Originally published in December 2011
Fans of TV reality show Professional Masterchef will have seen Aussie chef Ash Mair win last night in one of the closest finals in the series. What makes this programme different from the normal reality freakshow (e.g The Apprentice) – and a good example of how to manage and develop talent in any industry – is that it takes those who are already trained in their chosen field and sets up a method of developing their talents by giving them real life situations where they are both mentored and challenged to improve their performance.
The selection process is not through interview or psychometrics – the chefs are given a basic skills test before they can progress to actual cooking (scarily, quite a few apparently qualified chefs fail this). They are not only mentored in specific culinary skills by working with Michelin starred chefs, but also learn about customer service and marketing (challenges have included taking over a hospital canteen, and producing menus for children where extra credit is gained for whose dish is chosen most), working with key stakeholders and opinion formers (by cooking for food critics) and benchmarking themselves against the best in the industry.
The key though is that they are always given constructive criticism and challenged to improve, while being given the support to do this. By working with the best, they are then assessed to see what they have learned and pushed to do better. And while there is a competitive edge, both the other finalists (and indeed others knocked out earlier) will also see a tremendous boost to their careers.
At a time when management is being increasingly criticised for poor performance, and businesses need to develop their staff to give them a competitive advantage, perhaps it’s time to look at the Masterchef model as a way to do it.