What’s wrong with the Ramsay way?

Having studied the chef’s manner over several episodes of the new series of the TV show Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, Jonathan Cormack, a consultant at HR consultancy Hay Group, refutes those who have maligned Ramsay as a bullying ‘one-trick pony’, using coercive management techniques which reflect poorly on him personally and the catering industry as a whole.

Cormack sees Ramsay as a man who possesses a range of leadership abilities, which he puts to good use.  Not only this, but Ramsay is a master of execution and just ‘getting things done’, he says. 

Rather than being a dictator around the kitchen, Cormack points to several instances where Ramsay has purposely sought to build team spirit among his staff, by, for example, involving the whole team in deciding what appears on the menu.

Cormack has also identified that Ramsay uses coaching techniques as part of his management armoury. “Gordon is always encouraging the chef to pass on tips and expertise and asks questions of his staff that show he is trying to understand what motivates the people he works with,” he says.

And, contrary to popular opinion, Cormack says he has noticed Ramsay tries to build rapport with new staff members. He says: “He always starts off the nice guy, and makes them feel at ease, which probably gives him licence to have a shout and bawl later.”

Even the famous Ramsay temper, says Cormack, is used strategically to get results. One scene in the new series, for example, sees Ramsay instructing his front-of-house manager to only use aggression in the right circumstances.

According to chartered occupational psychologist Marc Atherton, Ramsay uses swearing and ranting as a technique to cause people to stop and take stock of what they are doing.

 “He doesn’t micro-manage,” says Atherton. “He let’s people makes their own mistakes and then pulls them up for it. It may look horrible at times, but it’s effective.”

Ramsay, he says, is also a master at seeing the potential in people and by imposing a high standard of quality on the way they work, often enables people to reach that potential.

But HR managers thinking of adopting the Ramsay style in the office had better tread carefully. Just last month a kitchen porter at the Connaught hotel, who claims he was unreasonably abused by some of  Gordon Ramsay’s managers, announced he was suing the chef’s company Gordon Ramsay Holdings.

Partner at law firm Browne Jackson, Iain Patterson, says a  constant barrage of criticism and insults may undermine an employee’s confidence and could lead to accusations of unfair constructive dismissal.

He says: “If a manager’s actions are seen as unreasonable and lead to a breach of confidence – in some cases an employee may resign and sue for compensation.”

Those who insult and swear in the workplace can also very easily stray into discrimination territory if they attack someone’s sex, religion, race or sexual orientation, warns Patterson.

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