Over the years, we have seen hundreds of franchise field audit questionnaires. They come in all shapes and sizes and cover many different aspects – in fact we wrote a field audit benchmarks article comprising of just this.
A number of systems have approached us and asked us for ways to improve their audit questionnaire, which they thought was too generous. More specifically, they were seeing all of their franchisees receive 90%+ scores when in fact they sensed that the system average should be more around a 70% or 80%. In fact, the average across all franchise systems we work with is 80% of audits pass and 20% fail.
John Doerr, author of bestseller Measure What Matters famously said “if you always hit 100% of your goals, you are not shooting high enough.” Conversely, if you’re hitting too few of them, you get demotivated. If it is at around 80%, and the goals are meaningful, people will sit up and take notice of those initiatives, and the people in charge of them.
Franchisors have told us that the problem with such high scores is that franchisees who receive them tend to ignore the recommendations that are made because they’re already doing exceptionally well. This article lists out a collection of strategies you can employ to balance out your audit scoring.
Ineffective Strategy: Changing Question Weights
The natural first first reflex is to change the number of points allocated to each question. A critical question will be given more weight than a low impact one. At it’s base, this is a sound strategy when used appropriately.
Imagine you had a questionnaire with 100 questions, worth one point each. If a franchisee fails a critical question due to having rats taking over the kitchen, then they still end up having 99%. Sure, maybe the whole audit fails due to severity rules around such critical questions but when seeing that score, they’ll think they still did very well, and will be popping the champagne bottles, when in reality, the brand would be in grave danger.
When faced with this, the reflex is to increase the point value of this question. Let’s say we make it 10 points. The questionnaire total is now 109, having moved that question from 1 to 10 points. Fail that question and you get 99 out of 109, or just under 91%. That’s a big jump and you’re making progress on being less generous.
The problem with this strategy is you can’t do it too often. If you do, then you end up with a similar problem because the critical questions rarely fail. As an example, imagine that you want the top ten questions to be worth ten points, and you leave the other 90 questions at their standard one-point value. Your total point value is now 190. Fail one critical and you’re back to almost 95%. In other words, you just halved your gains in the context of improving the questionnaire to be less generous.
Additionally, because your critical questions rarely fail, you’ve made things worse for the other regular questions. Fail a regular question and now you have 99.5% instead of 99%. As you can see, this drives average audit scores up and reduces failure rates.
Don’t misinterpret the comments above as saying you should never change question weights. We believe questions should be weighted based on their importance. The lesson we are communicating here is that it isn’t typically the solution to this particular problem.
Strategy #1: Calibrate Your Coaches
Before making any changes to your questionnaire, you need to make sure that your coaches are evaluating the questions properly according to the same guidelines. This may imply having a meeting with the whole team and defining much more specific documentation about each question to quantify the criteria for a passing value.
If you balance this with real data, you can ask people if they think that it’s normal that a certain question is passing 95% of the time. Perhaps the team will discover that certain standards were simply too easy to attain, and the bar can be moved up.
A simple conversation with the team to be stricter may be a very easy way to get started on this problem.
Strategy #2: Add Questions that Will Fail Often
Sometimes auditors will sense that the questionnaire is dated and overlooks certain areas that would normally be failing often. In Strategy #1, you defined stricter standards; now you are expressing those standards as new questions instead of different evaluation criteria. This is a good start, though it’s not as effective as the next idea.
Strategy #3: Prune Questions
Another data-driven initiative revolves around pruning questions that never fail from your audit. If you run a report and see that a certain question has rarely failed across hundreds of audits, perhaps it’s time to consider retiring this question completely. Not only does this reduce the point total but it makes the coach’s visit faster. We are naturally driven to add more to a questionnaire, but it is good practice to review what you can remove once per year so the whole process becomes both manageable and meaningful.
This is usually easier said than done as it is very difficult to remove completely valid questions from a questionnaire. After all, questions in an audit come to symbolize the priorities of the organization such as quality and customer satisfaction.
Strategy #4: Create Specific Questionnaires for Areas of Concern
Most franchise systems have two main questionnaires, one for a thorough annual review and a shorter one for more frequent visits. However, we’ve seen the average franchise has 6 questionnaires in our platform and that is because they have started utilizing the tool in various other use cases from store openings to limited time offer validation for the Marketing team.
In the context of our discussion, imagine a franchise has a lengthy questionnaire featuring 400 questions on quality, service, cleanliness, marketing, food safety and franchise coaching. Now imagine it has identified a large weakness or risk around food safety and their annual field audits are not helping drive the scores up, even if there are 100 questions on this specific matter in the audit questionnaire.
One initiative could be to create a new questionnaire, focused exclusively on food safety. This signals the message that food safety is so important that you’re doing audits exclusively on this matter. Additionally, because this was your main weakness, it usually implies scores will be lower. They aren’t brought back up by passing questions in other sections.
Strategy #5: Implement Penalty Scoring
There is probably no better technique to reduce scores quickly than making use of penalty scoring. It unfortunately comes with the trade-off of being more confusing to explain to the franchisees, especially when they are accustomed to receiving high scores.
The way penalty scoring works is as follows: Imagine you have a questionnaire or a section that has 100 questions worth 1 point each. Instead of subtracting failures from the maximum total of points (100), remove them from an arbitrary other number, such as 50. If you fail one question worth one point, you get 98% (49/50). You’ve just made your questionnaire 2x stricter. If you fail 10, you get 80% instead of 90%.
If you chose to deduct points from 25 instead, you’ve doubled it again. If you fail 20 questions worth one point, you lose 20 points out of 25, leaving you with 5/25 or 20%. Compare this to the original situation where failing 20 questions would leave you with 80%. If you are going to roll out such a drastic change, it must be accompanied with change management and buy in from the franchisees.
Most Important Lesson: Get your Franchisee Advisory Council (FAC) Involved
When making changes to the questionnaire like this, it’s important to get the FAC involved. They need to understand there’s a problem with the status quo and that problem can negatively impact their bottom line if it’s not addressed. If people are ignoring food safety because the audit scores are too high, they risk getting people sick and that will damage the brand. Involve them in the questionnaire design process and do a few test runs with them to ensure you have their buy-in.