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“The chef really needs to motivate me today”. How often have you heard this type of interplay in the kitchen? People have a tendency to relegate their performance, attitude, and outlook on their job to someone else. A restaurant employee is off of their game, riddled with doom and gloom, prone to make dumb mistakes, or simply miserable to be around and thus looks to those “in charge” for a reason to change.

No person can motivate another. This is the reality that so many choose not to understand. Managers, chefs and coworkers cannot dictate that an employee or peer approach their job and their coworkers with a positive attitude, only the individual suffering from this downward approach can choose to self-motivate. All that management, the chef or that person’s peers can do is to set the stage for self-motivation.

Now, this being said there is much that the chef or manager can do to create an environment for self-motivation. If you subscribe to the age-old theory of Abraham Maslow then you understand that the first three steps associated with his Hierarchy of Needs relates to tangible areas that management and the chef can control to some degree.

Survival needs relate directly and indirectly to a livable wage. The challenge with a livable wage is that it means something different to every individual. Survival goes beyond the basics of food, shelter and clothing – it relates to the level of food, shelter and clothing that the person has become accustomed to and most importantly relates to the skill level required to perform certain tasks. What chefs and managers can certainly do is provide an environment where individuals can improve their skills and prepare for the next level position that does offer increases in compensation. Training, mentoring and coaching all play well into this formula. The second step in the Hierarchy of Needs focuses on Security. The chef has an obligation to the business to operate in a manner that enhances the opportunity for financial success. This same fiduciary responsibility will create a business climate that protects the jobs of those who actively participate in this process. If the business succeeds the employee can feel more comfortable about their job security and if these same employees contribute as expected then they can rest easy when it comes to longevity. The third level deals with a Sense of Belongingness. Building comprehensive orientation programs, using the in-house buddy system for initial job acclimation, offering on-going training and assessment and developing opportunities for staff members to interact on and off the job will help individuals feel at home with their position and allow the other members of a kitchen team to feel at ease and part of the acclimation process.

The final two steps in Maslow’s Theory are Self-Esteem and Self Actualization: both can certainly be impacted by the chef in a property, but they rely heavily on the individual’s desire to excel, work ethic and willingness to take full advantage of the positive environment that has been created by management. Self Esteem- how a person feels about themselves, their work, the product or service they provide, the perception of others and the value of their existence is one of the deepest topics associated with human psychology. Self-Actualization is in essence the ability to “be all that you can be”. The interesting point about this is that we can never really be all that we can be, so if the environment for this opportunity exists then individuals will be constantly looking at how to improve, reaching eternally for that carrot – the Japanese refer to it as Kaizen, a core principle that they live by as a culture. Not all people are equal in terms of their desire to perform, their willingness to take on challenges or to even seeing the opportunities before them. Self-motivation is exactly what it sounds like. Dictionary.com defines self-motivation as follows:

“Self-motivation. Initiative to undertake or continue a task or activity without another’s prodding or supervision. They learn a sense of self-confidence and self-motivation, and it stays with them into their adult lives.”

When self-motivation kicks in there is very little that can get in the way of a person’s progress and eventual success. It is this important trait that separates those who know they can and do from those who think they can’t and don’t. No one has control over this except the individual. Those who try to place the blame on others for their inability to self-motivate will likely never find success.

Sorry, the chef cannot motivate you is something that should be realized by the individual seeking an outside push and must be realized by the chef or the manager as well. Create the environment, hire those who will view this environment as an opportunity and recognize the efforts of those who choose to take the bull by the horns.

As a footnote it should be acknowledged that if the chef or manager fails to create the environment for this to work then the result would be stifling to those who have potential. When the environment for self-motivation does not exist then individuals with potential will seek opportunities elsewhere. To this point, Maslow fails to address some additional components of the self-motivation process. Those properties that provide the physical plant that allows cooks (in this example) to execute their craft effectively and feel pride in the product that they produce will help to set the stage for great things to happen. Additionally, those operations that have a philosophy of operation that aligns with those in their staff who have the raw materials for self-motivation – will have an added bonus of building not just successful employees but loyal ambassadors as well.

Motivation is not a simple concept, certainly not one that can be addressed in a short article, however there is typically agreement on the part of the hundreds of authors who have studied and preached their beliefs on the topic that more weight needs to be placed on the individual than the organization or its management.

Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching