Culinary Mercenaries

I came across an article titled “Culinary Mercenaries” that describes chefs as temperamental, egotistical, rootless, and unreliable. Many of you will vehemently argue against the article but some of you may recognize the traits of your chefs in these descriptions (or, worse, maybe you recognize yourself?!).  To be fair, for every chef depicted in the article, there is at least one non-culinary boss who may be described as having similar poor management skills. It is no secret that the tensions between employer and employee can sometimes resemble a battlefield more than a workplace, and it’s easy to imagine chefs as soldiers-for-hire, willing to pack up their knives at the slightest provocation.


During a recent consulting assignment, the troubled owner of a popular catering company complained that his company had burned through yet another chef. I reflected on my own HR successes and failures. I also thought about the noted companies that manage to retain employees for upwards of 25 years. Why are these companies successful and others not?


I shared with my client that the success of these companies seems to begin with the leadership style and behavior of the person in charge. In these models, the leaders set an example of stellar and consistent behavior. They work to create a strong culture and a safe, stimulating work environment. They compensate employees fairly and encourage a mutual trust. They also refused to tolerate employees who fail to follow their leadership cues.


My client took time to consider this and ways that he might adjust his mindset and actions,  In tandem, we created a program with which to evaluate the competencies, qualities, and skills of each current employee and new hire.  Will these efforts pay off?  Time will tell but he and I are both optimistic.


Ultimately, we cannot dictate how employees behave.  We can hire smartly, set a fine example, hold employees accountable, and terminate the bad ones.  There will always be workers who hop from gig to gig like soldiers-for-hire but, as owners and managers, it is our job to run our companies as businesses and avoid being dragged down into the trenches.

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