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  • Nick Smith

D is for Dinner


The original Star Trek, Harry Enfield and Chums, and Dinnerladies – my lockdown has included revisiting all of these favourites from the past. Well, it’s life, Jim, but not as we’ve known it, I suppose. But the watching that’s most prompted reflection has been Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA.


I’d never seen any of the Kitchen Nightmares, either side of the pond, before – so it was all new to me. All the things I expected of Gordon Ramsay (by reputation) were there – plenty of sweary shouting, angry confrontations, and seemingly good cooking. But there was a lot I hadn’t expected too:

  • the way in which pretty much every episode, every restaurant, followed the same story pattern;

  • the degree to which so many episodes were at heart as much about family therapy as they were about food or the restaurant business per se;

  • and how, despite these factors, each episode was about business change.

Got me thinking about what lessons we might learn from ‘Chef Ramsay’ for business change. I’ve noted four – I suspect there are more. First, business change really is all about people. The task Ramsay takes on is to turn around a restaurant. And there are so many things that typically need changing: the menu, the cooking, the restaurant interior, and (too often) levels of cleanliness. And, of course, he and his unseen team (another lesson?) address all of these. But what really enables effective business change is change in the attitudes and relationships among the people working in the restaurant. It’s as they recognise fears, hurts, pain, and much more, and as they work to restore relationships – it’s then, and only then, that the other changes can make a real difference to the business. So, obvious question, to what degree do our business change interventions recognise the importance of, and address, working relationships and personal fears and hurts? Do we limit ourselves just to processes, skills, operating models, and messaging? Food for thought (sorry).

Second, confrontation and empathy are not necessarily in opposition to each other. I’m less sure what to do with this one, my own style being more one of understated influencing than of in-your-face confrontation. It’s clear to me, though, that Ramsay’s often loud and frequently confrontational behaviours are accompanied by significant levels of empathy. The latter connects with the key individuals in the restaurant, and it seems that somehow the confrontational behaviour is what creates the space for the empathy to be impactful. It’s like ‘good cop / bad cop’ in one person. I’m struck by how little I see in so many change initiatives both of really strong empathetic behaviours and of aggressive confrontation. Just need to chew on that one a bit longer (sorry again).


Third, stories, and placing people in them, can have real power. The common Kitchen Nightmares story almost always follows the staff through a pattern of initial hope; disbelief at Ramsay disgust at the food; opposition to, then dismay at, mounting evidence that things are wrong; acceptance of need for change; pleasure in new menu, layout, and ways of working; initial promise threatened by a rush of customers; and eventually a hopeful resolution and forward path. It’s a story that makes for compelling viewing (call me easily entertained). More importantly, it seems the leading characters in the story also find it compelling. So, Ramsay’s skill is to place those with whom he works into stories that guide them into the change they and their businesses need. That’s something we do too, and have seen prove to be hugely effective – it’s just interesting to see it play out in this very different context. Increasingly a menu staple, then (sorry, yet again).


Finally, the Prosci ADKAR® model is illustrated really well. Ramsay builds awareness that there really is a problem; creates a desire for change to address that; delivers the knowledge that people need to change, and stimulates and / or provides the ability to make that change; and then often comes back to reinforce it. As a thought, not the main course, but perhaps a useful digestif (enough, already)?


Wondering what other TV shows have offered you business change lessons? Let us know.


PS – how many were expecting that D might be for Digital Transformation? We’ll come back to that later in the series, but Epion Consulting prefers to not be entirely predictable.


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