I knew I wanted to be a multi-unit leader before I even became a single-unit manager for the first time.  I’ll never forget how it felt when I finally reached that point in my career, and there’s nothing like it.  I’ve dedicated a large part of my life to helping others to get there themselves, and although it hasn’t always worked out for them, the ones who have excelled are the proudest accomplishments of my career, and I have no plans on slowing down anytime soon…

You can never fully prepare someone for the step from single to multi-unit management, nor can you predict their future performance with extreme confidence.  Many services out there offer to provide the solution to this problem that has always existed in the vast world of retail management, but the truth is that there aren’t any systems or processes that will guarantee one’s success when they make the quantum leap to from single unit management to multi-unit.

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The difference between what it takes to be a successful single-unit manager to that of a multi-unit leader are the most extreme when comparing positions that are typically seen as one step away from each other in terms of company structure.  We hear a lot about the big step in becoming a manager for the very first time, and much is written about getting your first crack at becoming a General Manager.  I agree that these steps are significant and difficult, and I do not aim to take away from that whatsoever.  I just happen to feel that the leap from single to multi-unit is even more difficult and even more unpredictable.

There are, however, many things that can be done to help prepare someone for these roles, even if they won’t guarantee that success will come their way.  Unfortunately, many organizations fail to focus on the right things when looking to their team for future leaders to handle these important roles within the organization.

For this first volume on Becoming a Multi-Unit Leader, I want to share with you a few of the reasons I feel that so many people fail when given this level of responsibility for the first time, and often never get another shot at the role they so greatly desire.  This isn’t an all encompassing list, as it will take me several articles to make it through all of the factors of multi-unit leadership.

The best GM’s do not always make great Multi-Unit leaders

While great leaders at any level will perform near the top of their organizations, performance alone should NEVER be considered the sole barometer for determining one’s ability to handle more responsibilities.  The level of control that a single-unit manager has allows for performance to be managed in ways that will never be possible in a multi-unit structure.  Entire books have been written on the leap between single and multi-unit management, yet organizations continue to convince themselves that what a leader does in one unit will translate to multiple units if given the opportunity… FALSE.  One of the hardest things to truly understand is that it really isn’t about you anymore.  If you didn’t truly believe that as a GM, you are doomed, because the level of control you had over an individual unit will never exist for you at this level.  You cannot roll your sleeves up and “GM” a group of restaurants; try, and you will fail miserably.

 Autonomy is not for everyone

You may think you have a lot of autonomy as a single unit manager, and if you’re really good at what you do, you probably have more freedom than most people who run individual units, but you have no idea what freedom is until you get out of the four-wall mentality of a multi-unit manager.  The level of structure that a single-unit’s manager job provides, regardless of how often you see or speak with your supervisor, is far superior to even the most micro-managed environments of multi-unit leadership.  Everyone thinks they are a self-starter until they stop being managed on a daily basis.  Your unit provides that for you on a daily basis, there are things that need done, people who need to be spoken to, decisions to be made.  If you take that away, many people simply fail to find the motivation to go to work.  Everyone in a single-unit position thinks they are immune from this, only a select few actually are, which is sad.

You are NOT Your Employee

None of your direct reports will ever be “you.”  Things that came easy to you will not come easy for them.  The businesses that you are responsible for will not run the ways yours ran.  It is not your job to make everyone a carbon copy of yourself.  This is extremely difficult for people to understand.  When you set goals, at first you will do so (subconsciously) based on the mentality that you have a copy of yourself in each location.  You will not achieve those goals, and the level of frustration you feel around this may be enough to do you in before you even get started.  All of the things you used to think that you could do better than everyone else, if just given a chance, will feel a lot harder to do than you thought they would be.  It can be a very humbling experience that almost all new multi-unit leaders go through.  It’s your decision at that point to decide if you want to make excuses, fire your entire team, or simply adjust to take a more educated approach to the position and your personal level of expectations around it.  Very few people are willing to bend until they’ve created an absolute mess for themselves and are left with no choice but to accept that the wheels have fallen off of the bus.

Some Things Must Wait

None of us enjoy having bad things happen in our businesses.  None of us want to have to forego handling negative situations because we aren’t quite ready to put a permanent fix in place.  This feeling of frustration will never go away, at least if you take pride in what you do, but instead of trying to fix the entire world overnight, you must learn to let that frustration drive you to make the right long term decisions.  Most of the time, the true benefit to a great decision, especially as it pertains to personnel, will not be reaped for many weeks or even months after the decision is made.  This is much easier to deal with when you’ve been doing this for a long time, but mind-numbingly frustrating during your first couple of years on the job.  When you haven’t been around long enough to truly visualize what your life will look like in this role a few years from now, it’s extremely difficult to convince yourself that things are getting better when they move at a snail’s pace compared to what you’ve been used to as a single unit manager.

I believe that knowing the reasons that many multi-unit managers fail is more important than understanding what makes the great ones make the job look so easy. I have seen these scenarios above play out, time after time, over my years of running businesses.

If you’re one of the countless single unit managers out there, waiting for your opportunity; I want to help you.  I cannot guarantee you that I will get you what you seek, nor can I guarantee your success, but I sure as hell can give you all of the information I have that can help you to be more prepared, and more capable, when you finally get that opportunity you’ve been working so hard for.

If you’re someone responsible for other multi-unit managers, I urge you to take a deeper look into your decision process.  If you’ve been successful in developing great multi-unit leaders, I would love to hear from you too.  What are the things you look for?  What are your thoughts on the most common reasons people fail at this level? What are some things you’ve done to help change this cycle in your organization?

Thanks for reading!

-Adam