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Why District Managers Fail (and How to Prevent it!)

district manager multi-unit franchising people Dec 20, 2022
District Managers Fail

Superstar general managers get promoted to district managers every day. But unfortunately, those promotions are not always successful and the new district managers fail at their job.

  • Business owners tend to think that, because these employees did such a good job managing one unit, they’ll for sure be great multi-unit leaders. The reality could not be further from the truth. 

Why does this happen? In my +35 years of experience in the franchise world, I’ve identified three of the reasons why district managers fail, as well as the strategies you can implement to help ensure their success in the long term.

Reason #1: The district manager’s job is completely different from their previous position

General managers are required to execute the brand and business management systems within the four walls of the unit. And they often work shoulder to shoulder with the one-unit franchisee, because these business owners get involved with the operation, sometimes they even are present seven days a week. 

On the other hand, the district manager’s job is to inspire the teams in each of the units they oversee so that the staff executes the brand and business systems with a high level of excellence. 

So, it’s very different executing day in and day out in the units than inspiring others to execute. That’s why the district manager leadership position requires a specific set of skills to perform correctly and deliver the expected results.

Discover why training your district managers is critical to producing results

But don't get me wrong. Being great at managing one unit is an absolute asset for a great district manager because they understand and know the operations and they can train people. But once they are past the training and coaching, their main job is to inspire their team to do it every day.


Reason #2: The challenges of overseeing multiple units

Unit managers are in their stores all day, so they can take care of any complications that may come up. But district managers cannot split themselves into four or more units so their influence is lower.

If one store has an issue, they may be present to solve it, although not all day long or until things are better. If in the meantime another location has a problem, they won’t be able to instantaneously transport themselves to address that, especially when the stores are apart from each other. The same will happen if a third unit has an issue, and so on.

That’s why district managers must manage their time wisely so that they can be effective when visiting the units.

How many stores should district managers oversee? These are five considerations to analyze

There’s also the challenge of complexity because every unit has different areas of opportunity and each requires a separate strategy. One may have a labor cost issue. Another one, a problem with the cost of goods. There might be a sales matter or a staff complication in another franchise. And perhaps there’s trouble with the customer service in some other location. 

To make things even more complex, those issues have to be simultaneously addressed and followed up across all the units, and the district manager has to keep them straight in their heads somehow.

Because of this, district managers must discern between what’s urgent and what’s important, and be flexible enough to quickly react and change their schedule following the district's needs so the business can move forward.


Reason #3: Lack of the new and different skills to be successful in that role

District managers have to develop a specific set of abilities to perform at their best, which includes:

  1. Lead and inspire from a distance. It is not the same building a strong relationship with the people you work with every day than guiding and inspiring staff members you only talk to when you visit their store.
    District managers with multiple units in different locations and with complex challenges spend a reduced time with the crew members. Therefore, it is key that they can lead from a distance and still inspire the people even when they are not there. 
  2. Planning self-directive productive action. A unit manager's job is directed by the operations manual of the brand, which dictates what the manager and the team will do every day.
    The district manager doesn’t have this guidance. They have to detect where the issues are, prioritize and plan what they’ll do every day to be productive, effective, and produce the expected results. And
    if district managers don't have proper training, they won’t know how to do it. 
  3. Know how to follow up properly. District managers have to delegate key tasks to unit leaders so they have to develop some sort of process to follow up on the things they have instructed because that’s where the magic really happens.
  4. Have systems to achieve consistency across the district. Just as before, they require some sort of system to observe and implement consistency of execution and positive result in each of their units. This is something that a unit manager doesn't need because they only have one unit to focus on. 

Don’t miss: These are the five most important qualities of district managers


As you can see, there are a lot of differences between a superstar general manager and a district manager. Even if they have demonstrated they can learn, execute, and produce results at a unit level, they require the skills and the knowledge to be a successful multi-unit leader

Having proper training and a set of processes, procedures, and systems will help these leaders become effective as district managers. How can you make sure your district managers have everything they need to be successful?

You can join them in our Multi-Unit Leadership Certification Program! This is a 10-week program where we give your district managers the abilities, skills, knowledge, and resources they need to be successful in their jobs. 

Register for our upcoming free webinar at where you will learn about our program and how we can help you help them be successful

Don’t forget to follow us on our social media (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn) and subscribe to our YouTube Channel where we share daily tips and information to help you grow. And don’t miss our podcast Franchise Success Formulas on Spotify and Google Podcasts.


  • Are you clear on the differences between a unit manager and a multi-unit leader?
  • Are your multi-unit leaders properly trained to face the challenges of this position?
  • Do your district managers have the necessary set of skills and abilities to be successful in that role?
  • Are you providing the resources and opportunities for improvement to your current and future district managers?