For decades, franchisors have pretty much used the same system of quality control. They'd start with several weeks of initial training, provide the franchisee with an operations manual, and sprinkle in occasional field visits and some ongoing training. But today, with the advent of Learning Management Systems (LMS) technologies, virtually every franchisor can develop an online training and quality control program for his business without breaking the bank.

Intranets, of course, have long been a staple of the franchise community, providing a forum for both training and monitored internal communications. But an LMS can provide more robust features than a franchisor's traditional intranet. In addition to housing operations manuals, an LMS can offer access to training materials, training videos and tests that will allow your franchisees to better replicate your unique system.

If It's Not Broke, Break It!
For any franchisors looking to upgrade, the question comes down to "Why make the change?" After all, traditional methods of quality control have been used for years without a hitch. And even the least expensive LMS comes with a development and maintenance fee.

Perhaps the most significant advantage of an LMS is the ease by which content can be customized, based on either individual users or groups of users. This unique system enables franchisors to push personalized training to every level of employee in their organization. This allows franchisors, for the first time, to be directly involved in the quality control and training of every person who represents their brand--even for positions where employee turnover exceeds 100 percent annually. No longer is a franchisor's only option to "train the trainer." Today, video, supplemented by online testing, can improve quality control throughout the organization. Some franchisors are even training crew-level staff via podcasts and other remote media devices that connect directly to the LMS.

An LMS can also help reduce costs for both the franchisor and their franchisees simultaneously. Franchisees attending initial, in-person training sessions will be able to come into these sessions "pre-trained," having first used the LMS to familiarize themselves with the franchisor's system, thus shortening the in-person training program and reducing its associated expenses.

And the opportunities for instantaneous training--either first-time or refresher--are enormous. Employee got a problem installing a widget? With a few keystrokes and the right password, that person can watch a video on the subject without missing a beat. Need to be sure the cook your franchisee hired last week knows how to prepare your special recipe? A video and interactive test can help ensure consistency.

In addition to training employees, an LMS has profound implications for the introduction of new products and services. An LMS allows you to provide detailed information on new product or service offerings immediately across a wide audience while ensuring that it's being done according to your specifications, because it's both instantaneous and auditable.

All This, and Legal Benefits, Too
An LMS offers the additional advantage of allowing franchisors to track all activity that occurs on their sites. For instance, a franchisor can now tell how long a specific video was watched on an employee-by-employee basis. Franchisors can also track completed tasks, such as what courses remain untaken. The LMS can even send reminders to the user, the franchisee and the franchisor that certain required tasks remain uncompleted.

With an LMS in place, franchisors can require that certain tasks be completed in a predetermined order (for instance, that an employee must take the safety course before the operations course) and that tests covering that material must be passed before the employee is allowed to move on. And by documenting that their franchisees and employees were trained, franchisors may be in a better position to enforce quality control provisions in their contracts with their franchisees.

Another critical element of installing an LMS? By documenting the completion of specific training tasks and their results, franchisors may be able to avoid certain liability issues. If, for instance, an employee is charged with sexual harassment, as the franchisor you can prove that specific employee read the appropriate passages in your operations manual and watched the video on the subject. You can also prove, by the test results generated by the LMS, that he understood both the content of that material and your position on the issue. Job safety concerns? Again, the ability to document what you've done to prepare for these issues can have a significant impact. And the ability to prove that you've provided training on these issues can significantly reduce your legal exposure should an issue ever arise.

Cost Benefit Analysis
The bottom line is that everything in business has an associated expense and must be subjected to a cost benefit analysis before you can decide whether to proceed. So just what will an LMS program that automates much of the training process cost you? Your initial investment could be as low as $10,000 for a high-end system that also includes some custom programming, positioning of content and test development. Compare that with the associated costs of in-person training, both initially and ongoing, for your franchisees and their employees, and you'll find an investment in an LMS may well be worth it.

Of course, in addition to these initial development costs, there are ongoing software, service and support fees, as is typical with all high-end software programs. These fees, which are charged on a per-user basis, generally decrease as the number of users increases--the bigger you get, the less you'll pay per user. And savvy franchisors will often include provisions in their contracts that make their franchisees responsible for the payment of any such ongoing license fees.

Ultimately, while the startup and ongoing fees for an LMS aren't inexpensive, they are relatively low when viewed in terms of their benefits--improved branding and consistency and reduced training costs. And if an LMS can mitigate potential lawsuits--and their expenses--by providing a "proof of training" safety net, the costs of an LMS can be downright cheap by comparison.