Serving up Family, Diversity and Commitment at Denny’s Restaurants

With over 70 locations across the country, the bright yellow signage of Denny’s Restaurants evokes the scent of pancakes and vivid memories of Grand Slam® breakfasts for most Canadians.

Guided by a strong service standard honed over 60 years of business, the team behind “Canada’s Diner” would agree that their restaurants were defined by a certain set of values.

But what exactly were they?

That was the question raised by Cassandra Sali and Tanya Wilson, two Regional Managers at Denny’s Canada, as they sat in their first session of Women Leading the Way™ in early 2017.

Understanding your values as a leader

Cohort 8 was in the early days of getting to know one another. The 22 women came together from different professional backgrounds to take part in the Women Leading the Way™ program by Minerva BC, where they would meet for the next six months to work on their personal and professional leadership goals. Most of the registrants were self-described “results-oriented” mid-level managers intent on immediately expanding their impact within their organizations.

But this wasn’t going to be a program that emphasized speed over substance.

In contrast, the cohort was told to press pause on their ambitions – at least momentarily – and take the time to reflect, refine, and truly understand their personal values and strengths. This was the first step to achieving an authentic leadership style and becoming a values-based leader.

It was a session that resonated with Cassandra and Tanya as individual leaders. But there was something more.

“The group had broken into a discussion about values, when I looked at Cassandra and asked ‘What are our company values?’” says Wilson. “We quickly realized that the company didn’t have anything defined.”

It was something they both recognized as an exercise that would greatly benefit the organization as a whole.

They had found their final project for Women Leading the Way™.

Get everyone’s buy in

“We decided to roll out values for the entire company,” says Wilson. “There were things that we were already practicing. But no one had ever really gone in to define them. So this was a way to help roll something out to our seniors and executive within the company, and get everyone’s buy in.”

The pair approached their colleague, Kaila Faminoff, who was already in the process of conducting interviews with management and staff to familiarize herself with the company’s culture as the recently appointed Human Resources Manager.

“We met with Kaila, who brought to the table some of the things that people already loved about our company and the trends that she kept hearing about,” says Sali. “These were already things we were doing in the building. We weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but just highlight what was being done.”

Together, they developed the first set of company values.

Family, Commitment and Diversity

“It was a process to get down to the final three,” says Sali. “We ran these by our executive directors, then regional managers, and then brought them to the restaurants.” They decided on Family, Commitment and Diversity.

The pair excitedly dug into a marketing strategy. After looping in a Marketing Manager to devise a launch, the Denny’s Restaurant Values Road Show was born.

“Currently we’re planning to do a traveling road show and roll this out to seven different cities across the country to work with different managers,” says Sali. The list of stops includes Winnipeg, Toronto, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Kelowna.

It has been an ambitious project juggled between the core team of four women – three which live in different cities.

“Some of the feedback we got was how do we keep the momentum in this from being something that just dies out,” says Sali. “We’ve done a lot of brainstorming about how to keep this fresh and exciting, so that’s what we’re working on the current moment.”

There was something missing

The women credit the values-based leadership training during Women Leading the Way™ for the boost in both a personal and professional sense of purpose.

“It really highlighted how we had this absence within our own company, and how without having those pillars there was something missing that we didn’t realize before,” says Sali.

What was their biggest take away from their program experience?

“It’s hard to sum it up but ultimately it was the people I met”, says Sali. “Still to this day, Helen’s words stick in my mind. Other women were talking about how they were scared, and Helen said ‘Scared of what?!’ That was such a huge takeaway.”

Click here to learn more about Cassandra Sali’s personal values and leadership style

Click here to learn more about Tanya Wilson’s personal values and leadership style

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