Surviving the Chopping Block

One of my worst nightmares would be to appear on the Food Network program Chopped.  On Chopped, chefs are given a basket of mystery ingredients and a time limit to produce dishes judged on their creativity, presentation and taste. Managers in the workplace often face a similar challenge. Under tight deadlines they must deploy available resources to whip up project teams that deliver results. Managers and their teams are judged on their creativity, presentation and performance.

Often, managers start with a mixed or difficult basket of ingredients – some “prime rib” superstar employees and others that require a skilled hand. How managers respond determines whether they will create a winning recipe.  Here are some common pitfalls from the management “kitchen”:

You forgot to plate one of the ingredients.

This happens on Chopped, when people get slammed for time. The tuna Carpaccio was delicious but you forgot to plate the garbanzo beans! As a manager, it is easy to call on your “go-to guy” when something needs to be delivered fast. Meanwhile other team members sit on the sidelines and don’t get the chance to develop their ability to play a leading role on future projects.

Your ingredient pairing was wrong.

Understanding the mix of competencies required for a project team is critical to its success. Loading up an IT project team with just technical gurus may lead to a bug-free implementation but completely miss the mark on user requirements or process alignment. Who wants a stew containing only onions?

You turned a garnish into the main ingredient.

Would you ever prepare Radish Alfredo? Of course not!  Radish is a garnish.  There is a difference between providing an employee with an opportunity to develop and setting them up to fail in a role that they are not equipped to handle. Throwing a junior resource into a project leader role is likely a recipe for disaster.

You turned the main ingredient into a garnish.

When I order a T-bone steak I want to be able to find it among the beans and mashed potatoes! A good manager understands that if somebody has been identified as a High-Potential or Top Talent employee, their abilities should be put to use. Don’t bury valuable talent. Find roles where their strengths can impact the organization.

You didn’t bring out the flavour of your ingredients.

Just as a chef draws out flavours, managers must get the most from their employees. Does your organization emphasize staff development as a critical part of your role? Take the time to understand the strengths of each individual on your team and, where  development is needed, put in place plans to close the gaps.

You didn’t have a plan.

Managing employees isn’t like making chilli.  You can’t just toss them all into a pot, turn up the heat, and hope for the best. You need to have an effective resource plan. Sadly, organizations are littered with managers who are not able to engage and develop employees, and more than a few throw their own failures at the feet of their staff.

Sometimes the pressure cooker of workplace life really does mimic TV.  Understanding the abilities of employees and deploying them effectively should be one of the top priorities for people managers.  Those that forget this will fail to get results.  Then it won’t be long before they find themselves on the ”Chopping Block”!