Oct 052010

Ever since the word “Truthiness” vaulted into the American vocabulary from an entirely improbable linguistic source, it’s been popping up in my business.

My friend and sometimes gun for hire Chef Claude is involved  in a consultancy right now.   I’ve known Claude since I imported him from a famous Southwest restaurant going nowhere, possibly because Claude had been sold a glamorous and not entirely realistic or truthy  bill of sale by a celebrity chef with too much vision and too few math skills.  Vision is at times a four letter word. Math  skills are essential.  Lack of truthiness is one of the hazards of the industry.

Claude has my absolute respect and trust: He’s the WISYWYG Chef (What you see is what you get),  who plays no games. He knows his profession, is a terrific judge of people,  having in the past twenty years or so fired, hired, trained, and appreciated so many good ones and suffered as many fools and the occasional fiend. He can recombine facts to come to the underlying facts and problems of a business, knows the economy of scale from fine dining to fast food (different processes, different systems, different staff, all of which the restaurant needs to take into account).  Claude is also well known for down to earth and occasionally downright earthy pearls of kitchen wisdom in purest Kitchen Latin. None repeatable here.  He has no ego, but he knows he’s good.  What’s not to like?

I had a client whose chef is “doing a great job, but…”, who is now Claude’s client due  consultant referral service of  ours which could easily qualify as non profit.  Claude, being a pro, has reported back to me with a story that’s not really new.  My/his client’s problems, or better problem,  is a single issue with multiple symptoms.

The chef is not putting in the required hours and is giving a slew of transparent excuses, which Claude interprets as either “Tee Time” or “Wife needs someone to look after the Kid”. Things are not getting done – product not ordered (“I called them three weeks in a row and they were out”, “He didn’t return my call”). Policies are not being followed (“I don’t give them my schedule, so I can keep them off balance”), subordinates are not given tools and instruction necessary for success in his  frequent absences, so the chef says, “They’re not ready yet,” which you can interpret as “You absolutely need me.”  In other words: He lies.

You could make a list of other problems, but Liar sums it up tidily.  Excuses are presented, apparently credibly,  as reasons,  subordinates’ success is hindered, cost is ignored, produce prices not compared.  The well qualified sous is pretty much hog tied by the chefs’ obstructionist behavior in support of  his own indispensability, the food in the chefs’ frequent absences isn’t as good as when he is there, the subordinates are looking for other jobs, the owners are losing money, the produce companies are dissatisfied, because who knows what they have seen of this. This, like any situation where lack of honesty impacts the kitchen, is an onion. Without being there, I guarantee that more will surface as the layers fall away.  Having seen this in other situations, however, I’d say that Claude has a fifty percent or less chance of convincing the owners of what needs to be done.

The owners, says Claude, are terrific and kind people who are reluctant to fire anyone, because the “are our friends”. “No, they’re not”, says Claude. “Your friends don’t lie to you.” I’d add to that that they are caring for the wrong one, doing injustice to the rest.

Here’s what I know. Don’t listen to me, though. Anyone who lies at any time knows how it is done and will do it again. It gets pretty easy after a while.  Liars are bad for your business.   Anyone hiring someone who  lies during the recruiting process will experience problems with them in a position of authority.  There are no exceptions. As I said, don’t listen to me. Find out for yourself.  Why not?

Not only do liars lie and thieves steal, there’s serious crossover in the process. Frequently drugs are involved, quelle surprise.  Everyone has priorities, and it’s rare that the employer’s welfare is on the top of anyone’s list, him/herself having sole rights to that position.  Most people, at least I hope they  make up the majority, follow a set of rules to make sure they do right by their employers, making the employers’ welfare their own. Not so with liars.

Liars on the other hand use their skill to promote their own interests with no regard to their responsibilities towards their employers, always assuming they are smarter and can get away with it. Frequently there’s some form of compassion play involved – his wife is ill, she has had a hard life  – although it’s not a requirement.  (Real professionals manage the same thing by knowing their business and working effectively.) Liars  furthermore are usually not nearly as good as they would have you believe and can often for some time continue to appear, because lying works pretty well, and people with practice get really good at it.

As an employer I’d be insulted, if nothing else.  The employee who is lying to you, providing you with false excuses thinks you are stupid.  It certainly insults me as a recruiter.  I can’t understand why people who find their staff have honesty issues, including those having to do with financial loss, continue to insist that their staff are their friends/family and thus beyond termination. I wonder if they realize that they are not only harming themselves, but the rest of the staff, who have two choices – either join in the game or suffer the consequences of  an uneven playing field, because the one who lies always has the advantage. They’re scared?  They are easily manipulated?

In a world, of course, where obviously a lot  people continue to fall for Nigerian Princes and click on warnings that their bank account is about to be suspended, I suppose it’s possible that some of them run restaurants. At any rate, Claude’s story is too common.

My friend D., whose business it is to pull people’s chestnuts out of the fire after they’ve let a situation like this run on for a while and experience legal consequences at some point, and I sit around our lattes exchanging horror stories likes kid’s around a campfire trembling as the roast  marshmallows to tales of the hand.  They’re titillatingly scary and highly entertaining, and she’s got lots of them.

This story isn’t nearly as exciting as any of hers, but hopefully entertaining. Do with it as you wish. There’s probably  a moral in there somewhere. I am sure there is.