chef or waitress?

My friend, Joella, once described to me why she was unhappy in a job in the most succinct way I ever heard.  What she said was, “They hired a chef but they wanted a waitress.”  It got me thinking about fit in AEC firms, especially with corporate services (or the pejorative “overhead”) staff.  

Strategy and execution are two different competencies. It can be surprisingly difficult for those hiring marketing folks to consciously understand what they want and, sometimes, for us marketing folks to accurately assess where we excel.   I tend to think of chef and waitress as two ends of a continuum of skills, recognizing that people can fall at either end or somewhere in the middle. 

One might draw a connection between the execution of SOQs, direct mail pieces, press releases, etc.  and the notion of waiting tables.  The waiter/waitress is not necessarily determining what is going to end up on the plate, but is responsible for communicating it, organizing it, making sure all the necessary tools are provided to make it usable, and delivering it in a timely fashion.  In addition, the waitress is accustomed to serving several customers or groups of customers at once, each in various stages of their meal, and ensuring that meals, beverages, and condiments are delivered on time and edible.  Detail orientation, multi-tasking, and the ability to find work arounds and think on one’s feet are all key to success.     

One might also draw a connection between being a strategist and being a chef.  Both are responsible for understanding what’s timely, what’s “tasty”, what kinds of customers one wants to attract, how to combine ingredients to satisfy different palates, how to differentiate one’s place of business from others in the same profession.  Strategy requires one to see beyond today and help guide an organization into a successful future.  One must be able not simply to review data, but to synthesize it, understand it, and see the implications for the future.  One must be able to differentiate fads from trends and to bring out the best in the line cooks and the wait staff.  It’s the “big picture” stuff. 

It’s complicated to determine both what you want and what you need when you’re either hiring for or looking for a job in an industry in which your expertise and the expertise of the person doing the hiring/job seeking don’t line up.  This happens, for example when marketers want to be hired by architects,  When engineers are looking for human resources directors, when a CFO is interviewing at a graphic design firm. 

So, how do you tell what you are and/or what you want? 

  • When chefs guide and waitresses execute it usually works pretty well.
  • When chefs work with other chefs, they do best in a situation of collaboration and mutual respect.  Also true when waitresses work with waitresses.
  • When waitresses lead chefs, frustrations like feeling micromanaged or experiencing unwelcome challenges to one’s authority often crop up.

So, which are you? And if you’re hiring, which one do you really want?

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