So we’re two weeks into 2018. I was a bit slack with the blogging last year, feeling like there was nothing new to say, and it’s hard to blog regularly and make HR sound interesting. Nonsense of course, and you will tell yourself anything to justify inactivity on any front.
You are interesting if you are interested, right? So time to get interested again and find a few different angles to write about.
Now I often read blogs posts and articles written by people who seem to have read wonderfully inspiring and insightful business books written by self appointed “experts” and I’ve been occasionally guilty of that myself.
The fact is though I have largely stopped reading business books. At their worst they are like going to see an over-hyped film you don’t connect with and come out unfulfilled thinking what a waste of your time and money that was. At best, like a series of Twin Peaks, I tend to think “that was interesting and well crafted but I really have no idea what the message is and why it took him/her/them so long to get to the point.”
The last one I read was The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. Fantastic title, crap book. 6 months on I retain no memory of any of it. I’m not one of these people who goes around quoting different authors and books to back up points I’m making. I’m just not that clever.
No, give me a good autobiography or thriller any day of the week. So this Christmas break there were no management, HR or self help texts. Instead I opted for Kitchen Confidential – Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain.
Back in April last year I spent a week in New York. One night sitting in the hotel room I came across CNN showing back to back episodes all night of Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain’s wonderful travel series where he visits out of the way places and explores their culture and cuisine. I was hooked. Returning to New Zealand I was delighted to discover one of the channels here showing all the series.
I gorged myself on Anthony Bourdain. He’s clearly a man with a murky past, selfish and driven, and he doesn’t tolerate bullshit or pretentiousness or make any apologies for that. His attitude and taste in music lean towards early American punk and that’s more than fine with me.
Kitchen Confidential was published in 2000 when Bourdain was still cooking his was around New York’s dodgy kitchens and his stories are shocking, brutal, frank, funny and written in a way that leaves you with absolutely no doubt what you need to survive in a professional kitchen.
One of his latter chapters is entitled Department of Human Resources. He talks about another Chef he knows who fired a “cocaine-stoked and deranged employee telling him, in classic style, to “Clean out your locker and get the fuck out!” The guy went home and hung himself.
Bourdain has little sympathy and told his friend that he did the right thing and the guy had to go. Why? It was unacceptable to have him lying to him in front of his colleagues, continually turn up late and screw up service even if he did think he might harm himself. They have a job to do and metaphorically they are in a lifeboat. “The weak? the dangerous? the infirm? They go over the side.”
He goes on to say that when you look someone in the eyes and sack them, there is no way of knowing what might happen. You might get attacked, you might get dragged into court, the person might simply leave and go and do something different, or suck it up and move on to the next similar job as most people do, or they might surprise you and be a wild success at something. These are all considerations when considering the fate of a troubled employee but basically not your problem.
Bourdain says the absolutes that first attracted him to his business were the black and white of it. The knowledge there are some things you must do – and some things you absolutely must not. Clear right and wrongs, maybe not always moral distinctions but practical ones. I love that description of the workplace, whatever or wherever it is.
He finishes the chapter with what I think is the perfect lesson in management. A long paragraph that talks about not blaming others for your mistakes, being attentive to the weak but willing, if merciless to the strong who are not so eager to please. He talks about being fiercely protective of his team, about quitting over principle if required and if management or owners mess with his team.
If only more of our “managers” thought like that.
Although written 18 years ago, his final words on the subject resonated hugely and will long stay with me:
“My loyalty, such as it is, is to my restaurant – if that loyalty is not to the detriment of dedicated underlings. The ones who have hung with me, endured what I think should be reasonably endured, have done the right thing.
Everything else is just noise. Isn’t it?”