When the cook spends more time in the boardroom..

Go to the kitchen of your company, observe and ask as many times 'why' so you can understand what’s cooking over there.
Peter De Clerck

A colleague of mine recently told me a story. Is it a true one? Honestly, I wouldn’t know. However, I do believe it’s one of those stories I just had to share with all of you.

So here it goes.

Some time ago, my colleague was giving training in operational excellence for an audience, mostly filled with managers up there on the 99th floor, if you know what I mean. Imagine how excited he must have been.

Truly giving his best and pretty convinced of getting his message across he surely wasn’t expecting to stumble upon this mail from one of them the next morning:

Thank you for the training given yesterday. I’ve noticed you’ve put a timeslot in my agenda to visit our production plant on Thursday to go & see how things were progressing. What was it exactly you were talking about and is it possible to reschedule our meeting within a month from now? That would better suit the agendas. Thanks.

Quite a shocker:

  • Was he not clear enough, he thought?
  • Were people sleeping during my training?

Or did he think encouraging management to see the reality on the work floor was going to be considered easy? Not something to do only when the time was right.

His story made me think super hard. Well, to some extent at least, because the last couple of weeks I couldn’t seem to overcome those cooking shows on television or even on social media. All day long I was wondering what ‘culinary orgasm’ actually meant but I sure started to think it’s a hell of a fun place out there in the kitchen.

In fact, doesn’t it look obvious how a kitchen resembles the office space and how a cook seems to have mastered the essence of creating value for the customer, basically delivering a damn fine meal?

Management on the other hand seems to been spending its time in the boardroom talking about the added value for the organisation. However, are we really creating value for the customer then or are we:

  • Spending too much time on gathering data
  • Creating numerous reports with abundant KPIs
  • Frustrating fellow colleagues alongside
  • Discussing results somewhere too far away from reality

o my next question would be: ‘Why do we do it?’

Let’s perhaps go back to a powerful, yet extremely simple approach to managing organizations. It relies on common sense and is low-cost. Probably these two words always get everyone’s attention.

Masaaki Imai, founding father of Kaizen is to be sought for this. Kaizen basically means continuous, incremental improvement involving all managers and workers. He argues that every time you get promoted you get further away from reality. By the time you are CEO, you are the most stupid person in your organization. Undoubtedly this will make you happy you’re not a CEO, right?

Anyway, he continues that the more you go up the ladder, the less you might seem to know about the problems going on. Contradictorily, decisions are taken on that level where there is little to no knowledge of the real problems.

As managers we think we can prevent this by relying on numbers, however this is where the trap lies. Only if we go to the Gemba (= real place, where it happens) we are able to interpret correctly the numbers.

To conclude, I would say, give yourself some time, don’t be scared and go to the kitchen of your company, observe and ask as many times ‘why’ so you can understand what’s cooking over there. It is the place where work gets done and the only place where value can be added to business processes:

  • Solve the problem at hand
  • Prevent it from recurrence

It will result in better quality, delivery and lower costs. You’ll be surprised how much you will make a good contribution towards the value delivered to the customer. All jokes aside, you might after all understand why the kitchen is such a hell of a fun place!


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