The Story of Three Chefs


Once in the workforce, it won’t be long before you experience change in who your boss, or boss’s boss is. I am not talking about a role change where you or they move departments, I am talking about a boss change due to them leaving the organisation. Now, human nature is that we like to feel our experiences are unique to us, or at least our industry however, I was lucky enough to catch up with my colleague the ex-professional chef who gave me a very welcome insight into the similarities sooner than the differences.

So, let’s set out a scenario where the incumbent chef has been in the role for several years and decided the time is right for a step up in her career. She has many long-term relationships with her staff and has a great understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. Given how much she values here team, it seems logical for her to inquire if any of them would also like to join her in her new venture, 20% of them agree. The owners decide that this is a great opportunity to ‘shake things up’ as there is a perception that the customer’s level of sophistication has outgrown some of the existing options being delivered by the business.

Chef A

Despite having come from the top end of town (two-star Michelin), she is strategic in her approach and decides to not make too many drastic changes. Her objectives are to

  • Not rock the boat and unsettle the remaining staff she has, the last thing she needs is for them to jump ship.
  • Make sure she can observe the team in their roles. This will help her later in picking staff that should be retained and those that are not as valuable.
  • Take time to look at what is working in the menu, it is too easy to come in and negatively impact what is working.
  • Use the honeymoon period to sit back and watch whilst being part of the team and delivering.

The risk of this approach is that

  • The honeymoon period is often shorter than needed, especially if the business is under performing.
  • The Chef has been employed by her boss to ‘shake things up’ she runs the risk of not ‘appearing’ to be delivering.
  • She will be forced to keep some of the lower performing staff initially as she can’t afford to lose anyone else.

Chef B

Chef B has taken the ‘shake it up’ to heart and feels he has a mandate to change, he has even brought his previous sous-chef along as they are a proven high performing team. He gets straight into it and:

  • Tells the incumbent sous-chef that she is valued but needed to manage the front of house as there is new sous-chef. She is considered part of the old approach.
  • Calls a meeting of all staff and outlines his plans for a new menu. Existing, successful dishes will cut as the old customers are demanding it. As part of the change, existing suppliers are going to be replaced, there level of services is appreciated but no longer required.

The risk of this approach is that

  • If not done carefully, the remaining good staff will walk, and the poor staff will stay.
  • Morale will suffer.
  • If the customers aren’t taken on the journey they may well not keep supporting the restaurant. Change for the sake of change doesn’t work.

If you are in this kitchen you have your work cut out for you.

  • Head down, tail up and avoid being defensive about any negative perception of the old Chef.
  • Recognise that, regardless of your skills, you may not fit in the new kitchen.

Chef C

Chef C was already working at the restaurant as the pastry chef and has been given the opportunity to ‘step up’ and fill the shoes of her old boss. With some trepidation she accepts as she has always wanted more responsibility. She decides to:

  • Take her colleagues for coffee to share her news.
  • Ask them for their support as she is going to have the additional responsibilities of the head chef whilst trying to recruit new staff.
  • Register to attend a management training course as she recognises that this is a gap in her experience.

This could well be the option with the greatest risk to the business because:

  • Her colleagues may not see her as being in charge, despite her asking for their support. She really needs to take on the role and own it, even if she doesn’t feel that she is fully competent on day one
  • The new chef has not been set up for success given she needs to step up to greater responsibility in a business that needs revamping.


There are many different types of boss’s in the world but in my experience, these are some of the most typical scenarios. They can be desscribed as:

  • Steady as she goes
  • Let’s shake it up
  • I am going to step up

Each has merits depending on where you sit in the organisation, in reality often the best outcome is a ‘pinch’ of all three!

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