Seventeen. That’s the number of people it can take to serve-up one meal at a five-star restaurant. Their focus: to deliver an impeccable experience, one meal at a time. And like the Nonna in the Ikea Canada kitchen commercial, the head chef will approve the sauce while everyone waits anxiously, but rather than command everyone “tutti fuori (everybody out), a charismatic chef will facilitate the awesome delivery of that fine dining experience, role-modeling the ethos of the professional kitchen through disciplined hard work, vision and a good dose of emotional intelligence.
Of course, the chef is the face of the kitchen. But the bulk of mostly invisible workers hold a stake in the dinner and are rarely given a second thought at the table. From sous-chef to saucier and cuisiner, junior cook, fry cook, grill cook, fish cook, entree cook, pastry cook, each can tip the balance. And the success or failure of the evening will depend on the diligence of servers and dishwashers, bus personnel, and pantry supervisors as well.
Stripping down the process gives the meal new meaning.
In the kitchen as a corporation, each element is essential in delivering an amazing product: the meal, or rather the experience that will keep diners coming back for more, in turn providing the buzz, the cred, and the accolades that will grow the organization.
Just as the chef is responsible for each meal that leaves the kitchen on a busy Friday evening, in business, it is the CEO who ultimately bears the hard work and responsibility for strategy and direction. The bulk of a company’s success, or failure, is placed firmly on the shoulders of the CEO. No one really questions that the CEO is responsible and accountable beyond strategy. But it’s a scope of leadership that reaches into operations, strategy, marketing, finance, and even the company’s social scene. Like the chef and his crew, the CEO needs to facilitate the proper culture as well as enable a strong executive leadership team, all with a close eye on budgets, allocation, and capital.
There is a belief that once the big picture and vision are set and the strategy in place, the work of the CEO is done.
Or, does the path to success follow the leader who vets and sweats the details: shadowing the prep cook, the entree cook, the pastry chef, step by step confirming the delivery of a flawless meal?
A good plate, like a good product, requires an astute drive for innovation to stand apart, and presentation demands as much efficiency to fueling productivity without sacrificing quality and taste of the final product.
There is always the temptation to dive even deeper into the details as a CEO. We soon realize that becoming a renowned chef requires more than just a good recipe and a flair for good taste. The mix requires some hefty skills around prepping the stations, organizing time and priorities, refining recipes and processes to put teams in the best position for success. A good plate, like a good product, requires an astute drive for innovation to stand apart, and presentation demands as much efficiency to fueling productivity without sacrificing quality and taste of the final product. But to fix the process, to tinker with the product, to clean up the mess, how do you stop yourself from getting caught clearing the crumbs from the silverware drawer when the oven is on fire? Like Nonna, do we usher everyone out of the kitchen or do we keep them close by and cook a meal that’s simply to die for?
In the daily grind that makes the organization, the CEO sets the standard and the tone for the company culture through role-modeling and not role-playing, through “Do as I do” and not “Do as I say”. The CEO, like head chef, is highly aware of the operations, but not managing each facet of the business, leading in the details only close enough to capture the big picture, translating it through authentic and transparent behaviour and bringing the vision to life and the strategy into full operation.
But hard work and clarity of vision alone won’t ensure smooth delivery of the meal; the empathetic CEO, like the chef ever-aware and finessing over the garnish on each plate, sprinkles a good dose of EQ to ensure that the team is working flawlessly as a team, executing with effective communication, trusted hand-off and collective results. After all, energy can ensure perfect execution, but charisma will ensure inspiration, so a good leader, needs to be able to inspire people, as much as manage them, and to make them feel appreciated and valued for their work, providing opportunities for growth, modeling good actions that go beyond words and having the back of everyone on the team.
Engaging the crew, that’s critical: inspiring them, recognizing their efforts and praising them when appropriate, disciplining when necessary, being flexible enough to give them a chance to make mistakes and learn to grow from failure, those are the ingredients of effective leadership, that’s leading with motivation from the heart. And while the chef can have everything else in place if they don’t have a solid, dependable crew rallying behind their mission every day, they have nothing, or worse, whatever dish they concoct will likely produce heartburn and a bitter aftertaste.
That good execution comes with practice, perseverance, and the ability to inspire a clear and easy to understand strategy and operating standards to the crew. The recipe includes:
- A clear expression of the company’s purpose, a well-defined vision of why we exist
- An equally clear understanding of how the purpose will be accomplished, that is, a mission statement that’s put into action
- Solid and realistic core values that govern everyone’s actions and serves to hold them accountable by providing the “how to’s” to getting things done
- Clarity of communication: simply put, keep the message simple
- Willingness to invest effort and money into upholding the company’s standards
- Ability to select the right people, help them grow and invest in their success
- Desire to foster healthy relationships with every individual through trust and positivity
- Drive to live the organization’s standards, as everyone is watching your actions and magnifying them across the company
- Above all, remain consistent in your delivery while remaining positive
Yes, do all this, even when the stove is on fire. Bon appetit.