Inspiration from the Kitchen Sink

Discussion
Jul 21, 2005
George Anderson

Simone Restrepo, the chef at the Sibling Rivalry restaurant, gets some of his best ideas from dishwashers.

A report in The Boston Globe said that some of the best restaurants get ideas for ingredients and dishes from wait staff and others working in the establishments.

Kate Hammond, who is a co-owner and chef at the Grapevine in Salem, Mass. says lunches the restaurant cook, Carlos Candelario, makes for staff before it opens for dinner inspire her when she’s in a creative rut.

According to the Globe, “Some restaurants like the staff’s own food so much that they celebrate it on the menu. At the East Coast Grill & Raw Bar in Cambridge, on the brunch menu, you can order ‘Amilcar’s omelet,’ made with avocado, black beans, and jack cheese, served over salsa verde and salsa roja, with queso fresco and guava paste. Or how about Elmer’s clam ceviche or pickled cabbage? The dishes are named for two Salvadorans, Amilcar Buruca and Elmer Sanchez, day chefs who have been at the restaurant for more than a decade.”

Moderator’s Comment: Do companies that actively encourage lower-level employees in suggesting ways to improve business
do better than those that practice top-down only management? Are there companies with cultures that build on suggestions from front-line employees that you think are particularly
worthy of mention?

George Anderson – Moderator

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11 Comments on "Inspiration from the Kitchen Sink"


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Maura Junius
Guest
Maura Junius
15 years 7 months ago

Jack Stack’s book “The Great Game of Business” makes the case that empowered employees who are trained in the business they are in can make significant contributions to the company’s success. Jack and his management team took a struggling division of International Harvester and made it an example of a successful manufacturing company.

Too often questions are asked of people with position, not information. The opinions of people on the front lines are rarely valued by the C-level people. When they are, the company has a much better chance of success because everyone feels valued.

Charlie Moro
Guest
Charlie Moro
15 years 7 months ago

There is no greater truism in management and in life than the famous Sonny Fox quote (and I am sure told elsewhere) who ran Labor Relations for Big V Shop Rite for so many years. He stated over and over to all of the new managers coming through the ranks…. “NO one of us is as smart as all of us.” Greatness is always a collaborative effort.

Karen Kingsley
Guest
Karen Kingsley
15 years 7 months ago

There are, in fact, management consulting programs that actively advocate top-down goal-setting, and bottom-up plans for achieving those goals. People in the trenches are much more aware of the ways in which programs and policies work or miss the mark. They are also, typically, more aware of ways in which a company can save money. There is not an organization in the world that will not benefit by including every level of employee in their plans.

Sadly, I am unaware of any truly great examples of people who do this.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Good ideas can come from anywhere in an organization. What’s lacking is receptivity at the top.

Tom Zatina
Guest
Tom Zatina
15 years 7 months ago

As they say, “the devil is usually in the details” and, usually, no one experiences the details like those so called “lower-level” employees on the front line. They are a powerful and valuable source of intelligence about your business.

Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

My favorite bottom-up management anecdote:

When running a video production department for a trade publisher, I initiated a “brainstorming” process among the staff of producers, editors and creative people. The staff was positively energized and took to it with a frenzy. Within a few days, we had a list of over 100 suggestions, ranging from profound to sarcastic, which we agreed we should present in its entirety to management. Buried among the off-handed ideas – lay off the production staff and replace them with freelance contractors to make the organization more responsive to individual project demands and to save money.

Within three months, the entire staff had there pink slips. (Except me, of course. Someone had to hire the freelancers.)

Greg Coghill
Guest
Greg Coghill
15 years 7 months ago

Time and time again, as a young employee, I found that many businesses could have benefited from input from the ‘bottom tier’ employees, from a telecommunications company to a local restaurant. While management has its impression of best practices, the front line employees often hold insights that are often invaluable. Often times, certain issues and solutions are obvious to the front line, and a distant obscurity to management.

Also, on top of their potential to add insight about productivity and profitability, consideration for their thoughts can create a better atmosphere and happier employees, and, subsequently, a better oiled machine.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 7 months ago
At one point Toyota (in its Japanese locations) became famous for its suggestion plan. I believe that over a million successful suggestions were adopted over the years. Toyota paid a minimum of about $2 for winning suggestions. Supervisors whose staff made the fewest worthwhile suggestions were downgraded. To make a suggestion plan successful, the following guidelines might be helpful: a. Toyota rewarded staff and supervisors for improving suggestions collaboratively. Often, the adopted amended suggestion addressed the original issue, but in a way that the original suggestor hadn’t designed. Many suggestion plans I’ve seen totally depend on the individual suggestor, who might identify an issue but not have all the resources need to create an optimal solution. It is better to have 5 people share a reward for a great suggestion than have 1 person get his/her suggestion rejected for being a suboptimal solution. b. The reward formula is best kept simple. It is better to get suggestions dealt with urgently rather than waste time on figuring the ROI down to 3 decimals. Better to simply… Read more »
Ian Percy
Guest
15 years 7 months ago
As Master Roshi said: “In the beginners mind are many possibilities, in the expert there are few.” OF COURSE businesses should tap into the imaginations of their people – if for no other reason than the fact that, if you don’t, some of them will rise up and start your worst competitive nightmare. I asked an HR audience “Why are there locks on suggestions boxes?” Then one HR manager told me that they’d lost the key to theirs a couple of years ago. You can imagine how well their suggestion program is going. Here’s my problem… In the tradition of classic command and control bureaucracy, we set up such convoluted systems that pretend to access the innovative minds of employees. We make them ‘compete’ with their ideas instead of looking at how the ideas might align to be bigger than anyone imagined. We throw little prizes at them like we’re training seals without stopping to think that just maybe people come alive when given a chance to think and create. And then when you attach… Read more »
John Hennessy
Guest
John Hennessy
15 years 7 months ago

Customer-facing employees know the most about what your customers like and dislike about your company. They also know the true impact of the policies and practices you have in place.

Failing to actively seek input from these employees puts you at a competitive disadvantage. You can’t be with every customer and hear everything. They are and do.

Classifying these employees as “low-level” places a filter on their comments that lessens the potential impact of any input they might provide.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Well done, George, on finding yet another angle to discussing what is apparently a favourite subject amongst us all – how to give power to the people. Put simply, yes, I do believe that actively encouraging employees at all levels to suggest ways of improving the business will achieve positive results for one and all. Surely those execs who know that they should more than occasionally walk the floor recognise this. Seeing and hearing first hand what employees (and customers) think and feel, and the difference between what they say and do, is invaluable.

Two of the points already made also deserve as much support and emphasis as possible. First, Ian is right about not encouraging employees to compete with one another when making suggestions; collaboration would be far more effective as Rick’s brainstorming story illustrates. Secondly, John’s comment about “low level” employees – too patronising an attitude and/or incentive scheme can only encourage people to either keep their ideas to themselves or, as yet another contributor said, use them themselves.

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