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Are your standards "fresh-frozen"?

May 20, 2017


Whenever I start my Lean journey with a new group of learners, they always ask me what Lean books they should read to jump start their Lean journey. I always give them a list of books I feel are classics and offer true value, like David Mann's "Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions" or Mike Rother and John Shook's "Learning to See." But most people are surprised when I actually tell them to watch the television show, "Kitchen Nightmares," which features Michelin-star, award-winning chef, Gordon Ramsay.


For those not familiar with the show here is a quick summary.  Failing restauranteurs reach out to Gordon as a last resort to save their dying business. Lean practitioners would recognize this as a "burning platform."


Gordon shows up and wastes no time peeling back the onion on why the business is failing. The first step in his methodology is to taste the food. When asked, the restauranteurs state their food is of the highest standard, but upon tasting several dishes Ramsay quickly discovers that not to be the case. Gordon then assembles customers to provide direct feedback to the owner in hopes this will awaken them and get them to admit that their current state needs fixing. Most of the times, this does the trick. However, in the rare cases, they still do not concede they need to improve (mind you, Gordon is there to help them stay financially afloat). At this point in time, Ramsay continues his trip to the Gemba, inspecting the kitchen and food storage areas. At this point, he discovers code violations that could easily shut down the restaurant: mixing cooked food with raw food, refreezing food and labeling it as "fresh-frozen" (not really a thing, by the way), and even exposing rat pellets. Under the threat of Gordon calling food safety or walking away completely, the owner typically accepts the reality of the situation. To me, there is an important lesson here. There is an old Buddhist adage, "when the learner is ready, the teacher will appear."


when the learner is ready, the teacher will appear 


A coach cannot be effective if the person they are attempting to coach does not want to be coached or cannot come to terms with reality, lack of humility. Another important lesson is that, to most, Gordon seems like a real jerk, but the reality is, he deeply cares. When the learner breaks down, often in a state of tears, Gordon extends compassion and comfort, assuring them he will show them a better way.


Check out Gordon in action here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ef3Kv7iYQDg


Now that Gordon has grasped the current state, he creates a future state challenge for the owner. He refurbishes their restaurant, provides them with a new, simplified menu, and provides the staff with the new standards on how to run the kitchen (no more fresh-frozen!). At this point in time, Gordon re-opens the restaurant with the new standard or plan (the P in PDCA). Because the public knows Gordon is on site, the restaurant floods with customers and Gordon can see how the staff performs under pressure, i.e. the D in PDCA were obstacles are observed in the way of reaching the desired state. Although it doesn't always go smoothly, the restaurant, 9 out of 10 times, succeeds and the owners go through a revival. Gordon is often showered with affection by the same person who cursed him and the restaurant is saved. There are also a couple of key lessons here. As a coach, Gordon is not shy to offer advice on how a future state should operate. As an expert, he has years of experience his learners could benefit from. In Rother and Shook's, "Learning to See," they concur and state that management's job is to create what is known as flow kaizen or improvement at the system level. At this point in time, it is up to the staff to experiment their way to the new challenge. Another important lesson is that Gordon creates a quasi-simulated environment by leveraging his popularity to stress the system and allow the staff to experiment and learn from their failures.


It may seem comical, but in this modern era of reality television, I would consider Gordon to be my virtual Lean sensei (similar to my virtual spiritual sensei, Sadhguru). He demonstrates courage, toughness, compassion, and expertise, leveraging each skill at the appropriate time to create a four-legged stool. To all coaches, he serves as a standard we should use to reflect upon our own efficacy.


He demonstrates courage, toughness, compassion, and expertise, leveraging each skill at the appropriate time to create a four-legged stool. 


Note: In no way am I affiliated with the Fox network or Gordon Ramsay, although it's pretty clear I am an admirer.

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