We need a Gordon Ramsay approach to Diversity…

If you don’t know the premise behind Gordon Ramsay’s very popular series – Ramsay‘s kitchen nightmares – it’s a simple formula: struggling restaurant invites Gordon into their business in a last ditch attempt to stop it from going under. Most of these restaurants have previously been very successful but have recently fallen on hard times. The owners of the restaurants – who on the face of it appear to be competent and rational folks – are at their wits end and struggle to articulate why things are so bad. 

Enter Gordon. What’s important about the way Gordon addresses the issue is in his execution. He doesn’t bring in a large team of food scientists. He doesn’t spend weeks pouring over the numbers, analysing the covers, food costs, foot fall etc and then come back with a master plan. No, he goes through the business like a dose of salts and focusses on only three or four very simple, obvious but critical things. That’s pretty much it. And he does it in a matter of hours/days. In doing so, there are three strategies he employs that stand out to me:

He forces the restauranteur to face the brutal facts. Most commonly:

  • The menu is too long and or the served dishes are awful
  • The service is poor and is putting customers off
  • The kitchen is usually extremely dirty and hasn’t been cleaned in years
  • The raw ingredient foods are usually held in extremely unhygienic conditions, out of date, rancid and generally not fit for human consumption.

His style is to be completely direct, sometimes quite harsh about it, which is understandable when you consider how competent these people appear to be yet they can’t even address the basics. It’s not wonder he gets a little hot under the collar. Even more so when they try and justify why the chicken has been sitting on the shelf since last Wednesday!

These things are the fundamentals and the owners are, in the main, not stupid. They know, yet they are in total denial. So much so they are about to lose their livelihood but simply throw their hands up or look to blame others for the reasons why. But Gordon is relentless. He pulls no punches and doesn’t let them off. He’s not intimidated at all and won’t give up until he gets through the denial.

He levels the playing field – in all the episodes I’ve watched it’s extremely rare for Gordon to recommend that anyone leaves the restaurant, especially up front. He talks to everyone, asking their opinion. He never judges them. Yes, he calls a lot of folks some really bad names! But he never holds a grudge and more importantly, whilst he mercilessly breaks people down, he also builds them back up.

He seems to believe in everyone and it’s an exception for him to give up on someone. No matter how incompetent some appear to be, he gives them all a chance to get better, if they want to. He does an amazing job of removing the barriers to peoples self motivation and them being able to do the job, rather than try and motivate them himself or force then to do something ‘his way’

He never resorts to “training” – It would be simple for Gordon to come in, taste the food etc then jump immediately to training – “I’ll show you how to prepare goat food and serve people properly.” The problem with that approach is that the kitchen would remain a health hazard and the calamari would still be rotting away in the fridge. He knows very well that training alone very rarely works.

Unless you fix the fundamentals, there is no point in trying to shift things through training. This is why he doesn’t reconfigure the menu and train the chefs etc on how to prep the food until the fighting is over. 

Here’s how I think these relate to the current challenge of tackling DEI in business:

We are in denial about the current issues around Diversity inside business. We have been discussing Diversity for decades yet little changes. The fundamentals are not rocket science, and whilst on the surface leaders talk a good game, deep down the chicken is rotting away in the kitchen. Intention is one thing, action is another. We need leaders to confront the brutal facts about Diversity, or rather lack of it, in their organisations.

We continue to have a myopic view of ’talent’. Talent is abundant. Opportunity is not. We have become so obsessed with external hiring and seeing ’talent’ as something that is scarce and only attributable to a tiny percentage of the employee population. Performance is a multi faceted thing and it takes exceptional and open minded leadership to recognise the talent in everyone and allow them to reach their potential.

Unconscious Bias training isn’t the answer. The fashionable de-facto go to in response to any Diversity issue isn’t working, and doesn’t work unless you address the fundamentals. Face the brutal facts. It might be useful to raise awareness, but it is impotent in a world where we are largely still in denial about why discrimination in business is still a huge problem.

Of course, there is one difference between Gordon’s failing kitchens and your average organisation with a poor diversity scorecard; If the restaurant doesn’t up its game quickly, it will go out of business. Unfortunately, the same is not true of your average corporate. I can run a ‘good’ business, a global one, employ many thousands of people, deliver products and services and make a profit. All while having a really poor record of diversity and inclusion. I can choose to ignore all the significant commercial and societal benefits that having a more fully diverse and inclusive business would bring. There is no compelling imperative that would force me to do so. In terms of moving the Diversity agenda forward, it would seem that Good is indeed the enemy of Great.

I can’t help wondering if we are missing something here? What is it that prevents huge numbers of sane, rational and intelligent people from seeing issues that others consider obvious? Why do we continually fail to recognise and nurture the innate talents of the people around us, seeing past their skin colour or sexual orientation or disability? What prevents them from seeing the huge opportunities that fixing these issues can bring – socially, commercially and personally – for what in reality is a low effort fix.

“Creating a more diverse organisation is not f**cking rocket science”

as Gordon would (probably!) say…

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