When the Cook Spends More Time in the Boardroom than the Kitchen

By: Peter De Clerck of Möbius

Some time ago, a colleague was giving training in operational excellence to an audience mostly filled with high-level managers. Imagine how excited he must have been.

Truly giving his best, and pretty confident 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 time slot 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.

Shocked, he wondered:

  • Was I not clear enough?
  • Were people sleeping during my training?

Perhaps, he thought, encouraging management to see the reality on the ground was going to be considered easy and not something to do only when the time was right.

His story made me think of those cooking shows that seem to be everywhere on television. I always think it’s a fun place out there in the kitchen. That’s where the meal—the value—comes together. It strikes me that a restaurant resembles an office space, and a cook seems to have mastered the essence of creating value for the customer, basically delivering a really fine meal.

Management on the other hand seems to spend time in the boardroom talking about the added value for the organization. However, are we really creating value for the customer then, or are we spending too much time on gathering data, creating numerous reports with over-abundant KPIs, frustrating our colleagues or discussing results somewhere too far away from reality?

So 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 1) common sense and is 2) low-cost. These two phrases always get everyone’s attention.

Masaaki Imai, a founding father of kaizen, is to be sought after 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 clueless person in your organization.

He continues by saying 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, and this is where the trap lies. Only if we go to the gemba (real place, where it happens) we are able to accurately interpret the numbers.

Give yourself some time, don’t be too busy to go to the kitchen of your company, observe and ask “why” as many times as you can to understand better what’s cooking 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 it contributes to the value delivered to the customer.

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