What is the big leadership lesson in a Chinese takeaway?

What is the big leadership lesson in a Chinese takeaway?

By Rachel Stone


The seductive temptation that a takeaway offers can teach us all a crucial lesson in leadership behaviour. The glorious satiation of hitting that spot with what you crave! It’s right up there. It’s part of our culture in many ways. It is unusual to know of someone who has never experienced a takeaway food experience.

Whatever your reasons for calling up for a take out you most likely know you will get what you want. Whether it’s a late night rush to unexpectedly grab something quickly, or a planned social occasion with best mates round for a good night in, you generally are satisfied. You use the suppliers you like best and they give you want you want. It is an exchange that works. In that moment your desires have been satisfied. It’s a fairly simple process that happens millions of times every day.

I love spending time investigating what works well and what does not. For most people, most of the time, the takeaway routine is an example of something which works well. If it didn’t, you would stop using that provider. Think how disappointing it can be if you are expecting king prawn balls and you end up with steamed broccoli! So what is the key to this success?

The relationship between you and the supplier may not be a very deep one, but it is a successful one. You most likely hardly know the person at the other end of the line. But it works.

A common frustration I hear in organisations is when problems occur that result in a right old mess. Confusion, recriminations, blame, scapegoating, emotional baggage and much more all fall out of unsuccessful situations. I spend a lot of time working with excellent companies, but even then there always plenty of examples of when communication goes wonky.

Poor communication is the single most important factor in any unsuccessful business situation. Everything stems from communication. You can’t do anything without it.

Yet there is a simple way to minimise the impact of this and to create some great habits in your organisation. This can easily be done by using the takeaway model.

When you think about the routine of placing your takeaway order, it goes something like this:

“Hello can I place and order please?” you ask

“Yes certainly. What would you like?” they reply

“Number 11, number 24, 2 lots of number 32 and a 46” you reel off.

This is the important bit, because they don’t say, “Thanks very much it will be ready in 15 minutes. How would you like to pay?”

They do say “OK, so you’d like one number 11, 2 number 32s and one number 46, is that correct?”

And here’s the BIG LESSON!   They check and clarify before they do anything else. They do this because they can’t afford to make a mistake. They value your order and they want to please you so that you keep coming back.

It is surprising how many leaders do not use this bit of communication technique when working with their teams.

You have something really important to tell someone, which will move your organisation forwards towards its objectives. The stakes are high. The value is huge. The time is short.

You pass on the details and move on.

Then you come back with an expectation that things will happen how you expected them to.

They don’t always. It’s frustrating, time consuming and costly.

The costs are mostly obvious, but there are also many hidden elements.

If your staff let you down they usually will feel awful. This will impact on their productivity. That costs you. They feel bad.

If only you could adopt the Chinese takeaway model when giving information to your staff!!

How great would it be if you built in a listening culture? What about if you could create an atmosphere where you check and clarify so that everyone is 100% clear?

Of course you don’t want to give your staff the impression that they don’t listen and they are not clever enough to know what you mean when you are telling them something important, but when have to ever really stopped to check that what you think in your head is what actually comes out of your mouth – AND what has been said has been interpreted in the right way?

What you don’t say is “Right, what did I just tell you?!”

I have worked with many very successful leaders who have improved by taking time to embed “Check and Clarify” into their business culture. Two wonderful side effects come out of adopting the Chinese takeaway routine.

Firstly when people know you will ask them to feedback what you have said they will take even more care to listen properly. Secondly they will tell you what you said and that might not be what you meant, (!) you get better at making what is in your head come out of your mouth!

To do this you have to declare that you are working on YOUR communication skills and you are checking that WHAT YOU SAY IS CLEAR (not that you are doubting them). As a truly great leader it always starts with you. It is you who needs to model excellent communication.

“I’m going to ask you to feedback what you have understood so that I am sure I am being an excellent communicator”.

So next time you have something important to talk to your team about, build in the check and clarify routine, just like the people do when you order a takeaway!

This big bit of leadership improvement is free and will save you time, money and gain you respect if you deliver it properly.


If you’d like to find out more about developing growth in your business through expert leadership skills please do not hesitate to call 01424 830000 or email rachel@rsegroup.agency




About RSE Group

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