Whether you are a store manager, a football coach, or a head chef, you are responsible for your organization’s largest asset, people. When you lead a team, you may realize that even when you are aiming for the same objective, the paths taken can be vastly different. Ignoring these differences can cause friction, disengagement, and delays. How do you achieve alignment, while still accommodating to each individual’s style? The first step is to know who is in your kitchen. Who is a baker, and who is a cook.
“But I work in tech, how in the world could a kitchen metaphor help me become a better manager?”
The answer is simple; knowing your people is as important as knowing your ingredients. And once you can decipher the difference between a baker and a cook, you’ll have your recipe for success.
If food is art, then baking is realism. Anyone who has tried their hand at baking knows that one slight deviation from the recipe can be disastrous to the final product. Bakers require in depth recipes, exact ingredients, and detailed measurements. In order to be successful, they must apply a level of precision and rigidity to their work. The bakers on your team, even if they are not whipping up actual loaves and pies, work the same way. You’ll see that they work better when they are given specific directions all laid out in black and white. Don’t underestimate the bakers on your team, their finesse and attention to detail can be key to providing the highest quality product amongst your competitors.
Bakers thrive in: Process. If you had to rely on one person on your team to keep efforts clean, compliant, and precise, it would be the baker. The baker can both create and implement an airtight and efficient process.
Bakers struggle with: Adaptability. Bakers see potential for disaster in error, and prefer a slower paced and proactive work environment over one that requires risk and pivoting.
Bakers need a manager who: Can help with priority and clarity. Bakers prefer to have the full picture before diving into a project. A positive manager/employee relationship is one that offers patience with clarifying questions.
Gather 10 ingredients and a meal-time, and a cook will create a perfect dinner dish. Cooks do well with a bit more elbow room and creative freedom than bakers. While their cook book collects dust, cooks combine their past experiences and what is readily available to them to pull off the best meal for the occasion. They are known to hit the ground running as soon as they can, and taste and tweak their work until it is time to be served. The cooks on your team function better with a small scope (i.e. 10 ingredients vs. the full Master Chef pantry) and a general direction (i.e. dinner). Don’t dismiss the cooks on your team, their sense of urgency and tool application can be the key to your team’s next innovative masterpiece.
Knowing whether your team members are bakers or cooks unlocks the full potential of the kitchen. However, you must know that not everyone can run a kitchen. That’s right, even you have a role here. The chef.
A successful chef has experience in both roles, baker and cook. They know the exact recipes by heart, but also know when it is beneficial to think outside of the box. Once an individual has reached the role of “Chef”, their priorities shift. They must focus on the bigger picture. They are responsible for fostering harmony, trajectory, and discipline amongst their team. They know how to bring the work and the people together.
YOU are responsible for your kitchen, and the way that it operates. You’ll find that tenure and skill doesn’t matter nearly as much as understanding who your players are. It is all about how they do their best work, and making sure you put them in the right position to do so.