Management Nightmares

Posted on February 29, 2012.

I saw my first episode of Kitchen Nightmares recently. I was mainly interested because it was focused on a local restaurant that had been in the center of a large controversy. As the show unfolded, I realized there were a couple of management lessons to be learned from this particular story. The restaurant in question had been around for twenty years, but in the last year, the owner had managed to severely alienate the entire community. As the city boycotted her restaurant, the owner seemed to spiral into a micromanaging terror, shooting herself in the foot at every turn. So, where is the lesson is this?

Chef Ramsay astutely stated in his frustration that a restaurant begins with the leader and everything follows from there. It’s true in any business that everything starts with the boss, but that is not the main lesson in this episode. The most amazing thing you saw was that despite working for a megalomaniacal tyrant, the staff was very competent and probably the only reason that there were any customers left. They were screamed at, micromanaged and treated like they were idiots. Why they stayed was beyond me, much less that they had so much empathy for their boss. What that said, however, is that despite being the boss from hell, she clearly did one thing right – she hired good people.

Why after twenty years did this formerly successful enterprise start to circle the drain? It wasn’t market factors- it was manager megalomania. It’s when a manager starts to believe that they are the source of everything good that has happened to the business. Like the owner in the Kitchen Nightmares episode, they forget that what the customer wants is most important. From our own experience, we have seen it infect executive management the most. There is always a large group of people willing to suck up to and idolize the top boss. These star struck employees applaud every ridiculous idea that comes out of the boss’s mouth, so that ultimately he or she begin to believe that they are indeed a god among mere mortals. Sometimes it is just that they have been incredibly lucky with location, a great staff, or great timing and begin to overly attribute their success to themselves. There is no doubt that greed had a big part of this particular owner’s issue. She was so focused on profits that she alienated her customer base. Whether it’s ego or sheer greed, things will start to spiral out of control because the decisions aren’t being made for sound business reasons.

When I look at this as a management fable, it is clear to me that two biggest lessons this business owner could learn is that you won’t have a business if you don’t take care of the customer, and the people who take care of them – your employees.