Who Gets the Last Chef?

Who gets the last chef?

That was the title of my presentation for a group of managers. The title was inspired by a number of conversations that I have been having with clients. You can substitute "chef" for the type of critical position that is part of your current reality.

Reflecting on those conversations, I realized that there has been a common thread through most of them. They have all been concerned with:

  • The lack of bench strength on their management teams; and
  • The scarcity of new talent.

On a daily basis, this is not so obvious. Therefore, it’s not a high priority, but it hits them every time a key team member needs to be replaced. Firstly, they realize that there is no obvious No. 2 who has been groomed for the job. Secondly, when they start the search, they quickly understand that there is not a lot of talents available out there.

The problem is that once they realize this, it’s a bit late to do much about it other than pray—

Honestly, are they going to get the cream of the crop in that situation? Probably not. Most likely, they will get what is leftover. It’s like purchasing a second-hand car. You are essentially taking over someone else’s problem.


Because the smartest of your colleagues out there have understood the problem a long time ago and have been working strategically with their human resource development.

They don’t start thinking about who is going to replace the head chef on the day that the person resigns.

They have a strategy to be the preferred employer in their area. An important part of that is having a proactive strategy for succession planning. That means that when they recruit or promote someone to the position of, say sous-chef, they ask themselves, "Does this person have the potential to become a chef one day," or "Is this person just a good cook who will only make it as a half-decent sous-chef?" If that is the case, they have created a problem with a time-release.

Part of being a preferred team leader is being recognized as an organization where employees can learn, develop and grow. In order for that to happen, someone needs to take charge of developing, coaching and mentoring their employees.

If you are a manager, that someone is you.

But this is actually quite challenging for most managers. In fact, it's one of six key challenges that managers have in common across borders, hierarchies, and professions, according to research conducted by the Centre for Creative Leadership.

Developing, coaching and mentoring team members also happen to be one more of the leadership attributes that our current series on defining management and leadership is about.

Let’s start off by understanding how people actually learn and develop in their work situations.

According to a much-quoted piece of research, also by the Centre for Creative Leadership, lessons learned by successful and effective managers are around:

  • 70% from challenging assignments;
  • 20% from developmental relationships; and
  • 10% from coursework and training.

The authors of the research explain it like this: Development generally begins with a realization of current or future needs, along with the motivation to do something about it. This might come from receiving feedback, doing a mistake, watching other people’s reactions, or failing and not being up to a task—in other words, from experience. The odds are that development will be about 70% from on-the-job experiences—working on tasks and problems; about 20% from feedback—working around good and bad examples of the need; and 10% from courses and reading.

Learning and development can absolutely be supported through courses and training sessions, but at the end of the day, these sessions can only be support for what is actually going on in the day-to-day job situation. That is where real learning takes place, which is why the immediate manager plays such a key role in the development of its team members.

In the next blog post, you are going to explore this crucial leadership competence and what you need to do to achieve it in practical terms.

Further Reading: Leadership: What, Why and How

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Mike Hohnen, MBA is a coach, trainer, author and public speaker who supports leaders, managers and their teams in implementing the principles of the Service Profit Chain.


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