Embracing Change: Lessons from Lobsters and Hospitality

By Prue Stamp, Head of People & Culture at Urban Leisure Group and Two Tribes Brewery, and winner of Mentor of the Year for CODE Hospitality’s Most Influential Women of 2024.

Change is scary. Consider a lobster for a moment (stay with me here). Inside their shell, the lobster is a mushy, vulnerable creature. As they grow, their rigid shell becomes too tight, confining, and uncomfortable. So, in order to grow, the lobster has to change. It must shed its once protective armour, expand, then regrow a new shell before it can carry on doing whatever it is lobsters do. This period of change is tough for the lobster – they’re vulnerable, exposed and no doubt a bit freaked out while they wait for things to firm up again.

In hospitality, we exist at the unlikely axis where consistency and constant change meet. It’s a bit of an oxymoron – we strive for things to be the same for our guests (same plating, same spec, same great service, same recipe for their cocktail, same garnish) but, at the same time, we’re constantly pivoting, evolving and changing (new menu, new key ingredient, new team member, new process, new tech and on and on). With constantly evolving customer preferences, fast moving industry trends and tech advancements in ordering, rota’ing, booking platforms etc, the ability to manage change effectively can make or break us. In an industry where change is not only a constant, but an essential ingredient for success, how can we really harness the power of change and, like the lobster, make growth and transformation a positive thing for our teams and guests?

When thinking about and planning for change, it’s a good idea to call on some tried and tested methods to keep you on the straight and narrow and help you consider all angles. There are a few models which I like here. The first is Lewin’s change model. In simple terms, it’s like a roadmap for making changes, based on the three stages: Unfreeze, Change, Refreeze. The second, Kotter’s 8 Step Change model, takes a deeper dive into some of the specific considerations for managing the change process. Let’s mash these models together and put together a timeline for planning and executing change.


Imagine an ice cube. Before you can reshape it, you need to melt it a bit, right? Here you’ll prepare people for change by breaking down the current ways of thinking or doing things. This step is basically the heads up that something new is coming. You’ll create awareness about why change is necessary and get people ready to embrace it. Kotter’s first three stages sit nicely in this phase:

Stage 1 – Create a Sense of Urgency: The first step involves establishing a compelling reason for change. In our fast moving, competitive sector, leaders need to quickly get their teams on board with change – you don’t want to be left behind. Explain why the current approach isn’t working and help your team to understand the need for a quick reaction.

Stage 3 – Create a Vision for Change: A clear, inspiring vision is crucial. What will it look like once you’ve nailed this change? For example, will your menu be more sustainable? Will forecasting and rota writing take less time? Will taking bookings be easier or will sales or GP increase? Paint the picture of what things will look and feel like once the change process is done – you want to be able to share the “why” from early on so make sure you’re clear on this yourself.

Stage 2 – Form a Powerful Coalition: You are far more likely to have success if there are people on your side, who understand and embrace what’s happening, at all levels of the business. Steering groups, round tables, panels and representatives from management, FOH and BOH from across venues (if you have multiple sites) who have been involved in decision making, will be your people on the ground and help get buy-in from their teammates. Listen to your people and empower them to take the message back to their venue and teams.


Once the ice is melting, you can start to mould it into its new shape. This step is about implementing the actual changes. The key is to make sure everyone understands what’s happening and is involved in the process. Here the next three stages in the 8-step model can take place:

Stage 4 – Communicate the Vision: Right, so you’ve got your change advocates on board and you’re clear on what success will look like. Time to communicate things far and wide. Change should never be a surprise; you’ll be much more likely to hit resistance if you spring something new on your people. Effectively communicating to everyone on the team is essential. How you communicate things will depend on your business but it’s far better to over egg the messaging than to leave people in the dark. You might do a company wide email, include it in your newsletter, create posters for team areas, empower your GMs to share the message, or a combination of all of these. The key is to get everyone clued up and understanding what’s happening, and why.

Stage 6 – Celebrate Short-Term Wins: Shouting about small victories along the way will help maintain momentum and demonstrate progress. Let’s say for example that you changed veg supplier for whatever reason – sharing that food GP has improved or showing off some great reviews on new dishes using the new supplier will help keep the team invested in the change and show that the short-term pain of changing things is worth it. Share the excitement when your efforts start bearing fruit.

Stage 5 – Remove Obstacles: What might get in the way of success? Is there someone who’s just not getting on board or perhaps reverting to the old way? Grab them and have a chat – find out why they’re resistant, listen to them and explain again why you’ve got to make this change and what it will mean for them. Assess your tools too – are your computers or tills too old to handle a new piece of software and making things glitch? Identify and remove these barriers – friction is the enemy of change.


Once you’ve reshaped the ice cube, you want to solidify it again, so it keeps its new form. In this step, you need to reinforce the changes you’ve made and integrate them into the day to day. It’s about making sure the changes stick and become the new normal. Here’s where the final two stages take place:

Stage 7 – Build on the Change: This is a process, not a one off. As you change things up, you’ll learn along the way and your team will get better and better at pivoting and adapting. Change and challenge can become oddly addictive so use the enthusiasm and energy from your quick wins to keep going. You need to be a bit careful not to be over eager and start flipping between booking platforms or constantly changing the menu because you LOVE IT, but maintaining enthusiasm to keep learning and finding better ways of doing things will keep you and your business sharp.

Stage 8 – Anchor the Changes in your Culture: This is the step where the changed process becomes the new norm. You’ve done a lot of work to get here so it’s important to keep an eye on things and make sure that old habits don’t creep back in. You may need to play whack-a-mole for a while but that constant gentle pressure (thanks Danny Meyer) to keep things on track will pay dividends when you realise one day that things are working better because you were careful, and intentional, with change.

Change management is something we’re doing in hospitality, day in, day out, often without even noticing. Calling on and applying these tried and tested methods helps take the pain and disruption out of change processes and boosts your ability to pivot and adjust. When leaders embrace change as a chance to grow and transform, they set their businesses and teams up for the long haul—success, learning, adaptability and staying power in our ever-evolving hospo landscape.

Applicant/Business Log in

Don’t have an account? Sign up Forgot Password?