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Continuous Improvement Leadership: 5 Things CEOs Can Learn from Chefs

Posted by Allan Wilson

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Feb 5, 2015 1:27:00 PM

CEO_ChefI have always been interested in cooking. A few years ago, my wife convinced me to take a year-long professional cooking course.  I learned and incredible amount about cooking, of course, but I also surprisingly learned almost as much about continuous improvement and lean processes.

Chefs are creative with food; that’s what makes them great chefs.  The best of the best bring true culinary innovation to the profession.  The reason that many restaurants fail isn’t because the food is bad… it’s because they’re not being managed properly. Because let’s face it – making an incredible entrée doesn’t make you a good business person.

Continuous improvement leadership can learn a lot from a chef.

Here are five examples:

  1. Elimination of waste

    There is a lot of wasted food in the restaurant business.  It can kill profits in an instant.  Many chefs need to learn from a CEO how to be micro focused on gross margin (the true cost of each plate of food delivered to the customer versus the selling price of that plate of food) What is the highest gross margin dish on any menu?  The answer is Caesar Salad. 

  2. Innovation

    Chefs constantly innovate.  Why is this?  It’s because customers expect innovation from great chefs.  Without new, spectacular dishes on the menu, these customers will hit the road.  Similarly, a CEO must be intensely focus on customer needs and be aware of how rapidly they can change.  A business must innovate, or its customers too will hit the road.

  3. Continuously improve

    A chef must be supremely focused on continuously improving the quality and the value of the food he makes.  Once a dish is popular in a restaurant, it must be delivered each time with consistently high quality.  Too much salt.  Poor presentation on the plate.  Bad core ingredients.  All of these failures will result in an unpleasant customer experience.  Great chefs are constantly checking the presentation, quality, and taste the output from the kitchen.  CEOs can learn from this attention to detail and the constant pursuit of perfection.

  4. Supply chain perfection

    When a good kitchen is in full flow, it is like a well- tuned orchestra.  Everything is in harmony and there are zero missed steps.  There is no better example of true lean supply chain than a great kitchen.  Everything from the ordering of the ingredients, their storage and readiness for inclusion in the dish, and the cooking process to the plating process and the delivery of the finished dish to the table is completely synchronized in total harmony.  CEOs would do well to learn from this and apply it to their business supply chain.

  5. Voice of the customer

    Think back when you were last in a true fine dinning establishment.  The very best chefs ensure that they “walk the floor” and talk with their customers immediately after they have consumed their meal.  The chef is not looking for adulation.  They are looking for instant feedback, what could I have done better?  “Was the sauce on the fish to your liking, it was something new that I tried this evening!”  CEOs must “walk the floor” - not just on the factory floor (the kitchen) – but also with their customers.  They must get feedback and find ways to do better.  They must have total respect for the voice of the customer, and align their business to that voice. 


Topics: Leadership

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