Points of View

Chris Hill: Chefs, It's Time to be Honest With Ourselves

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Chris Hill: Chefs, It's Time to be Honest With Ourselves
Photo Chris Hill

As a leader in a restaurant, when things have gone wrong, and you’re conducting the post mortem, or when staff consistently aren’t performing as they should do, should the first question you ask yourself be: is it me?

Yes, according to chef, author and TED-talker Chris Hill.

In a recent open letter on his website, directed at chefs, managers and owners, Hill, who previously penned this passionate open letter to chefs, implores those in charge to be honest with themselves: are the staff receiving the training and support they need, is the product strong enough, does my leadership style inspire others?

It’s a difficult conversation to have with yourself, but as Hill, points out, often the egos of those in charge of businesses can be the biggest barrier to their success.

Read the letter in full below and let us know your thoughts over on our Facebook page

Most of us want to know how we can get our staffs to be more engaged – to care a little more, work a little harder, complain a little bit less. I’ve been on both sides of the equation. I’ve been the one ripping my hair out asking for the thousandth time, “Why can’t you restock your station at the end of your shift?” or “I’ve told you not to take a cigarette break during the rush,” or any other number of scenarios most of us have faced as bosses – whether we’re owners, managers or chefs.

I’ve also been on the employee side – I think we all have. I don’t know about you, but I never went out and got a job knowing or hoping that I wouldn’t really care about it, work that hard and would be constantly complaining. In fact, we are wired to want to contribute, want to do good work and want to be positive about our experiences. We all (almost all) have the best of intentions on joining an organisation in the hope of not just wasting time and collecting a pay check, but rather using it as an opportunity to contribute to something beyond ourselves, while also doing the exact same thing for ourselves – growing in our careers.

So what happens between day one for an employee, where they are brimming with excitement, to say, day 30, 60 or 90? We all like to blame it on the other side – the other person. We’d rather say they are incompetent or they are lazy, which they might be at this point in their career, versus doing the more difficult thing, which is to look into the mirror and ask ourselves some hard questions. Incompetent (which they might be) – is it because that is who they are naturally, or did we not give them the right tools to succeed? Are they lazy, or have I just not given them something to get inspired about? Is it really the employee that’s the problem all of the time, or is it maybe me – at least some of the time?

Unfortunately, this doesn’t just apply to how we view an employee’s relationship with the organisation, but it spans any number of variables affecting the business: "Sales are down, it’s got to be the weather… the construction across the street… the new competition… purveyors raised their prices, so now we have to raise the prices on the menu and we’ve scared away our customer base…" 

The fact is, sales might be down – there might be weather issues, construction, competition and there very well might be difficulties with purveyors – there are probably all of these challenges. This is all part of business and entrepreneurship, and the good ones adjust. They don’t let any of the above issues get in the way of their success, they succeed in spite of it.

This takes getting really honest with yourself though. It’s acknowledging that maybe us, the leaders, maybe we’re part of the problem. Maybe it’s not the employees, the competition or any other variables that are always changing. Maybe I need to take responsibility for the success of my employees. Maybe I need to have the best damn product in town, because then, it won’t matter so much if there is weather, construction or anything else that can stand in the way of a business and their success.

We can blame the people in our organizations that are on the front lines. No one is going to stop us. Hell, it might even feel pretty good short term – it’s a way to hide from having to deal with the real problem. What’s that? I don’t know, but ask yourself, one question and answer it truthfully, “Is it me?” Often, this is the biggest thing getting in the way of a successful business – the ego of the folks calling the shots. Once we put that aside, we’re able to see our business and the people in it a lot more clearly.

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