Crawfish boil 2011Restaurant: Impossible is a fascinating reality show about Chef Robert Irvine’s applying change management techniques to rescue desperate restaurants on the verge of failure. He assesses all facets of the restaurant’s operations, initiates change (menus, staff, decor), sends a team out to hit the streets to tell the community the good news and even offers up free samples of the board of fare.

Change management in a restaurant; doesn’t that sound like an intentional interim pastor called to introduce change in a church on the verge of failure? Episode 23, Coffee’s Boilin’ Pot, even illustrates the difference between change and transformation and shows why sustained change – even when implemented by a change management expert – is impossible without transformation!

The restaurant, Coffee’s Boilin’ Pot suffered from a variety of ailments:

  • The kitchen was filthy
  • The food was tasteless
  • The decor was dumpy
  • The owners (a divorced couple) couldn’t agree on anything
  • Too much debt
  • The place had a bad reputation in the community

Irvine instituted a few, timely changes:

  • Redecorated the dining area
  • Cleaned the kitchen
  • Overhauled the menu
  • Settled the issue between the owners
  • Marketed in the community

An important element in the change management formula was convincing the owner chef that his boil recipe was no good. He doesn’t like the taste of salt and he cooks to his own taste. Turnaround artist Irvine seemed to have convinced the owner that he had serve food his customers would find tasty. He finally agreed – perhaps under pressure from the film’s producer and Irvine’s powerful personality.

The results were dramatic. The place looked great, the kitchen was spotless, the owners were proud and guests loved the food. There was an immediate spike in sales and it looked like this would be a happy ending.

Changes without transformation

But guess what happened?

Four months after all these promising changes, the owner went back to his old, tasteless boil recipe.

He hadn’t been convinced at all about cooking for the customer’s taste rather than his own. He had merely caved under pressure. But, once the pressure was off, he reverted. This illustrates the difference between change and transformation.

  • Change is simply implementing different behaviors, policies and procedures; it is external to the players.
  • Transformation¬†is internal; it occurs when the players see themselves, their work and their place in the world differently.

In churches as in restaurants: change cannot be sustained in the absence of transformation¬†And that’s 1 lesson a chef can teach an interim pastor!

Parting shot

Where have you seen change fail in the absence of transition? Discuss…