Learning to trust

When Jo Kirchner became
president and CEO of Primrose School Franchising
Co. in 1999, she believed that
the early childhood education
provider could become a
national player.

But to reach that point, she
first needed to understand what
was important to the people
involved in the business.
Franchise owners needed to
trust that she would do what she
said she would. Parents needed
to trust that that their children
would be safe. And staff members needed to trust that she
would give them the tools and
training that they needed.

“The vision comes from understanding the stakeholders in the
business delivery model,”
Kirchner says. “If you understand what is important to them,
then you can define the vision
based on that importance.”

By fostering trust with all constituents, Kirchner has helped
grow the company from just 10
schools when she joined
Primrose Schools as a vice president in 1990 to more than 180
today, which collectively garnered
2007 revenue of $236 million.

Smart Business spoke with
Kirchner about how she fostered
trust among all her constituents
to help her business boom.

Foster trust. It starts with the
vision of the company, and that
vision is carried through with
every person affiliated with this
company. Trust is an intangible,
but how do you make that
become a reality?

It starts with integrity. If you’re
not honest, people aren’t going to
trust you. Second, it’s fairness —
being equitable with all people.
Third, it’s social responsibility.
Then the last one is enthusiasm.

One of my favorite quotes is
Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘Nothing
great was ever achieved without
enthusiasm.’ When you have
passion and excitement for
what you do, people want to be
around people like that.

We live in a world today that is
very commoditized, so it’s the
people and the values that differentiate a company from anything else. If you have those four
traits, they tend to create a culture where the organization is
known for trust. You have to
define your vision and your core
values, and then you have to
role model and live it.

Hire the best. It’s listening. In the
interview process, quite often
people have a tendency to be
interviewing and doing all the
talking and not listening. Asking
open-ended questions that will
let the person talk and give
them the opportunity to tell you
who they are and what they
believe in is a critical component for recruitment.

Probably the most important
one would be, ‘What is the most
important thing to you in making a decision to work for our
company?’ If they say money
first, they’re probably not the
right person in our business. If
they say, ‘An atmosphere in
which I can gain more knowledge and grow,’ or, ‘To make a
difference in the lives of young
children,’ or, ‘To be an important
member of a team with a common vision’ — those are the
right answers. People in our
business, while money is important, are driven by making a difference first.