I really thought Gordon Ramsay was a loud mouthed cook that just liked to take people’s head off from the media snippets I had seen. I wasn’t big on reality television so I never saw one of his shows until I ran across Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares show on BBC America last week and found it so interesting that I added it to the DVR schedule. I can’t verify that some of the stuff that happens on this show or any show isn’t scripted/rehearsed/planned ahead in some way, but the underlying cause here is that these restaurants are in a dire state of business and will go out of business soon, so the object is to figure out the problems and find solutions to give the owners in one week, and then the business owners have to take that knowledge and see if they can turn it around.
The thing I found most insightful was (aside from the cooking, of which I can appreciate more now that I am cooking more) that Gordon Ramsay is very direct when he finds something wrong that is hurting the business and nobody ever does that if you work in a corporate environment. I wish there was a way that this kind of investigation would happen with companies, in a slightly less dramatic way. Sometimes a company or department is ailing for years and nobody wants to say the things that need to be said, and eventually it just dies.
I find it interesting that the problems I’ve seen in these restaurant businesses have been (in about 7 shows so far) either: 1. The cooks are either too slow or make food nobody likes. (in one case the cook was making food the owner wanted but nobody liked) 2. The food is great but there is a management issue and/or service problems. 3. The decor is not welcoming, clean or classy, but this is never the main reason, always a secondary one.
Within these problems Gordon Ramsay has to sort out the people who work there also and decide if they can do a good job if they aren’t already and how if possible he can transform their work. In several cases he found the head cook to be the main issue and suggested that they remove the cook from the job. After they were gone he found several lower level cooks with better skills and ability than the head cook that were just doing what they had to in order to keep their job. They were stuck working for someone who didn’t know what they were doing, but the lower level rank made it impossible for them to do anything about it.
I think this is a huge problem in business too. People get hired and stay in a management position for 5-10 years and while they are there the world changes, technology changes and the industry changes. If people don’t keep learning (something that is really difficult to do with a full work and family schedule) eventually they will be completely out of date with their information and the business won’t sell/develop/produce enough or the right things to make a profit. It’s an over simplified view of things but the elements are true, I’ve seen it many times. In these cases lower level worker people grit their teeth and deal with it because they have mortgages, kids and credit cards that they have to earn a paycheck for. The lucky ones leave and find a better job somewhere else, although there is always the risk that the new job will be the same way since its near impossible to get a feel for personalities before you get hired.
I think that a small part of the solution to this is that the mid & lower level people in a company need to have their opinions viewed as more important. These people know the details of what is needed to the tasks that the company survives on. Sure, some management experience is useful sometimes, but try to solve a programming problem if you’ve never programmed before. Try and manage the tech operations if you’ve never been an admin or be CMO if you have never been a media planner, analyst or advertising creative designer and your previous job was sales. It just turns out badly. It’s incredibly risky to turn to your employees and say “just get it done or else” even if you do have some understanding of what a problem is, if you can’t set the strategy for fixing it and get involved in the process. None of the people who do these tasks have any respect for the managers that demand things all day without any of the knowledge that gets the job done.
I think the large part of the solution revolves around how manager’s roles have changed. It is no longer sufficient to “manage” people without doing the job yourself while you are the manager. It’s a dual role but it is the only way managers can make appropriate decisions about the work being done since they are involved in doing some of it themselves. Gordon Ramsay is actually very good at this. When cooks leave or get fired due to poor work, many times he jumps in and is cooking in these small crowded spaces. (nothing like his restaurants). My current boss also jumps in a lot and knows the ins and outs of what we do, this is rare though, I’ve seen many who don’t.
I think the other job situation he has uncovered several times is how to turn things around for that person that is 2nd or 3rd in command who really does have the knowledge but have been sidelined for years under the direction of the head cook/manager. How do you get that spark back in someone who has been demoralized for so long? It is hard to work in an environment every day when you know that something is not the right thing to do, yet you have to keep working that way because your manager requires it in order to keep your job. It is related to the feeling that I think people have about determining their own destiny.
I also think people need to feel like they have some control/choice in their job situation and taking orders all the time with the knowledge that this is the wrong thing to do wears someone’s confidence down and turns off their creativity and enthusiasm for the job. I call this burnout. I don’t think burnout is from too many hours of work, burnout is from being at odds with your you are tasked to do for too long. And contrary to what people think, being at odds with what you are tasked to do is usually a management problem, the younger people who have been in school more recently are more likely to follow the rules, do things right and want to make things better in an idealistic way. I find that the higher level people who have been there a long time have little knowledge about how the business technology/process works in detail and make demands based on outdated info, cut corners because they can get away with it and do old things because they have just always done it that way.
That said there are no easy solutions to these problems. Gordon Ramsay is a dynamic personality and he can work with these people one to one to discuss things honestly and figure it out, and in many cases this needs to happen on an individual level in business also. It’s not a company-wide initiative or something that has one solution to. The solution would be different things to different people, all very specific to their individual job and knowledge. And I think managers resist this discussion because they are insecure about the knowledge they may not have and don’t want to lose their job either. I think managers need to spend more time doing the low-level work or else they will be disconnected. Asking your employees to make suggestions or tell you the solutions is a cop-out too. If they have the all answers to problems all the time, they should be paid the same level as the managers who are really supposed to do that work. (or be the manager) So, there is no incentive for group management when someone is paid a higher wage to be the manager.
I suggest that managers/directors, VPs and C-level execs start digging in the trenches with their workers on a weekly basis and they will learn more about their jobs/departments/businesses than they thought possible and the business will be healthier as a result. The workers will hopefully have a better job situation where they do have some control over what they do because the expectations are in line with what they can provide, so they don’t get burnt out and have to leave. People also need more time to learn, but with homes, kids and regular 40 hours a week of work, I’m not sure how to fit that in, but it is an important part of the recipe for success.
Who thought Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares would suggest a new paradigm for American business? Its possible, let’s get to work.