posted 31 Jan 2007 in Volume 10 Issue 5
What Gordon Ramsay taught me about KM
By Richard Cross
Some people can write almost as naturally as they breathe – regardless of their profession – and some people cannot. Likewise, some people simply ‘do’ knowledge management (KM) as if it were an integral part of the way they work. It’s simply the way they are.
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is one such person. A competitive former footballer, he is one of the best-known chefs in the world, albeit as much for his robust language as for his ability in the kitchen. His programmes can be seen on Channel Four (in the
The format is simple: he is called in by failing restaurateurs to help turnaround their business. But the challenges he encounters will be familiar to anyone who has worked in a struggling business: the restaurant tries to offer too many dishes (ie: too many products) that kitchen staff struggle to produce to the Six Sigma-like consistency required by a Michelin three-star; and chefs try too hard to produce original ‘signature’ dishes – anyone fancy prawns with chocolate sauce or a salmon and strawberry salad?
Another common problem is the confusion of roles: over-promoted chefs who cannot keep pace with a busy Saturday night, serving-staff unsure of their roles, and interfering bosses.
As a result, dishes get lost between the kitchen and diners’ tables (a process and quality-control issue), while fractious staff inside and outside the kitchen are not conducive to a ‘culture’ of seamless team-working.
Yet despite the fact that Ramsay is probably their only hope, many – from the owner down – are resistant to change. This will be common enough to many involved in KM. Although they know something is wrong, bosses remain convinced of their own rightness, even though we can all see that they are wrong.
Ramsay takes no prisoners, but he does his research first. He visits on a typical lunch or dinner time, the restaurant’s best food is sampled and the customers (if any) are asked for their opinion. Staff are observed in action. Only then in a whirlwind of focused energy does he get to work.
First, he confronts the creative centre of the operation – the chef. Is he any good? Does he have the right attitude? Can he withstand the high-pressure atmosphere of a busy kitchen? Ramsay pulls no punches and goes eyeball-to-eyeball to get his point across.
He reads people – not e-mails. He spots opportunities. With those who are open, Ramsay shares his knowledge: how to get the best ingredients at the best price; preparation; the importance of the right menu for the location and clientele.
As for the other staff, Ramsay is quick to re-orient them: everyone should have their place and know their role. He works on the basics. Who is the head chef? Who is the sous chef? Who is the ‘front of house’ in charge of meeting, greeting and seating customers? Who are the ‘tipping-point’ customers and how should all diners be treated? He looks to create value. Through follow-up visits Ramsay audits improvement.
Members of staff are expected to talk to each other to do their jobs and to overcome potential problems between them. Overbearing or ‘textbook’ bosses are frequently the main target of his temper – they are invariably the cause of the dysfunctional teams that work under them.
What would Gordon Ramsay make of your organisation and KM strategy?
Richard Cross is an independent consultant specialising in organisational change. He can be contacted by e-mailing, Richard.email@example.com.