Case Studies

How One Global Restaurant Chain Pivoted on Accountability


Picture this. You’re an employee at a restaurant, part of a major global chain of restaurants. You walk into your break room and find a white board with twenty “non-negotiables” posted next to it. On the white board your boss writes the name of anyone not meeting any of these twenty rules. 

The same “calling-out” culture of performance is seen at the management level. The COO of this chain tells us a story about standing with one manager at one such board. The COO asks the manager what he’s experiencing. The manager answers: “I’m only looking to make sure my name’s not up here.”

There’s a shadow side to every model, and, in this case, our client had taken accountability to such an extreme that its people felt badgered, surveilled, and insecure about their jobs.

This competitive workplace culture had tipped into something rotten.

Results deteriorated as a slumping economy and a rise in food costs brought more pressure to this culture to perform. Leadership responded by incentivizing their people to meet “non-negotiables” with the promise of first dibs on selecting work shifts. The action backfired: creating intense competition and driving parents who need to prioritize their family schedules out of the shifts they needed.


Leadership had created a culture of activity that operated by force and mandate. Rather than engaging and fulfilling their people, their people lacked opportunities to own their roles and feel psychologically safe to feel fully human and make strides at work.

A major culture overhaul had to occur at every level. But first came a hard lesson at the leadership level to move from an action-based to a results-driven culture.

Here’s what happened:

  • Leadership relaxed its iron grip by first acknowledging that the result they wanted was to uphold the unique customer connection that needed to happen at each individual restaurant.
  • The leadership team developed key results and beliefs to meet them — displacing the graphs, charts, and boards that had fostered a culture of surveillance and micromanagement. 
  • Rather than deploying regional directors as watchdogs on activity, leadership revised the regional director role to center their restaurant visits as open, feedback- based conversations and deeper-level explorations of restaurant function.
  • The disempowering, “tell me what to do” structure in the culture shifted, at every level, to an empowering “I can try this” culture.


The list of non-negotiables? This company nixed it.

Regional directors began asking restaurant managers how they solved their problems, tapping them as knowledge bearers, and sharing that knowledge across the restaurant chain.

When their competitors were hit hard by recession, this chain decreased employee attrition, strengthened employee fulfillment, and surpassed their profit goal.

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