Business Advice

Be explicit about what you care about

Michel Hogan /

Reading the May edition of Gourmet Traveller magazine provided an unexpected example of the discipline of putting your identity to work for a brand result people care about.

It was an excerpt from the book Brae about the famed Victorian restaurant of chef Dan Hunter, who writes dos and don’ts for his kitchen. The list begins, “Please … do wash before you arrive at work in the morning”, but quickly gets past the personal into the nitty gritty of ensuring the people in the kitchen are working with the intensity and excellence he demands.

The exhaustive list continues, “…don’t ask me to taste something you haven’t tasted yourself, … don’t walk past something on the floor and not pick it up, … don’t put hot things in stupid places, do let everyone know if you put something hot in a stupid place, … do clean up relentlessly in service…”.

The list finishes with the encouragement: “Do try to not always critique other chefs, just enjoy the differences out there”.

It is worth reading the whole article as a rare example of someone making what they care about explicit and concrete. Someone who wasn’t 100% focused on doing their best would have no chance of surviving in Hunter’s kitchen. The expectation of rigorous attention is clear.

He could have just said, “take care of your work space and stay on top of things”. But the detail is compelling. There is no room for ambiguity. He knows what he requires of his team and uses tangible, everyday examples to make it clear. And although I’m sure things are not included, it would be impossible to miss the message — this is what we care about around here, ignore it at your peril.

I’m not suggesting you go off and make and exhaustive list of dos and don’ts for your organisation (though it might not hurt to list a few). In your place, the dos and don’ts might look more like the Valve employee manual encouraging freethinking and individuality. That’s fine too. The point is their language and intent is still explicit; no mindreading or divining rod needed to figure it out.

It doesn’t matter which end of the spectrum you fall on, or even if you are somewhere in the middle. If you haven’t even taken the time to think about the standard you expect, if you can’t provide examples of it that people can understand and follow, if you aren’t explicit about what you care about and make it visible and tangible for your team, both in what you tell them and what you show them, then you can’t expect them to do it. No matter what ‘it’ is.

If you want them to do the work in a certain way, you’ve got to tell them what the way is. And when you use your foundation identity of purpose and values to shape it, you get a terrific restaurant people will drive hours to visit, or you become a maker of great computer games, or simply a brand people care about.

See you next week.

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Michel Hogan

Michel Hogan is an independent brand thinker and adviser dedicated to helping you make promises you can keep and keep the promises you make — with a strong, resilient organisation and brand as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com.

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