“A fish stinks from its head.” An old saying and so undeniably, 100% true. For
any business or institution, if there are real problems with staff, I always
look at the top. Sh*t filters down. What does your chain of command look
Do you have a clear, workable management system? One that filters down or
sideways? I think sideways is the new down, really. Richard Branson chronicles his management system as creating opportunities for staff so that they can move upwards or out, and either direction is fine.
Escoffier created the kitchen family tree, trying to solve the issues of chaos and
mayhem that seemed to characterize commercial kitchens of the time. But how relevant is this to today’s modern cuisine? Not very, I would think.
And what do you do when a kitchen is run by a chef who has slogged his way up to
the top, but has no leadership skills at all? Then our whole management system based on the chef, or executive chef (based on the size of the organisation) is flawed. Seriously.
That’s the rub. Not everyone was born to lead, just as not everyone is born to
follow. How do we solve this age-old tradition of working one’s way up the ladder? May I suggest that the ladder’s traditional runged up and down format be replaced by a more espalier type of shape?
And please, for those owners of restaurants who are removed from the daily
running of their business, look hard at the arrangement of command. Is the person making staffing decisions suited to that? Is the head of the kitchen a good manager or a better cook?
I recently filmed Ruben Koopman out at Frogmore Creek, and Ruben has some incredibly ground-breaking ways of hiring and managing. We’ll post the final edit
on our membership site: Cook and Cauldron. But basically, he tries to find the best fit for all staff, using his own unique methods.
So if we work on setting up management as a more horizontal rather than
vertical arrangement, how much better would that be for staff morale? Everyone feels important, involved, and responsible! When each member of the brigade feels valued and vital, then what better incentive to work at their best?
And what is the result? Happy staff, happy customers! Why did Rene Redzepi
include his dishwasher in ownership of Noma? Why indeed? Makes perfect sense to me, and sends a clear message around the world: You are all important. No matter what your job, do it well and reward will come.
An old kitchen saying, that the problem with customers is that they get in the
way of mise-en-place and then eat all the food, should be a thing of the distant past. Now that the barriers or walls between the pass and the diners are
disappearing how much more important is a happy brigade than ever?
Dali’s classic painting, “Dream” caused by the flight of a bee around a
pomegranate, symbolizes what could very well be a take on hierarchy, and
impending doom. (It was painted in 1944, while Dali was in America, just after
the end of WWII).
Can you update your chain of command without upsetting the staff who
currently rely on being at the top? If not, maybe it’s time for them to go, and
the others to move forwards, and sideways. Try it. What have you got to lose?