20 Tips to Help You Audit your Franchise Field Audit

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present new challenges for franchisors. Yet day by day, we are seeing an uptick in field audits despite many months of uncertainty and dependence on virtual visits. Now is a good time to dust off that old field audit questionnaire and get it ready for use. You can start by making sure your audit is the best it can be – in other words, doing an audit of your franchise audit.

In this post, we’ve outlined a simple list of tips to help you review the health of your current franchise field auditing process for optimal outcomes.

1. Eliminate unnecessary or redundant questions

Having extra questions means unnecessary work for the auditor. In addition to obvious extra questions, you’ll find more subtle questions that are simply redundant.

It’s critical to eliminate any redundancy or unnecessary questions to ensure you’re getting the most streamlined and critical answers from your audit.

2. Make sure each question addresses a single concern

A question that addresses multiple concerns makes it difficult for the franchisee to understand what needs fixing.

Example: “Walls and floors are clean and don’t feature any apparent damage and the marketing posters on the wall are recent and approved.” When faced with a failure on this question, the franchisee would not be sure what to fix.

3. Use an appropriate question/answer format

How you ask questions can impact your outcomes. Question formats such as multiple-choice, text-based or yes/no should be carefully considered when building an audit.

Example: Using a yes/no question when it comes to meeting temperature standards rather than simply recording the temperature value itself.

4. Ask specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bound (SMART) questions

When designing a questionnaire, you should review the characteristics of each question to ensure the audits are objective and impactful.

If a question is vague or addresses too many concerns, it’s unclear what is being evaluated. If it’s not measurable, then the audit becomes subjective. If it’s not actionable, then you won’t be able to find fixes for problems. If it’s not relevant, then it’s extra work that isn’t impactful. Finally, questions which aren’t time-bound make it unclear as to what time period is actually being evaluated.

Example: Using terms such as “a reasonable amount of time” instead of simply recording how quickly the franchisee should perform the service in terms of seconds, minutes, and hours.

5. Review for spelling or grammar mistakes

Spelling and grammar errors can cause auditors and franchisees to lose faith in the system.

6. Align the questionnaire with the audit flow

Matching the audit “flow”, starting outside the front door and ending with the coaching session at the back can save time and enhance the process.

7. Include references to relevant documentation

A question that refers back to standards should include a reference to the franchise manual or online standards guide.

Example: “Scheduling appropriate to sales volume” – the guideline outlining how many employees a franchisee needs for a given sales volume should be posted.

8. Tag questions with the relevant process that drives that standard

Audit scores are often represented by top-level section scores such as “Back of house: 80%” or “Cleanliness: 75%”. This is a good way to slice the information, but additional facets can be reviewed.

It is a best practice to tag specific questions with the relevant process that drives that standard. When a set of standards fail and they’re all associated to the same back-end process, you can coach for the root cause rather than each standard.

Example: A standard such as “smiling and welcoming guests” could be categorized as “service” but a better way would be to tag it as “Training: going above what’s required & wowing the guest”.

9. Be intentional about audit length

The audit should only be as long, or as short as it needs to be in order to achieve its goals. Most long-form format audits contain 200 to 400 questions.

When shorter (eg: 50 questions), the coach may be perceived as performing a cursory visit and not going into detail. It’s normal (and desirable) to have short-form audits, but if your longest one is only 100 questions, you likely haven’t formalized your visit/coaching process.

When longer (ex: 600 questions), the coach may be perceived as performing busywork, and spending too much time filling out forms rather than coaching franchisees. If you drill down into the data, you’ll normally notice a large cross-section of the audit never-fails. These questions are candidates to be removed.

10. Recognize that extremely high scores don’t always drive change

While at first it may seem like a good thing to have strong audit scores, scores that are too high will not drive change in the organization. An average score of over 90% will lead franchisees to lose motivation in terms of corrective actions as they see themselves as performing at an A+ level whereas the franchisor’s view may be different.

Solutions to this issue are complex but include:

  • Calibrating coaches to be stricter
  • Changing the standards to be stricter
  • Shortening the audits by removing questions which always succeed
  • Changing weights of certain questions/sections/failures
  • Adding new questions aligned with the present system weaknesses that aren’t captured

11. Be prepared to set rules for critical, no-fail questions

There are some audit questions which are so core to the brand that they should have a “critical” marking – such as using unapproved suppliers.

If questions are marked with severity, additional business rules such as “the audit should fail if any critical questions fail” can be easily put into place instead of a convoluted question weighting system.

12. Define a corrective action plan that includes accountability

When a weakness is recognized, it is a best practice to use a corrective action to get it followed-up on by the appropriate person.

It’s typical to not start using the task system immediately when adopting a platform such as FranConnect as it does require a bit of change management and expectation management with the franchisees. Once established, however, leveraging tasks can increase accountability.

Having a backlog of tasks indicates a lack of process or of training – it is a good idea to discuss expectations with the franchisees and coaches.

13. Review processes and standards to address system-wide weaknesses

When exploring system-wide weaknesses, sometimes there is a core process that is consistently not being followed. To solve system-wide weaknesses, it can make sense to include new practices such as recurring self-assessments.

Example: A consistent failure on exterior cleanliness may require a system-wide training or process reminder, perhaps complemented by daily self-assessments where pictures are submitted.

14. Be a collaborative coach, not a standards cop

The franchise consultant role is evolving beyond simply being a “cop” who maintains standards. It is also a “coach” who helps the franchisee achieve their goals. The questionnaire should reflect this change.

Example: Having a “coaching” section in the audit is a fantastic first step towards creating a coaching dynamic.

15. Automate and reduce the need for manual input

We sometimes see questionnaires which include various number questions which need to be punched in by the coach. For example, what were last month’s sales, labor costs, etc.

Automating this collection outside of the coach’s visit, via an integration with the Point of Sale or other source system, can save the coach time plus enable them to have time to research ahead of the visit and prepare a proper action plan with the franchisee.

16. Ensure all auditors adhere to the same standards

When reviewing average scores among auditors, you may notice dramatically different scores. One root cause of this is an inconsistent understanding of what the standards are for each auditor.

17. Develop a photo stream of the key important standards

When your coaches aren’t calibrated on a certain question, it is often helpful to utilize pictures to highlight both when a standard is not met AND when it is met.

This generates a photo stream that the whole team can observe and discuss. It helps refine the standard so everyone is in agreement. If you only have pictures of failures, you have a skewed perspective.

A few key standards, even if they do not have any calibration issues, should be consistently documented with pictures (both success & failure) as it is a goldmine of information.

18. Implement an approval process to prevent backlog

Having a backlog of pending audits could mean that completed work is not being used. Make sure to have an approval “rhythm” set up within the system and the appropriate auditor manager is aware of your expectations. Alternatively, some questionnaires may benefit from being automatically approved.

19. Set up a process to ensure all locations are consistently visited

Having locations “fall through the cracks” could be detrimental to the brand on many levels. We’ve often seen this in contexts where a franchisor expects each coach to visit each location quarterly but doesn’t effectively make the coaches accountable to do so.

20. Consider adding new questionnaires

The average franchisor has approximately 6 different questionnaires, so it’s worth considering whether the set for your franchise is complete. Pay attention to mix of self-assessments and unscored audits (see more about that in our Franchise Operations Index report). If you use operations software to identify your weak unit segments, you can create questionnaires just for those underperformers.

Sample questionnaires include:

  • Quarterly or Annual Business Plan
  • Weekly/monthly phone call business check-in
  • New store opening checklist
  • Food safety audit
  • Daily store logs self-assessments (openings/closings)
  • New marketing rollout assessment
  • New product readiness self-assessment

For more on franchisee engagement, performance management, and franchisee collaboration, download our High Impact Franchisee Engagement Playbook.