If you're shopping for a franchise, you may be invited to take a personality assessment.
I'd make a lousy franchisee--and I have the personality profile to prove it. I'd always been skeptical of personality tests, and so I was delighted when Accord Management Systems of Westlake, Calif., offered to let me and a friend of my choice take one to test it out.
Accord, which works with several large franchise systems, developed a profile of an ideal franchisee. Traits include:
- Higher-than-average dominance
- High energy and drive
- Focused on results
- Tough, but fair
- Somewhat sociable
All the things, apparently, I'm not. Bill Wagner, Accord's president, tried to be gentle when he told me I'm "extraordinarily sociable," so gregarious that I'd spend more time talking to customers than closing sales. I "care so much about people," he said, that I'd be a terrible boss, avoiding confrontations and accepting my employees' low performance standards. And I'm so optimistic that I'd be dreadful in functions like forecasting future business trends.
I hadn't told Mr. Wagner anything about the other test-taker, my friend Randal Dupuis, and tried to be pleasant when he said that Mr. Dupuis was my polar opposite. "He's aggressive, assertive, ambitious and goal-oriented," Mr. Wagner said. Unlike yours truly, Mr. Wagner said, he has "just enough sociability to mitigate his edge" and is a good boss because he "doesn't worry much about being liked. Randy is awesome franchisee material."
I was gleeful. "Randy was a franchisee of Meineke Mufflers--and he hated it," I said.
"Of course he did," was Mr. Wagner's unexpected answer. "Look at page D-1 of his report." Right at the top were the words: "Randy's profile is typical of people who are naturally suited to new-business development." His personality would never fit into an established system like Meineke. But he'd thrive, Mr. Wagner said, in a new franchise system, where the rules are not yet set. (Meineke has expanded from just muffler replacement since Randy was a franchisee, said Meineke spokesman Eugene Zhiss. The franchise now offers complete car-maintenance services and is more proactive in attracting new customers, he added.)
Steve Shoeman, chief executive officer of It's a Grind Coffee Houses, a 65-unit franchise based in Long Beach, Calif., said he, too, was skeptical of personality surveys "until everyone here in upper management took one and the results were pretty right on." Now every serious applicant for an It's a Grind franchise, he said, is required to take the Accord assessment before they travel to California for "Discovery Day" introductory sessions.
If you're shopping for a franchise, the odds are good that you, too, will be invited to take a personality survey. Thomas Bowman, director of franchise solutions for Wonderlic Inc., says his Libertyville, Ill.-based company has prepared customized personality surveys for "hundreds" of franchisers, which he declined to name.
Accord uses a behavioral profile developed by the McQuaig Institute of Executive Development, a 30-year-old Toronto company whose assessment tools are used by thousands of organizations, then customizes the results into assessment reports for their franchise clients. You can take the test online in less than half an hour by ranking sets of words that best describe you. In one group, for example, you are asked to rank, from one to four, obeying orders, pushing for results, entertaining and enjoying routine.
You can't flunk a personality survey, but you can send out signals that you might not be the right fit for a franchise system. "We're in the hospitality business, and we want franchisees who are definitely outgoing," said Mr. Shoeman.
If your personality profile whispers introvert, you won't be automatically rejected, Mr. Shoeman said, "but we'll be watching your comfort level during the interview process. If you're really quiet, we'll teach you how to hire personality types who are more suited to the coffee-house environment." Sometimes, he added, the combination of profile and interview sends out so many "red flags" that It's a Grind will turn down an applicant.
Many franchisers ask their present franchisees to take personality surveys, then try to match new franchisees to the profiles of their top-performing franchisees. Robert Bingham, CEO of The Little Gym, a 170-unit franchise system based in Scottsdale, Ariz., said his system has turned down applicants whose profiles showed "they were clearly out of synch. A 'misfit' demands a tremendous amount of our time and energy and will never hit the same royalty numbers as someone who's more naturally suited to our concept."
Mr. Shoeman said, "I actually feel we've getting better franchisees since we started profiling applicants." But critics of personality surveys question whether choosing franchisees for certain traits really builds a stronger company. Bob Kreisburg, president of Opus Marketing, a Laguna Hills, Calif., company that administers personality profiles in the information-technology industry, said, "Franchise companies that say 'We have one culture. If you don't fit, we don't want you,' are missing out on the advantages that different people bring to the table."
Despite their popularity in the business world, personality profiles haven't won over most scientists and scholars. "I've never seen any academic analysis that shows they work," said Stephen Spinelli, vice provost for entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., and author of "Franchising: Pathway to Wealth Creation" (Prentice Hall, 2004). "Intuitively," he said, "I can see how a behavioral survey could tell if you have some of the traits needed to function within a franchise system--like the ability to communicate, a desire to collaborate, etc. But I'm skeptical that any test can tell if you'll be a good Jiffy Lube franchisee." (Thomas Lane, manager of franchise development for Houston-based Jiffy Lube, said his company has never used personality assessments and is happy with the franchisees they've acquired without them.)
You can find out if your personality can function within a franchise system by taking a $225 individual assessment through Accord Management. But be prepared to accept the results. My friend Mr. Dupuis said he's enjoying retirement too much to consider putting his "awesome" personality to work in a developing franchise system.
And I've given up my dream of owning a Ritter's Frozen Custard shop. It just won't work, my chatting up the customers while black raspberry or French vanilla melts from their cones onto their arms.
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