“Bar Rescue”: Model for Change?

Posted by jlubans on June 24, 2014

Preparing for my Leading Change seminar in August, I’ve been looking for ways to show how the change process works.
“Bar Rescue” is a TV show I’ve seen a few times. It may sound unlikely, but Bar Rescue is about organizational change, in this case, the process of saving an organization (a bar) on the skids, in a downward spiral, on self-destruct. The star of the show is Jon Taffer, an abrasive, bar business consultant. He may be in the first percentile on the jerkitude chart, but he appears to get the job done: saving your bar, business and job.
Before Mr. Taffer appears on the scene, the desperate owner(s) give Taffer full access to the financials and the staff. He glowers, in the dramatic, always-confrontational all-staff meeting at the top of the show: “For the next seven days, you work for me!”
Taffer knows his stuff and brings in experts in marketing, architecture, building renovation, interior designers, mixologists – drink makers – and chefs.
The show features badass customers, thieving wait staff, absentee – often drunk - owners, and incompetent, grasping and groping managers. Not exactly your cheerful neighborhood pub, nor the congenial “third place”. Rather most of Taffer’s bars are the type that ruined the corner tavern’s once wholesome reputation.
The language is coarse, loud and usually degenerates into shoving matches or in a few cases fists flying. Taffer would do well on a show like “Cops”; while not wearing a gun or armor, he spouts, machinegun like, verbal bullets, sometimes at hapless targets.
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Caption: Mr. Taffer making himself felt in the kitchen

There’s a formula – a method to the madness:
Observe. Give feedback. Provide a vision. Train. Stress-test. Collapse. Re-group. Excise corruption. Re-train. Re-design. Transition. Stress-test again. Succeed.
Maybe that’s akin to Lewin’s highly distilled three steps for change: un-thaw, change, and freeze. Or, you could apply Kotter’s 8-step change process, (create a sense of urgency, recruit powerful change leaders, build a vision and effectively communicate it, remove obstacles, create quick wins, and build on your momentum) but the one change model that fits like a glove is Kubler-Ross’s. Bar Rescue displays, for all to see, the raw denial, depression, rebellion, and resistance when sudden change is thrust upon us. You might not see the Bar Rescue extremes in businesses like libraries, but (from the library-rescues of which I have been part) the emotions are there - muted, restrained - but just as real as those on violent display in the bar. We tend to come out OK at the end of the change, but the journey's been brutal.

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Caption: Mr. Taffer in a calm moment.
By show’s end there is some appreciation by an owner and his staff of what they have been through and how far they have come. Sort of like what I expect occurs at the end of basic training in the military under a tough drill sergeant.
On a rare occasion, a boss or a staffer expresses a genuine respect for Mr. Taffer and an appreciation for the essential change Taffer’s helped bring about.
Will I use a Bar Rescue episode in my seminar? Probably not, but, having seen the show, and now written about it, I have a deeper understanding of what change is like and what aspects promote effective change. That’s what I will try to communicate.

@ Copyright John Lubans 2014

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