Marco Robinson had a heart attack when he was only 29 years old. “I was standing at my desk talking to people and suddenly I felt pain everywhere and collapsed,” he remembers. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital where the doctors only needed a quick glance at his lifestyle to diagnose the cause of his condition.
In retrospect, he should have seen it coming. Years of boozy lunches combined with a high-pressure work environment are hardly ideal from a cardiovascular point of view. Add a messy personal life to the mix and you end up with a potentially lethal cocktail rushing through your arteries. “My wife was having an affair with my best friend and I had lost a lot of money on the stock market,” he says.
Robinson’s heart attack was his body telling him something and he was finally prepared to listen. “It was a wake-up call,” he says. Within a few days Robinson had quit his job, gone on a three-month-long vacation around the world and overhauled his entire lifestyle.
A big part of his transformation has been dropping unhealthy food and the stressful work environment to spend more time pumping iron. “The most important thing for me is to get to the gym every day because it gives me a lot of energy, annihilates stress and helps me focus,” says Robinson. Not only have these daily sessions given him the occasional gig as a swimwear model but since learning to manage and minimise his stress, Robinson has successfully launched the franchises Naked Coffee, Naked Pizza and Naked Beauty Salons.
But if you think Robinson’s case is an isolated one, you’d be mistaken: according to a survey from Lee Hecht Harrison, the leadership development company, 67% of business leaders struggle with stress. Given the research also found that senior executives feel increasingly stressed out the more responsibilities they have, it’s hardly surprising that franchisors – who are responsible for the future of both their franchisees and employees – are particularly prone to high levels of stress.
And franchisors do not only have to watch their stress from a health point of view. Ignoring stress could lead to poor decisions, as demonstrated by research conducted by Benenden Health, the healthcare provider, that found acute stress impairs individuals’ ability to think critically. In light of this, franchisors should definitely be looking to minimise the stress of running a business. And a good way to start would be taking a pit stop in the world of Formula One.
Life in the fast lane
On the face of it, franchising and competing in the Grand Prix may not sound that alike but look closer and you are certain to spot at least one big similarity: they both include huge responsibilities.
Formula One drivers that take a wrong turn risk losing both the race and sponsors, resulting in lost capital and redundancies amongst the pit crew. So it is no wonder professional drivers hire experts to help them manage their stress, with Finnish surgeon Aki Hintsa proving to be one of the most popular.
Having helped drivers win ten world championship titles – Lewis Hamilton’s victory in 2008 being one – Hintsa has developed a method for both athletes and business people to deal with their stress. This method forms the cornerstone of the organisation he has founded, Hintsa Performance, which holds that semantics is the key to unlocking a stress-free life. “The words we use have a profound effect on how we respond to things,” says James Hewitt, science and development director at Hintsa Performance. “Stress in itself is neutral but it is our response that determines whether it will be positive or negative.”
Athletes who successfully turn their stress into something positive have one thing in common: they don’t take their setbacks personally. Instead of saying things like “I’m not good at this”, they see every difficult situation as a new challenge through which they can learn something. By doing that, Hewitt argues, sportspeople and members of the business community are not only able to bounce back faster from setbacks but will also be able to perform even better next time a similar situation comes along. “That’s what we call super-compensation,” says Hewitt.
In other words, making a faulty judgement call can help reduce stress in the future if you have the right outlook from the start – something Robinson can attest to. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes but have learnt from them,” he says. “And because of that I don’t have to stress about them the same way.”
The team at Hintsa Performance would also applaud his efforts to stay in shape. Having originated in the world of sports, it is not surprising that physical activities, attitude, nutrition, recovery and general health are at the core of Hintsa Performance’s ideology of how to turn stress into something positive. And it emphasises that all of these factors are equally important. “If one component breaks down, the wheel stops spinning,” concludes Hewitt.
Ovenu, the oven-cleaning franchise.
Drawing up a solid franchise agreement is a good way to create a functioning relationship between franchisees and franchisors. However that doesn’t mean franchisors should just rely on the contract: they also need to be open to regular dialogue.
Given that business people’s stress levels are directly tied to their accumulated responsibilities, it should come as no surprise that sharing the load can also help alleviate the pressure. For instance, bouncing your ideas off your directors can do wonders for your stress levels.
And while some responsibilities may be handled by delegating them within the organisation, franchisors should keep in mind that some stressors can be treated by hiring another firm to deal with them. For instance, a franchise can always outsource its HR, marketing and accountancy issues if its in-house talent doesn’t excel in those disciplines. “If you have experts doing those things, then they will be done much quicker than if you muck about with it yourself,” says Hellewell. “It’s just one less thing to worry about.”
Ultimately, one of the best ways to get control and thus eliminate stress is to simply write down a list of all the issues that may cause you a headache and cross them off one by one. “Because when people do that, they’ll get the ultimate pleasure of scrunching that piece of paper up and throwing it in the bin together with the paracetamol,” concludes Hellewell.