Why do we bother to create a list of year to come resolutions when more often than not we disregard the list soon after it is written? Is it because of a tradition that lacks commitment, or because we know that we could and should do some things differently? Is it an indirect way of apologizing to ourselves for neglecting some things that need attention and the list is an attempt at changing our ways, or is it simply the list itself since this is the way that chefs, in particular, organize their days and their lives?
The truth is that even the most effective chefs (or pick your career professional) could put together a list of actions that would make them better at what they do – professionally and personally. What is lacking (typically) is not an inability to live up to the resolutions, but rather a lack of commitment to them as priorities. Making the list, as we all well know, is the easy part, and is not enough.
Now, let’s add another angle to this whole process of resolution – your employees, peers, partners, employers, and family members are just as interested in your resolutions and just as certain that you will drift from the intent of the list. Many of those stakeholders also look to you as a role model – if you fail to take resolutions seriously then they will follow suit. So, your plan and actions can set the tone for many others.
“How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults, or resolution enough to mend them.”
If you are having a difficult time coming up with resolutions that make sense – the following might serve as a guide. I think most chefs would find that these generic resolutions could fit anyone who wears the chef’s toque:
A CHEF’S RESOLUTIONS FOR 2017:
 LISTEN MORE
Listen to your employees – they may have solutions, not just problems. Listen to your vendors – they should have a handle on factors that impact on the ingredients you buy. Listen to your competition – why repeat their mistakes. Listen to your boss – although you may challenge this thought at times – they are where they are because they know more than you think. Listen to your family – they are the reason that you work and the reason why you are successful.
 PLAN BETTER
So many times in our crazy day at work we are faced with problems that need to be solved. If we invested a bit more time thinking our decisions and processes through we might avoid much of the time spent correcting things that go wrong.
 TRAIN HARDER
Don’t blame your staff if you haven’t taken the time to train them well. Don’t blame your vendors if you haven’t taken the time to clearly explain your expectations. Training is the key to success.
 BE THE POSITIVE EXAMPLE
Just as a parent sets the example for how children will act and react, so too will your employee’s act based on your example. Take a breath, don’t chastise or lose your cool – be above all of those emotional responses and be the steady ship in the night that everyone can depend on.
 TAKE THE TIME TO UNDERSTAND
Learn to separate cause and effect before you draw your conclusions. An employee who is constantly late to work – is it because they are lazy and undependable or is there a deep-seated reason for their lateness. If an employee consistently fails to prepare product to your standards – find out if it is based on a lack of ability or if it might be poor communication or a lack of training.
 CONNECT WITH THE SOURCE OF INGREDIENTS
We all talk about it today, but how many chefs truly invest the time to develop strong relationships with the farmers and producers who provide the ingredients that a restaurant works with. If a chef trains his or her staff well then he or she can invest some time during the day to work on these relationships.
 LEARN MORE AND SHARE WITH OTHERS
Chefs are, or should be, the teachers in a restaurant. Be the living example of the food and beverage encyclopedia. Research, read, interact, partner, experiment, and then pass on what you know to others. This is how great teams are formed and exceptional restaurants are built.
 BUILD BRIDGES – NOT WALLS
Exceptional chefs do not accept that friction must exist between the front and back of the house, between shifts in the kitchen, between young cooks and seasoned veterans, or between restaurants competing for the same group of customers. Exceptional chefs are negotiators, diplomats, and relationship builders.
 BE YOUR OWN WORST CRITIC
The best chefs are never totally satisfied with their own work. The performance evaluation of an exceptional chef will never reveal something new; in fact, the chef will likely find more things that he or she needs to improve than any supervisor might point out. This desire to always critique and improve is what separates the best from the average.
 BE INTRAPRENEURIAL
Be one of those exceptional chefs who treat his or her position as that of owner even if you have no formal ownership stake. Ask yourself – “If this were my place – how would I approach a particular decision?”
 CREATE SOME BALANCE
Every chef talks about it but few are good at managing it – be a balanced manager. Forty hour weeks will never be a reality for a chef, but everyone needs time away, a day or two off every week, time to invest in family as well as the business, and the confidence in his or her crew to be able to act like a person as well as a chef.
 SOME COMPASSION WITHOUT LOSING CONTROL
The best chefs know that those around him or her have issues that impact on performance. These chefs are able to show interest in these challenges, take the time to listen, occasionally offer advice, be sometimes flexible as a result of those issues, and know when listening is all that can be done and the employee must simply work through it and address the job at hand. The fact that you are sincerely interested in listening is always received well.
 APPRECIATE YOUR TEAM
Take the time (yes, you have it) to say thank you, pat an employee on the back or give him or her a high five, publicly show your appreciation, smile, and let others know how pleased you are with a team or team members performance.
 APPRECIATE YOUR FAMILY
After however many hours a chef works, there must be a time when he or she can set aside and connect with family. A chef without this respite will have a very difficult time maintaining a level of excellence at work. These family connections allow chefs to be great at what they do. Never lose sight of how important family is.
 KNOW WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW
The world of food is so enormous, so complex, so change oriented, that no chef could ever expect to know all that there is. The best chefs will openly admit this, acknowledge their weaknesses, and thirst for ways to get better at their job.
 DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT
Make a commitment to find out or learn what you uncover as a weakness or gap in understanding. Admitting that you are not well versed at something is shallow unless you commit to changing that paradigm.
 BE FAIR AND BE RESPECTFUL
Back to the parent scenario, chefs will always be challenged and viewed by some as showing favoritism one way or another. The best chefs work hard at being fair and respectful of all employees, vendors, peers, and customers.
 YOUR STAFF’S SUCCESS IS YOUR SUCCESS
Make a commitment to share the glory and accept the responsibility. When your restaurant wins (recognitions, compliments, profit, customer numbers, peer reviews) make sure that you view it as a “team” win. Let everyone know it was a result of everyone’s effort. On the other hand, when something goes wrong – take public responsibility for it even if was an issue that clearly rests on the shoulders of another. This is the weight of management. Accept the problem, find the cause, and work with the individual or individuals to correct it so that it can be avoided in the future.
I guarantee that if a chef takes this list, customizes the content to best suit his or her situation, and commits to working on each of these points, he or she will relish the positive results in 2017. Make your list today and be the example – stick to it as a list of priorities.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
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