Whatever Happened To Servant Leadership?

BY MICHAEL JORGENSEN, EXECUTIVE VICE CHAIRMAN, NCASEF

I recently saw a social media post where, on a white board, someone had written, “A leader who fails to listen will eventually find himself surrounded by people with nothing to say.” I think it’s safe to say that most folks reading this article will already know that I am not pleased with the direction of the 2019 Agreement. As troubling as the Agreement is—with a host of potential financial and operational implications— even more than the Agreement, is the picture SEI is portraying of franchisees all over the country who are thrilled with this Agreement and beating down the door to sign it. This portrayal could not be farther from reality. The most disturbing part is that I am starting to believe SEI leadership truly believes that franchisees are happy. Either that, or they simply do not care. Either way spells trouble.

In order to demonstrate why I am starting to think this way, I want to share some details from the 2017 Franchisee Satisfaction Survey. This was the 7-Eleven survey that was completed on our store ISPs and shared on 7-Hub. It may still be there. Questions were answered by one of five choices: 1) Strongly Agree, 2) Agree, 3) Neither Agree or Disagree, 4) Strongly Disagree, and 5) Disagree. In the results presented, these five choices were separated into three categories: 1) Favorable, 2) Neutral and 3) Unfavorable. Strongly Agree and Agree fell into Favorable, Neither Agree or Disagree became Neutral and Strongly Disagree and Disagree became Unfavorable.

The survey broke out various categories and services, and also had an Overall Services score. The Overall Services score by franchisees was 73 percent Favorable, 17 percent Neutral and 10 percent Unfavorable. SEI described the results by stating, “Taking all of the services and support provided by 7-Eleven into account, franchisees show a strong endorsement for The Brand. In aggregate, the services and support activities help franchisees run their businesses effectively.” The 2017 Survey Overall Services score results mirror the exact numbers from the last survey completed in 2015, yet a more detailed look at some of the specific questions and responses might make it seem the very opposite of 7-Eleven’s take on the  survey — that in fact there are more, far deeper issues that the leadership is not addressing.

When looking to improve upon results through the use of a survey, the typical approach would be to address the areas identified in the survey as having the highest impact on the overall score. Taking a look at the 2017 Franchisee Satisfaction Survey, these areas would include the following:

  • The Relationship category overall score, which was 68 percent Favorable (up 2 percent from 2015), 17 percent Neutral, and 15 percent Unfavorable (up 4 percent from 2015).
  • Only 64 percent of franchisees felt that 7-Eleven was committed to their success. This is down 2 percent from 2015, when 66 percent felt that 7-Eleven was committed to their success.
  • Only 62 percent of franchisees felt favorably that 7-Eleven wants them to be profitable—down 2 percent from 2015. Looking at Operations, the Overall Score dropped 6 percent from 2015 to 70 percent.
  • Only 63 percent felt Favorably that Operations was committed to their success (-4 percent).
  • 66 percent felt Favorably that their Zone Leader provides strategic leadership.
  • 70 percent felt Favorably that their Market Manager is responsive to their needs.
  • 76 percent (-4 percent) felt Favorably that their Field Consultant is a valuable resource to help grow their business profitably.
  • 75 percent (-5 percent) felt Favorably that their Field Consultant was interested in their store-specific goals for business.

In the Merchandising category:

  • 66 percent (-3 percent to 2015) of franchisees responded Favorably that the 7-Eleven merchandising department is committed to their success.
  • Only 41 percent (-1 percent) of franchisees felt that 7-Eleven does a good job negotiating lower cost of goods with the vendor partners, while 38 percent (+4 percent) of franchisees disagreed and feel that 7-Eleven is not doing a good job of negotiating a lower cost of goods.

When satisfaction scores drop precipitously like this in the short space of two years, leadership should not be pleased. In this case leadership begins at the top, and filters down through every level of the 7-Eleven corporate structure, from our CEO to VPs, Directors, Zone Leaders, Market Managers and Field Consultants. It is important to note that the farther away from the store the relationship gets, the more disconnected the relationship and the more difficult it is to achieve favorable results.

Can we use these highlighted opportunities to grow overall franchisee satisfaction? As I said earlier, SEI needs to address these points. My big worry is that in failing to do so, and in light of the 2019 Agreement, current leadership is failing in their stewardship of the brand, forsaking franchisees for other shareholders. Franchisees are shareholders too! We have invested not only our hard earned cash (the same as stockholders), but our time, our energy and our relationships with our families to make the brand successful. Where are we today? Has 7-Eleven made improvements since the 2017 Survey? Whatever happened to servant leadership?