A French Chef’s Management Mantra for Perfection and Productivity

chef at work

(CC) Eric McGregor/Flickr

A French chef I once worked with had a management mantra for perfection and productivity that translates beautifully into a business environment. Most chefs are demanding perfectionists by nature, but French chefs are proud to take this stereotype to new heights. This particular chef was no exception: motivation was the employee’s responsibility, not his, and managers were expected to oversee their teams like hawks.

The chef’s favorite activity, it seemed, was finding mistakes. He seemed to delight in them. He’d keep white gloves in his pocket and put them on to test how well the servers cleaned the side station. He’d pore over timesheets to find minute errors in clock-out times. He’d come in at the crack of dawn to give the cleaning crew feedback on their performance. Any infractions warranted a thorough and vocal excoriation of the offender. All of us managers, he’d say, should share his obsession with perfection.

MAH-hree-sah,” he’d tell me [NB: Read the rest in a heavy French accent of your choosing], “I do this because if I find one mistake, there are 20 more mistakes that I didn’t find, and my job is to find them all.”

At the time, I didn’t get the gravity of his management mantra — it just felt like micromanagement, especially considering his prickly leadership style. I didn’t fully understand it until two years ago, when I set out on a mission to cut my 66-hour workweeks down to just 22 hours.

Using my three-step approach (Track, Hack and Attack), I began to analyze my workday, looking for periods of dead or wasted time. I was sporadically great at this analysis, but I’d unintentionally leave out giant blocks of time — time that was, incidentally, wasted on email, social media or in a Reddit time warp. For every productivity “mistake” I made, there were 20 I hadn’t yet identified or fixed.

As you work to boost your efficiency, first recognize your own fallibility and embrace it. Your workflow probably contains dozens of tiny distractions that hamper your effectiveness. Finding these “mistakes” is a good thing. Once you embody that mindset, turning productive practices into habits will become far less daunting.