Lessons from "Kitchen Nightmares"
I've only watched the first half of the premiere episode, but I am (at least temporarily) riveted by the new Fox show “Kitchen Nightmares” with chef Gordon Ramsay. I never tried the show “Hell's Kitchen” where he was trying to train (and/or verbally abuse) chefs in training, but I checked this one out because the first episode was free on Apple iTunes and it gave me something to watch while in the gym.
In this series, Ramsay parachutes in to a different restaurant each week, usually a place that's a total disaster. In the pilot, Ramsay goes to a family run Italian restaurant on Long Island, NY. The brother co-owner is a total out-of-touch mess, having no idea what his employees are struggling with back in the kitchen and he considers the business his personal piggy bank, while it's on the verge of going out of business. I'm sure there are some small family manufacturing businesses out there that are in the same condition.
Ramsay reminded me of the stereotypical Japanese lean “sensei,” walking through the kitchen and the walk-in refrigerator, screaming and swearing at the co-owner, Peter, about how embarrassing and ridiculous the place is. Why it requires outside eyes to see all of this is hard to understand (although it's similar to an outsider coming into a factory and seeing waste with fresh eyes). Oh, for the record, it's not my style to yell and swear at people, regardless of how much waste there is…
So, then Ramsay brings Peter through the walk-in, showing him the rotting food, the leaking roof, the generally unsanitary conditions. It's clear that Peter has never walked the “gemba” and has never seen the situation first hand.
Ramsay yells at him and Peter reacts as if it's not his responsibility. As with many bad leaders, he does not take ownership of the situation and he starts yelling at his employees for making him look bad.
Ramsay then tells Peter he needs to work in the kitchen during the next lunch rush. Although his employees had complained about it endlessly, Peter was forced to struggle with the broken ovens, broken cooktops, broken broiler, lack of tools, etc. It didn't help that he knew NOTHING about being in a restaurant kitchen.
Peter's employees had tried complaining about the bad tools, but he chose to buy himself a new suit instead of a new oven. So, service was suffering and the kitchen staff were all really frustrated, but, again, Peter was clueless.
I haven't yet watched the second half of the show, I will probably do so on a plane today. I'm assuming Ramsay is able to pull a miraculous recovery and there will be a happy ending. We'll see.
I hope none of you are in a similar parallel factory situation today. Watching a show like Kitchen Nightmares can help you feel thankful that your workplace isn't that big of a mess. The Lean approach teaches us to “walk the gemba” — to go and see the actual workplace. Even senior leaders have to walk the gemba. You have to make sure your employees have the proper tools they require to do their jobs. You can't just run around the periphery with all of the trappings of “being the boss” if you're not going to take responsibility. You have to be a leader.