Restaurant Impossible: The Paradox of Success in Business

Restaurant Impossible:  The Paradox of Success in Business

Have you ever watched Restaurant Impossible?  DVR’d episodes, reruns, it doesn’t matter:  If it’s on, I’m tuned in.  In short, I’m addicted.  In the event you’re in the unfathomable group who has no idea what I’m talking about, or you’ve cut the cord altogether, let me briefly explain the premise.

Chef Robert Irvine has 48 hours to turn around a failing restaurant.  Think of it as “Extreme Home Makeover” for the restaurant business.  In two days, the interior will be completely gutted and redesigned.  The menu will be changed, often reduced to eliminate complexity, and the staff will go through grievance therapy, sometimes blowing up into tirades fit for Jerry Springer.  It makes for compelling TV.

But the most astonishing, primary reason why these businesses are failing rarely has anything to do with what one might expect.  Chef Robert always “tests” the restaurant pre-makeover.  Sometimes the food and service need work, the pricing is off, or the décor is outdated.  But can you guess what over half of the show is dedicated to fixing?  The Answer:  Broken Leadership.

In every episode (and I mean EVERY episode), Chef Robert quickly uncovers a canyon of dysfunction between staff and management, including unclear orders and responsibilities, lack of respect, and rampant mistrust.   Some of the drama is so thick it could replace Days of our Lives and no one would notice.  Chef Robert spends most of the episode acting as Dr. Phil rather than a restaurateur.

Notice that there is little time spent on redirecting marketing or advertising efforts.  He never recommends an “ad campaign,” or moving resources from TV to digital.  Dr. Phil, I mean Chef Robert, understands that nothing works if leadership doesn’t lead, eliminating the fear of being reprimanded for process input while creating a sense of purpose and collaborative culture.  The result of sound leadership should generate a “We’re all in this together!” feeling and environment.

If the aforementioned nightmare scenario is familiar within your organization, sound the alarms.  No amount of content marketing, social media strategy, or my favorite, predictive analytics, will turn the ship.

Organizational success or failure starts at the top. Your boss, and your boss’s boss, needs to create a clear sense of purpose and associated strategic mission.  The clichéd question posed at cocktail parties, “What do you do,” should derive a similar response from the CEO to the part-timer.

Consider this example:  Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, sits at the same size desk as new call center employees because it creates an environment of honesty, trust, and open communication, not to mention his salary is set at a little over $30K per year.  Is that someone you’d like to work for?  Is there any doubt entry-level employees can approach Tony for suggestions of improvement?  How much fear do you think exists within Zappos?

Here is an easy communications audit that will shed light on how well your organization’s leadership is performing.  Simply ask the following questions via an unaided and anonymous survey.  Anonymous responses should be stressed to help eliminate fear of biased or “corporate speak” answers.

-What do we do here at (x company)?

-Why do we do it?

More than likely, the wide array of responses will be functional (produce widgets), lack a substantive purpose (to make money), and be inconsistent between departments and hierarchical staff.  Leadership’s goal is to effectively and consistently communicate a direction for the organization that is purposeful and gives meaning to employees, rather than just earn a paycheck.  An example of a purpose driven Indian Restaurant, specializing in dishes from Northern India, may be the following…

What do we do?  Help expand the tastes and experiences of Northern India to those seeking a life of expanded learning, adventure, and culture.

Why we exist?  To share with as many people possible, the rich norms, values and unique culture of Northern India

When these existential questions become clear throughout the organization, decision making becomes easier.  This will inevitably break down barriers between staff and provide sense of direction.  Should we buy these napkins?  Does it help expand the culture of Northern India?  Should we serve dosa?  You get the point…

Do yourself a favor and watch an episode of Restaurant Impossible.  It exposes the most overlooked and important ingredient responsible for business success and makes trivial the day-to-day items demanded of most owners and managers.  You be the judge.

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