Feedback you can digest more easily

Currently showing on BBC2 television in the UK is “Masterchef: The Professionals”, an entertaining competition between aspiring young chefs who want to make a career in the restaurant trade.

The young chefs are required to perform various culinary tasks for two judges, Michel Roux Jnr (from London’s famous Le Gavroche restaurant and son of another great chef, Albert), and the fruit and veg expert Gregg Wallace. The competitors are asked to display cheffing skills and prepare both classic and improvised dishes. It is all good enjoyable stuff, if you like that sort of thing.

The highlight for me, though, is the judging. Michel Roux is a slim, intense man, with short grey hair and an equally short, tidy beard. He stares at the hopeful candidates with unsmiling concentration. You imagine that he is going to be remarkably intolerant of any slip-ups or misjudgments.

But when he gives his feedback, he is generous and warm. “The fish is cooked perfectly”, he says, nodding his approval. “If this dish went out from my kitchen I would be entirely happy.”

When things are wrong he says so. “The pasta is undercooked,” he might say, or: “Potato and orange should never be on the same plate.” But the criticism is never personal, or unpleasant. He has very high standards. When they have been met he says so, with real enthusiasm. (Not surprisingly, the young chefs beam with pride when the great Michel declares that he is satisfied.)

Why can’t more managers be like this? Timely feedback is vital. And enthusiasm is a rare and highly valuable commodity, as Tom Peters observed the other day (also, incidentally, in the context of food – the new Julia Child movie).

Ken Blanchard told us years ago that a good manager takes an extra minute to praise somebody when he “catches them doing something right”. Good advice. But he also suggests taking an extra minute to put people right when they have got things wrong.

Feedback is hard to give and even harder to take. Watch Michel Roux Jnr to find out how to do it.

About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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