Friday 18 October 2019

Hell's Kitchen is poor recipe for talent retention

TV chefs' screaming leaves a bad taste and all businesses should consider huge impact of aggressive behaviour

Gordon Ramsay has a notoriously fiery temper
Gordon Ramsay has a notoriously fiery temper

Alan O'Neill

I was flicking through the channels one evening and the programme Hell's Kitchen - featuring Marco Pierre White was being advertised. This is a programme where celebrity chefs like him and Gordon Ramsay display what I deem to be disgusting behaviour, all in the name of entertainment. The format for this programme is similar to other variations on the same theme, where celebrity chefs humiliate contenders or workers on screen. They throw things, scream and swear at them for their misdemeanours.

Now I do appreciate that some of this is probably exaggerated for the cameras. But unfortunately, a trend exists where art imitates life and life imitates art in that world. I'm convinced that these programmes depict real life in commercial kitchens.

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In turn, these dreadful TV bosses are being seen as role models for an industry where teamwork is essential, but conflict between the kitchen and front-of-house is often the unfortunate norm.

I can't tell you how many times I've come across examples of hotels where this behaviour is evident. It's often excused because chefs are 'artists' or because they are in such short supply. "We don't want to rock the boat, or they might leave," said one general manager.

Let me also add very quickly, that I have come across countless successful chefs whose behaviour is exemplary.

Despite the highly pressurised workplace and hot working conditions, they create a sense of camaraderie and teamwork that gets the job done. In other words, you don't have to be an ass to be a good boss.

The impact of inappropriate behaviour

All of this said, chefs are not the only culprits here as the same message applies to any other sector.

While I'm focusing on chefs to make my point, I'm sad to say that this early 20th century behaviour is still evident across industry.

I've seen it in large corporates with weak heads of HR that don't challenge senior leaders. And I've seen it in smaller organisations where people perhaps know no better.

Just for a minute, think of the impact this has for those on the receiving end of such bad behaviour.

Think too of the impact on the business, which inevitably loses out in missed opportunities.

Human nature being what it is, those on the receiving end will feel bruised. They will not or cannot be as productive as expected. Innovation dissipates as team members become afraid to make mistakes.

Morale dips and employee turnover increases as individuals seek solace elsewhere. And as for the impact on customer experience, well customers are not blind.

Ambitious individuals that get seduced by it also come to believe that this is the way to get promoted. After all, if the boss has become the boss by behaving like this, then that becomes the benchmark.

Tips for eradicating poor management behaviours

1. Every organisation has a culture, whether its defined or not. If the behaviour described above is evident in your organisation, that's because your culture is flawed. I am a strong advocate of using organisational values as drivers of a desired culture.

I have worked with countless organisations in helping them to refresh their culture - and be assured that having the right values as a starting point makes a positive difference.

2. If you already have a set of values, check that they are being lived.

Too many organisations have values that start and end as a slide in a presentation or a picture on a boardroom wall. If you have fallen into this trap, then it's high time you rebooted your culture.

3. To prevent this management style in your organisation, be sure to articulate in advance that it is not acceptable, by ensuring that 'respect' or else 'people first' is one of your values.

Remember that values drive behaviours in an organisation.

And once that value is put out there as a key pillar, people will at least know in advance what is expected of them and what is not accepted.

4. Communicate that this value is a cornerstone of your culture. To bring it to life, give indicative examples of the behaviours expected. Likewise, give examples of the behaviours that will not be tolerated.

5. If you see examples of this inappropriate behaviour, call it out with the person responsible. If you don't, they will continue and your credibility as a leader will be undermined. You also have to consider what consequences are appropriate for the offender. For example, at what point is a P45 the right outcome? Now, I'm not advocating firing people willy-nilly. I am saying that even if the culprit is highly productive, and if they are causing a wake of havoc with the team, you may have to make a hard decision.

6. Hire people that share the same values as defined by your values. In the recruitment process, look for evidence that illustrates that this person subscribes to this standard.

The Last Word

Forgive me if I sound like I'm having a rant this morning. I don't mean to be. It's just that it bothers me to see this behaviour still in existence. Any modern and fair-minded individual will agree that screaming, shouting and throwing things as exemplified in Hell's Kitchen is inappropriate. The impact of this openly aggressive behaviour is horrendous.

Gordon Ramsay has been included in the Cosmopolitan top 10 most sexy men and I believe Marco gets similar accolades. Go figure!

If their behaviour is true to life, I wonder would these same anonymous survey respondents last for more than a month working with them?

Alan O'Neill, author of Premium is the New Black is Managing Director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go tokara.ie

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