like a franchisee, they feel as committed to succeeding as the company that owns the franchising rights.

— with files from IDG News Service

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