1. Becoming a Chef at Performance Management
H.Brittmann, Becoming Manager. 1
(Becoming a Chef at Performance
2. Becoming a Chef at Performance Management
H.Brittmann, Becoming Manager. 2
I tried contacting G. Ramsay to get his agreement on this paper, which is the
honest thing to do before writing anything about anyone. But, since I don’t know
the man personally, he did not reply to my request. Nevertheless, I hope that this
paper will fare well with him (if he gets to read it) especially considering that it is
not an attempt to use his celebrity and talent to my credit, but rather using a non-
obvious and interesting example for discussing a topic that is close to me. Being
French, I could have picked Napoleon as my example, but this paper is about
performance management, not strategy.
3. Becoming a Chef at Performance Management
H.Brittmann, Becoming Manager. 3
Becoming Gordon Ramsay without the abuse
Probably because I’m French, I like watching cooking programs and learn new
tricks from Michelin’s star chefs. Not only do they have unmatched talent and skills
to produce astonishing dishes, they are entrepreneurs, line managers, and more
recently (thanks to the BBC) entertainers. What I also like is that, like you and me,
they are human and not equally gifted in all aspects of what looks like a very
One that I particularly like is Gordon Ramsay. If I don’t necessarily agree with the
verbal abuse that has become his trademark, he is one of few daring to present
himself in situation, running a kitchen. Most other chefs appearing on TV are
engaged in one-on-one intercourse with a camera, displaying their technical skills at
length, which is somewhat different to running a ‘real’ kitchen. Any manager, even
the most self-centered could present an amiable profile in a one-to-one
conversation and reserve their true self for their team. Therefore, there is courage
in what Mr. Ramsay does.
Finally and that’s the point of this paper, G. Ramsay with all his colorful language is
a living example of management competencies that we can all learn from. When it
comes to performance management, we can become chefs looking at the way he
runs his crew and that’s what this paper does.
4. Becoming a Chef at Performance Management
H.Brittmann, Becoming Manager. 4
Performance management “à la G. Ramsay”
(Cooking time +/- 2 years – serves small to large number of guests)
100% systematic refusal
of mediocre performance.
Chop down mediocre performance. In his
colorful way, G. Ramsay draws a clear line to each
aspiring chef working in his kitchen. He is the gate
keeper of the food that gets out of hell’s kitchen and on
the plate of the customer. Catching a mistake will
seriously aggravate the man.
20g of immediate
Add a good amount of feedback. By throwing
things around and back to the sender, he gives immediate
and individually tailored performance feedback to his
team members. The most impressive displays of rage
happen whenever something less than perfect gets
through that gate.
1x very strong customer
Warm up with customer focus. Whenever less
than perfect food gets passed him, he is confronted with
- a lack of performance in his team
- a flow in his own quality control process
It is the second that probably causes the explosion
because it confronts the chef to his sense of
responsibility toward his customers, as well as his own
standards of performance which are not being fulfilled,
all that being enough to get him started.
1x fresh will to develop
Finish with a touch of praise. Well that’s pretty
much the principle of the show and there surely is an
economic motivation to it, nevertheless, seeing one’s
ability develop will make our chef show himself under a
different (positive) light and praise the progress and good
In that, he is not very different from our every day
manager who develops people not because of an
unconditional love of mankind but because their
improved results will help them getting the new beemer.
Having said that, Chef Ramsay is probably more
deliberate in praising what’s good and highlighting what’s
not than most of us are.
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H.Brittmann, Becoming Manager. 5
Additionally, Gordon Ramsay is a true situational leader. His show could be
displayed as schoolbook example at the Ken Blanchard Company. In few steps, he
provides leadership instructions covering the whole range of ability from
enthusiastic beginner to high achiever by first demonstrating the steps of a
particular recipe (D1) then letting the team try it on (D2) then letting the team do it
for real (D3) then letting the team come up with their own recipes (D4).
All these points contributing to my thinking that besides making perfect fish and
ships, we can learn a thing or two from G. Ramsay when it comes to performance
6. Becoming a Chef at Performance Management
H.Brittmann, Becoming Manager. 6
It’s all about standards
In performance management, you get what you tolerate. A zero tolerance policy for
mediocre performance is the starting point of great performance. A manager
should not tolerate anything below their standard, unless medical or emotional
conditions contribute to an exceptional situation. When that is the case, this team
member needs to be addressed separately and given work that will meet acceptable
performance standards while an effort is made to recover the medical or emotional
balance. If that is not possible, then this team member needs to be removed from
the team: “thank you for your efforts now get out of Hell’s kitchen”. But of course and
fortunately, employment laws protect associates from what would otherwise be an
unforgiving selection process. Additionally there is a catch in that standards should
apply equally to all, hence the word standard…The managers setting high standards
for others and low for themselves will rapidly find themselves at odds with their
team, and that’s where G. Ramsay has an edge on some of us; first and foremost,
he is a great cook!
Once you’ve got your standards right, it’s also about developing an acute sense of
responsibility for the customer experience. What gets on the customer’s plate has G.
Ramsay’s label on it, independently of who cooked it. Whatever your team
members are doing is done by you. No manager should ever hide behind their team
or pretend that the manager is only as good as their team. The minute one does
that, he or she stops servicing the customer. Again this is where standards will
come to the rescue, one need to set superior standards of excellence. A manager
with low standards will necessarily achieve low performance.
Finally, it’s about immediate and tailored feedback. There is no mistaking or playing
around about who’s doing a good job and who’s failing the customer in G.
Ramsay’s kitchen. It may be tough but people who are doing a good job ALWAYS
get to hear about it. Similarly, people who are not, also ALWAYS hear about it.
The fact that this feedback is given early on allows these people to recover from
what could be a “normal” mistake, or what could be an inability to perform. This is
only possible because the manager cares about his customers and about developing
his team. Without feedback there can be no realization and no progress.
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H.Brittmann, Becoming Manager. 7
Where we could all improve in performance
management (and that includes G. Ramsay)
Clear performance expectations – It is one thing to have high standards, it’s another to
ensure that they are known and understood by our staff. Ramsay knows what he
wants: a Michelin’s star experience in every plate but do the candidates understand
this standard? I’m not sure. It seems that most of them are seasoned chefs but
operating in radically different environments. My mom who’s an old lady and a
good cook would get some abuse from Chef Ramsay while producing her best
plate of food because although better than most on the show (I’d say, being a good
son and all) her food is no Michelin’s star material, just good family food.
Wouldn’t G. Ramsay make his life easier by getting the candidates to become
intimate with what Michelin’s level quality standards are? That would require them
to seat at the table of the Michel and Albert Roux of this world, rather than on
shopping trips, or motor cruises whenever they have done something well. But,
that surely would be worth it. At the end of the day, maybe they do? (I don’t watch
the show every week). There is a side benefit to these trips though; they provide a
safe environment where the Chef can level with his team and present his most
approachable profile. A manager will have interest in providing such moments,
while staying clear from the schizophrenic side of it, which consists in showing our
good profile only outside of the office. Relating to the team at personal level will
play a crucial role when the going gets tough and the team has to cope with you,
your standards, and the customer pressure.
Tailored rewards – Ramsay rewards good performance, punishes bad performance,
and gives tailored feedback. The show being a game facilitates the principle. The team
meeting the performance expectations during the challenges is indeed rewarded.
Unfortunately, the nature of the reward is too random and collective to be
considered good management practice. Ideally, some of these people would want
to be given different rewards matching their different needs. Ideally, you’d like to
reward them in their own ways (some might want some time with their family, some
might want to learn something from the great Chef, and so on). Nevertheless, as a
general principle, it’s perfect! Similarly, bad performance is punished with chores
and up to the capital punishment which is to be sent home. There again, it is
proper as a general mechanism, though employment laws prevent us from sending
poor performers home too easily. To be generally acceptable, G.Ramsay’s practices
would have to be extended with an analysis of what went wrong in the
performance delivery and a research of correction by the team in order to come
back on the performance track. Then on, it would become proper performance
management, but a rather boring TV show.
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G. Ramsay in his show, set high standards of performance, takes entire
responsibility for the customer experience, coaches his teams according to
situational principles, gives immediate feedback and praise, and finally rewards
good performance and punishes bad one. It is a simple recipe and that’s all it takes
to become a chef at performance management.