Reality TV as a Cautionary Tale for Sustaining Change

A recent episode of Spike TV’s Bar Rescue featured the Underground Wonderbar, a late night Chicago bar that has been operating for 25+ years. During the episode, the bar received a new name and the owner begrudgingly signed a contract to keep the new name for one year. A few days after the Bar Rescue team left, the old Underground Wonderbar sign was back up and the Underground Wonderbar reverted back to its old way of doing business. On a similar note, 62% of the restaurants “saved” in Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares have closed down.1

What could these restaurants and bars have done to sustain the changes and remain in business? On a broader scale, what lessons can any change leader learn from these reality TV shows?

  1. Start with executive alignment. A change leader should paint a clear picture of the future and detail its benefits compared to the present state. Leadership needs to incorporate the future vision into the organization’s strategy and agree on key performance indicators (KPIs) for the change to be lasting. Once leadership’s buy-in is obtained, a change leader should seek tangible commitment to change in the form of financial investment, resource dedication, or time spent working towards the change.
  2. Follow with employee understanding. Employees need to understand what the change means for their day to day tasks and why the change is important. Without a clearly defined target, employees may fall back on the well-known, previous ways of doing things when the change becomes uncomfortable. If employees understand the reason for the change, then they are more willing to seek alternative solutions to achieve the goal of the change.
  3. Finish with a sustainability plan. Change leaders should create a change sustainability plan including KPIs, readiness assessments, and regular change health checks. Clearly defined and agreed upon KPIs enable change adoption in the spirit of “what gets measured, gets done.” Additionally, readiness assessments of the entire organization should be performed prior to implementation of change to gauge understanding of the change and re-calibrate as appropriate. No switches should be flipped until the organization understands the purpose of the change and how it will impact each employee. Following implementation, a change leader should have regular check-ins with members of the organization across all levels to gauge the health of the change and to find ways to continuously improve the change.

While it can be entertaining to watch Gordon Ramsey and John Taffer angrily rant when things don’t go according to plan, the change strategies presented in these reality TV shows should not be used by your organization to create a lasting and meaningful change. Creating sustainable and lasting change for your organization requires careful planning, understanding from both the top and bottom of the organization, and active, on-going monitoring of the change.



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