You Hired The Wrong Guy. That Sucks.

Written by Todd L. Michaud
January 5th, 2010

Franchisee Columnist Todd Michaud has spent the last 16 years trying to fight IT issues, with the last six years focused on franchisee IT issues. He is currently responsible for IT at Focus Brands (Cinnabon, Carvel, Schlotzsky’s and Moe’s Southwestern Grill).

“We don’t really do anything here. We just manage the people that do stuff to make sure they don’t screw up.” I used to give this answer a lot when asked about what type of work my franchise IT group did. We are basically responsible for picking other people to do a job that we are qualified to do, and then deal with it when they don’t do it well. Sounds like a dream-come-true right? The perfect answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up, Billy?” It is very frustrating to try to hire someone for this role and get it wrong.

To be a success in this type of environment, the staff needs to be good at negotiation, communication, service level management and, above all, they need to be masterful politicians. These are not skills that are typically strengths for IT people. Most of the time, people who have these strengths have chosen professions outside of IT. But the most important skill of all is having your technical chops. It is absolutely critical that you understand the technology to not only chose the right providers, but to call them on the carpet if they are not performing as they should. So how do you find the right mix? Try hiring an ex-consultant.

Over the past 6 years, I have continued to refine my sense of key attributes that a candidate must have in order to be successful in a franchisee environment that heavily relies on outsourcing. I have found it extremely difficult to pinpoint which skills or experience on a resume identify someone who will be successful in a Franchisor environment unless, of course, they are coming from a franchise IT environment. That one is easy.

You may be saying to yourself, “That’s easy, Todd: Just find someone with experience in managing outsourcing.” But it is not that simple. Most of the folks that I have interviewed that were heavy with outsourcing experience still owned their users.

Although having the skills for managing a service provider is extremely useful, the missing piece is that the users of those IT systems are most often company employees (let’s ignore the customer facing systems, for the moment). When employees have a problem with an IT system, they are used to calling a help desk and working through the internal processes to get their problems resolved. When it comes to working with franchisees, however, that is entirely different. These “users” are quite different when compared with a typical employee, especially when it comes to expectations about price and service levels. Most people that I have talked with that have a heavy outsourcing background are used to being able to set policy around how these services are used. That small nuance can be a big deal in a franchise environment.

My first approach was to create a Product Management organization. I did this after a thorough evaluation of what an IT person in this type of environment has to do. What I found was that it matches very well to what a traditional Product Manager would do:

• Gathering and document user requirements
• Identifying and choosing vendor(s) to provide a systems
• Working with the vendor(s) to make sure that the systems was provided according to the specifications
• Working with the users to gather requirements on how to improve the system
• Working with the vendors to enhance the system
It seemed to make perfect sense to me that our organization needed to be focused on Product Management. So a few organizational changes here and a few staff changes there, we had a Product Management organization that was ready to take on the world. It failed miserably.


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