Case Studies

Brinker International: Providing the Ultimate Guest Experience

The best organizations lay claim to a culture where people demonstrate high levels of ownership to think and act in the manner necessary to achieve their Key Results. Discover how Brinker International turned their culture around to be best-in-industry in both guest and team member satisfaction, among several other categories.

Brinker International, parent company of Chili’s Restaurants, creates market-leading culture and industry-leading engagement through change management.


In early 2009 Brinker International (Chili’s, Maggiano’s), one of the world’s leading casual dining restaurant companies with over 100,000 team members, faced massive business challenges: the economy had collapsed and the company’s entire business sector was experiencing a sharp downturn. As a result, their 35-year-old organizational culture had slipped into the blame game, where no one would take responsibility for anything going wrong. This was undeniably a bad time for Brinker. Profits were down and shareholders were concerned about company stock dipping to an all-time low of $3.88 a share. Consequently, employee engagement dropped through the floor at below 50%, while turnover rates rose to 110% annually. “Brinker as usual” could not continue.


Once Brinker realized that something far more reaching was needed than just another new initiative, they turned to Partners In Leadership to team up and help them shift corporate culture to embrace their new business reality. In our initial meetings with Brinker leaders, we found that they were not used to discussing the organization’s key results, which at the time consisted of no less than 40 performance indicators from across the organization. We quickly advocated that they shift their culture to a Culture of Accountability, one where everyone at Brinker would take accountability to think and act in a manner necessary to achieve their key results. In other words: total buy-in. To create this type of culture, it meant that the Brinker leadership team would need to:

  • Create new Cultural Beliefs
  • Define a few simple, measurable key results
  • Create alignment around the key results so everyone personally owned them
  • Learn how to manage the culture by managing the beliefs and experiences of their people
  • Equip the organization with tools to embed a new way of thinking and acting into daily operations
  • Train each person on voluntarily taking the initiative to deliver on key results

But Brinker’s old culture was well-developed, heavy, and not easy to move. It was like a boulder that everyone was trying to push in different directions at the same time. Team members would need to be trained and aligned around new Cultural Beliefs and key results, so all would “push” in the same direction. To do this, we worked with Brinker to shift its culture, focusing on each of three different phases of our TRS change process:

We first surveyed the leadership team to identify the issues that were impacting the company and impeding their ability to achieve their desired results. We then organized this feedback and identified actionable categories, particularly in regards to key results and culture. Working alongside with Brinker’s senior leadership team, they reduced their key results from 40 to four, focusing on profit, sales, the Guest GEM score, and the employee engagement score and turnover rate. Once they had these four key results, we introduced a new definition of accountability—one where everyone is responsible for the key results—and then helped the team members throughout the organization align around and own their new results. This meant switching out the old mantra of “It’s not my job” to a new one of “What else can I do to achieve the key results?”

We worked with the Brinker senior leadership team to take the culture shift beyond just the training. Together, we identified how to integrate the training into key meetings and thereby reinforce the training concepts and models. One senior executive for Brinker International, explained: “From senior staff meetings to quick training touches in each of our restaurants, we continued to ensure that the Cultural Transition Process was deployed top to bottom, which meant seeing that we reinforced the key results and Cultural Beliefs of our organization. Partners In Leadership also provided us with rich visual models that were presented to every one of our employees as well as deployed across the organization in order to continually reinforce the Cultural Transition Process.”

In order to help Brinker embed the new way of thinking and acting into their daily operations, we gave Brinker access to PILtools, a powerful digital tool suite featuring groundbreaking tools integral to the Train. Retain. Sustain. change methodology. Brinker used these tools strategically to reinforce the training concepts for individuals and teams, facilitate collaboration in problem solving, provide assessments, give and receive feedback, offer certification, and deal with other culture management issues. In addition, we provided Brinker with ongoing executive coaching and access to an extensive library of resources in order to support the change process and ensure that Brinker kept their strategic focus.


The impact of this culture shift for Brinker was tremendous. The senior leadership team says that because of the shift in culture, Brinker now has a “market-leading culture.” This is evident by what Brinker has achieved since beginning the shift to a Culture of Accountability: a 10x increase in price per share, a return of almost 20% profit to shareholders, a doubling of same-store sales, an industry-leading Guest GEM score and employee engagement score, and a low employee turnover rate. In discussing what Brinker International has accomplished since beginning work with Partners In Leadership and what they are planning for in the future, one executive said, “We have learned that the harder we squeeze the material, tools, and models provided by (Culture Partners), the more sweetness we get. Given our experience, we see no reason to expect anything less.”

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