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Begin to think like a chef

by | Aug 11, 2019 | CEO Role, Improving Competitiveness, Profit Improvement

A serious chef is lot like a CEO, and if more CEOs thought like chefs, they’d have much better results, (And the results would come much sooner).

Can they play their position?

A chef has to have a strong focus on getting things right every day while also looking for ways to improve. They’re serious about the quality of their restaurant and eager to develop a good reputation, but they always have to focus on pleasing that evening’s customers.

They need line cooks who can fit into the team while playing their positions every day, in all situations. They understand that they’re only as good as the last meal they served, and there’s no place to hide.

No place to hide

Cooking on the line in a restaurant kitchen is a very tough job. The pressure is relentless. All the dishes for a table have to be ready at the same time and cooked correctly. There’s no room for excuses and no one wants to listen to long explanations. Everyone on the team wins or loses at the same time.

The sense of urgency creates a useful sense of focus for the head chef. A line cook either met the evening’s demands or didn’t. One bad evening might not be fatal — or even a few — but the head chef has to face up to a decision very promptly: can that cook play their position well enough to belong on the team?

Thinking like a head chef

I’d like to encourage you to think like a chef. It’s your job to create the menu for your restaurant — filled with dishes people want to eat — and deliver those dishes just right, in a way that makes people happy.

You can’t get it done if you’re working with the wrong people. It’s too easy to spoil a meal, and spoil an entire table’s experience.

Of course it will take your people some time to get up to speed. Especially managers. And even then, no one’s perfect, and mistakes will happen. But in the kitchen, things become pretty clear pretty quickly. And people who can’t measure up get bounced out without much delay.

Why can’t we apply the same kind of clarity to the way we evaluate our employees — looking for early warning signs from the beginning?

Simple standards

In a kitchen, they’re shooting real bullets every night and there’s no ducking a problem. It takes a week or so for a cook to know the menu, and an equal amount of time to learn the kitchen’s quality and work speed standards. Then there’s a shake-down period for another few weeks. If it’s clear that the cook just isn’t up to the task or doesn’t fit within the kitchen team, they’re asked to leave.

Early warnings

Signs of failure are often evident from the outset. Watch carefully and trust your judgment.

There may not be any bullets flying around your company, and many roles will take much longer to evaluate. But why miss the opportunity to evaluate new employees right from the outset?

Patience is one thing, evasion is another

It pays to be patient in evaluating people in complex jobs. But there’s no payoff in avoiding evaluation. I’m not advocating that you make snap judgments, but you’ll help your cause if you develop a clear set of expectations, a path for teaching employees those expectations and an equally clear path for evaluating their suitability and progress — right from the outset.

It may take some time for signs of success to become clear. But signs of failure are often evident from the outset. Watch carefully and trust your judgment.

Be patient, for sure, but be relentless in evaluating new employees. After all, if a new employee just doesn’t have what it takes or just doesn’t get it, they’ll never produce the results you want.

If you were a chef, you’d be dead serious about promptly evaluating employees. Why not be just as prompt in doing it in your company — even though you’re not serving dinner?


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