Glenmoor Country Club’s Executive Chef, Penelope Wong, says promising staff members deserve a chance to learn from their mistakes.
As Executive Chef of Glenmoor Country Club (Cherry Hills Village, Colo.), one of my biggest flaws is giving second and third chances. It’s also one of my biggest strengths. My sous would agree that I’m too lenient at times. But it pays off.
When it comes to my staff, I have a tendency to forgive mistakes and offer second chances. Maybe it’s because of my own experience mistakes and—more importantly—learning from them. Quite frankly, there have been times when I’ve kicked myself in the butt for not being more privy to character and demeanor. Other times, I’m proud of and grateful to those I have given second chances.
Right now, one of my best employees is an individual I truly believe has the potential to take his career as far as he would like. He’s talented, motivated and dedicated. And in today’s labor force, he represents a rarity. This same individual has a checkered past and comes with a lot of baggage. When I had first received his resume four years ago, he was writing to me from a halfway house (and not the golf course kind of halfway house.) At the time I thought to myself, “Well, he’ll be a loyal employee if nothing else since he’ll only be allowed to come to work and go back to the halfway house.” Hired in as a seasonal employee for our pool shack, he quickly proved his ability and loyalty as a hard working member of our team. I offered him a year round position. Within the next couple of months, he progressed and learned the different facets of our operations. He mastered each station on the line as well as banquet operations. Then, when he reached a pivotal point of moving up to the next level, he disappeared.
Months and months went by before I heard from him again. But when I did (and with slight hesitation) I offered him another opportunity. This time, his restrictions were a little less severe as he no longer had to report back to the halfway house. He picked up where he left off and once again, he impressed me with his progression as a key player of our team. I took him under my wing, teaching him, working with him one-on-one, pushing him and giving him new challenges. He was eager to accept critique and learn from his mistakes. Then one day, he did it again. He just disappeared. I received news of his consequences and, once again, terminated his employment with us. I even went as far as noting his ineligibility for rehire on his paperwork.
This last time he reached out to me after being otherwise ‘detained’ for the last year and I realized I was glad to hear from him. Something in his voice was different. Perhaps it was his humbleness and his transparency in admitting his mistakes. I offered him another opportunity without hesitation. Today, he is absolutely my strongest line cook.
A couple of months ago, he pulled me aside and asked why I was singling him out and why it seemed as though I was pushing him so much harder than the other cooks. I answered simply, “Because I know you can take it. Because I truly believe you’ve got what it takes to be pushed further to become a great chef.” He looked at me with tears in his eyes, smiled, and said, “Thank you, Chef.”
Yes, he has made his mistakes. But he has paid his dues and he is genuinely trying to move forward into some real positive change for himself and his daughter. Today he is one of my best employees and it’s amazing watching him continue his progression in this industry and grow his knowledge base within our craft.
I’ve hired and rehired him three times. Each time I had to terminate him, I told myself that was his last chance. And I always regretted saying that. I saw his potential from the beginning of his tenure with me nearly five years ago and I didn’t want to give up on him. So I didn’t.
That’s one of the greatest things about this industry. You don’t need the perfect resume or the ideal high school or college curriculum with letters of referral boasting your potential and abilities. The colorful makeup of individuals who make up pockets of hidden talent is vast. You just have to be willing to give them a chance, or two (or three).