Uprooting Unhealthy Behaviors

Change can be vital to the survival of some organizations.  The challenge is that change is often not an easy thing to do, especially when an organization has cultivated an unhealthy behavior.

In the early 1990's, Denny's had a major problem: Denny's had become the poster child for racism in corporate America. Complaints of discrimination filled the newspapers.  Many of the complaints filed by minorities referred to a requirement to pre-pay for food orders and unexplained wait times while white customers were quickly seated and served food without having to pre-pay.

One of the most public of complaints came from six secret service agents who were not served their food while their white colleagues at a different table enjoyed their meals and even refills of an all-you-can-eat special. These agents even observed other white customers who came in a half hour after they did, enjoying their food.  Needless to say, the reputation of the company was not good.

To implement change within the organization, Jim Adamson, CEO of Denny's parent company, took a three-step approach to change.  His approach was to 1) identify the problem, 2) send a clear message, and then 3) cultivate the desired culture.

One of the main unhealthy behaviors Adamson identified was allowing employees an opportunity to discriminate.  To address this issue, he first set a strong tone within the organization: "if you discriminate, we will fire you. Period."  To cultivate the desired culture of adversity within the organization, the company implemented a number of training programs and initiatives to strategically uproot this unhealthy behavior.  In the years since, Denny's was chosen by Fortune as the "Best Company for Minorities" and listed as one of the "Best 40 Companies for Diversity" by Black Enterprise magazine.

When our organizations have taken on unhealthy behaviors, implementing change can be crucial to survival. The key to any type of change is to ensure that the change is integrated into the culture of the organization.  The model applied at Denny's is a proven method of how to uproot unhealthy behaviors and integrate change: 1) Identify the issue, 2) set clear expectations, and 3) cultivate the desired culture.