Fitting the Big Rocks First

Dec 28, 2021

Cooking is a great tension release practice, is a fantastic way to demonstrate love and care, and is a terrific analogy maker. There is a French expression, mise en place, which means having every ingredient chopped, weighed, and measured and every utensil at hand before starting cooking. This expression perfectly adapts to almost every work situation and, indeed, to good leadership. 

In this episode, we think about how to apply mise en place at work and incorporate this approach into our leadership. We look at a few examples of setting the field to facilitate our job as leaders, make our operations run smoothly, and increase productivity. We learn how to use the French expression in our one-on-one meetings, organize our office, onboard new employees, and even set our new year's resolutions. 

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • About the mise en place concept and leadership principles (2:26)
  • The unwritten instructions for preparing a proper fudge (4:45)
  • How can one-on-one meetings be well prepared and organized and make things run smoother (8:20)
  • How can we make onboarding new associates easier by applying the mise en place concept (13:03)
  • Why do we need to put the big rocks first (16:13)


Let's Connect!


Clint Hoopes: Fixing my one-on-one communication with my team was one of the most impactful things that I did to help that very same team that got the mediocre results, and then truly others since, to exceed our goals. 

Welcome to Flavor of Leadership. With the new year being next week – which I can hardly believe honestly – I am sure you have done some goals or resolutions that you are wanting to reach. And if improving your communication with your team is one of them, you're going to definitely want to check out my one-on-one transformation guide and template that I just released. As I mentioned before on the show, early in my career, I didn't prioritize my one-on-one meetings with my team. And truly the people who paid the price the most for that were my team. I failed as a leader to communicate well and it resulted in mediocre results with, truly, people that were capable of so much more than we accomplished at first. Truly, don’t let this happen to you. Fixing my one-on-one communication with my team was one of the most impactful things that I did to help that very same team that got the mediocre results, and then truly others since, to exceed our goals. The simple things are often where the most impact can happen. And so I put a link in the show notes so that you can take advantage of this while it's still available. It's free. It includes a template that you can use as your own; you can take it, modify it for your team, and like I said, just truly make it your own. The guide that I included with it will also help walk you through some of the important things to consider when using it with your team. So, I hope you enjoy it. 

This template was actually a perfect example of what we're going to be talking about today. And what we're going to be talking about today is called mise en place. I'm probably slaughtering this pronunciation. It’s French, and I speak Portuguese and not French. So, sorry to all of you out there who speak French who are cringing right now. So, mise en place is a French term, that means essentially everything's all prepared, cut, measured, and basically ready to go for cooking. Typically in a commercial kitchen is when it's used. So, the term you know means to have everything in place. It actually looks like that when you look at it. It's written in French but the way that it looks, it looks like the last couple of words say “in place.” That's how I kind of remember what it says. And I tend to remember it and think “Okay, everything is in place. It's prepped. It's ready to go.” In cooking, in commercial kitchens, the way that they have it is it's every little thing is chopped up that needs to be chopped up. If it needs to be measured, it's already measured and sitting in a little container, ready to put into the dish so that everything can be prepared quickly, accurately, and really just done right. 

So, it actually reminded me when I started talking about this and researched a little bit more about mise en place is it made me think about an episode that I did at the end of last year, beginning of this year. I can't remember, honestly. But it's episode number 12. And so episode number 12, we talked about how true leadership principles will lead us to success. And we discussed the topic and I shared my wife, Angela's favorite Christmas tree that she has and that's divinity fudge, which we made actually just a couple of days ago. And I'm sure we'll be making it again, over and over as time goes on. But typically during Christmas time, some combination of my wife, her mother or sister, and how my children will be found in the kitchen, making Aunt Grace's divinity fudge recipe. So, here's the deal. Like many older recipes, this one was passed down from family – Aunt Grace in this case – with a list of ingredients and honestly pretty vague written instructions as the details were usually taught in person so they could get the nuances correct. And so one of the most important pieces of fudge and really candy making, in general, of any kind is, you guessed it, mise en place. It is having everything in order, everything in place before even beginning at all. Because honestly, when you're making fudge or candy, everything has to be perfect. And it has to be added the right time. And the temperature has to be just right. 

So, if you don't have all the tools readily available, it's not going to turn out creamy and perfect, just like we all want when we're talking about fudge. It will crystallize and go hard and nobody likes that. I have to make another side note though before we go on, in case anyone else is distracted by the talk of fudge, like me, I must know that this is not a recipe for traditional divinity. So if you're expecting that, it's not that. I personally don't enjoy divinity very much, but hey, to each their own. So if you like it, enjoy it. This is truly a delicious fudge and it has the texture of fudge. And so it's creamy and delicious. But it does look similar to divinity. So, you know, it's finished with little dollops and have these little beautiful, imperfect swirls like divinity on top. So, I actually included the recipe and directions for this amazing fudge in episode number 12. So, go ahead, check that out, let me know how it turns out for you if you make it. So, even though it's not Christmas time anymore, you can still make the mini fudge anytime. 

So, how do we play all this, mise en place, to our work? You probably already thought of ideas while we've been talking. You’re probably already going around in your head and you're thinking, “Okay, you know what, if I'm trying to get everything in order, gosh, that really could help this thing or that thing.” Like I said, I mentioned at the beginning of the episode that one-on-one meetings are one of the very best ways to have everything prepped and ready to go. This is because you must have a game plan if you want to be successful when doing one-on-one meetings. Really any of your one-on-one interactions that you have with your team, you want to have intention behind it. Earlier in the year, and actually multiple times, we talked about being a Chief Reminding Officer; being the one within your operation that's there, reminding your people, over and over again, the people that you lead, the things that are most important. And so that's a very intentional thing to make sure that that communication truly happens because people need to hear things over and over again. And so you can apply the same thing to your one-on-one meetings. So, your one-on-one meetings right now, they may be maybe just kind of basic. And that's okay. The fact that you're having them at all is a huge win. If you're not having them at all, the good news is you can start immediately. There's no barrier to doing this. You can do it so quickly. A great one-on-one meeting must have a set time in place. This is a big one. Typically having it on a calendar invite is the very best because people can plan, they can know what's coming up. If they have any questions for you or things that they want to discuss, they can know “Okay, I know I have a set time with Joe every single week. And that point, I'll come and bring up some of these questions that I have instead of bothering him right now.” That's what you want. You want people to bring things like that to the meeting. So, if they don't have a set time in place, they're not going to do that. They're going to come to you every time they need you immediately, they're just going to come right to you. And if you don't have a set time in place, that's not consistent, guess what? You're going to have to answer their questions right then on the spot, which will pull you out of your workflow that you already have. Otherwise, you could redirect them and say, “Hey, our one-on-one meeting is tomorrow at 01:30 like we have every week. Let's talk about it tomorrow.” And the person will say, “Fantastic.” Unless it's urgent, that’s something different. But many of these things can wait until these one-on-one meetings. So, that can be a critical part of it. I'm telling you, you don't want to leave this to chance. 

I'm going to read this one more time: put it on the calendar. You're going to say, “Well, my situation is a little bit different.” No, I don't think it is. There might be just one little part. I mean, I'm sure there's an example. But if it's not perfect every time that you're probably thinking “Oh, well, you know, sometimes it's different days we have available, etc.” Do you know what? If 75% of the time it can be on a certain day, great, schedule it. And then once on the schedule, it'll remind you to change it on the weeks that are different. 

Anyway, just my two cents. This is coming from so who has messed this up big time. Also, like I said at the beginning of the show, I failed at this early in my career. I scheduled the meetings, but then we didn't let it happen, and then it kind of became something that just wasn't consistent. And I didn't set the expectations clearly in the meeting. Because that's also one of the most important things is having clear measurement and expectations for the person you're meeting with. You have to have those clear expectations so that it can be super intentional. And that's why I have the one-on-one template that I included. And whatever form you use, it doesn't matter, use might template, use your own, or change mine. But it'll help guide the discussion. And the person like this form, it's not something secret from them, you show them, give them a copy, “Hey, this what we're going to talk about.” And then they know what you're going to talk about. And then that can help you know that like we're saying, as you guide the discussion, it can help ensure that the end result is impactful to the person that you're having the meeting with, it’ll be impactful to you and truly to the organisation as well. So, it's truly a win-win all the way around. 

But I'll tell you, a haphazard one-on-one meeting that maybe even has an unknown length. I don't know how long it's going to be, sometimes it’s short, sometimes it’s long, and the employee just doesn't know. You, as the leader, you just kind of see how you feel that day, depending on how much time you give – gosh! – and you have no clear expectation of what needs to be accomplished. It'll make your employees nervous, it'll make them crazy. And it'll keep them guessing what to expect from you. So, in order for them to stop guessing, you need to tell them what you expect from them. And one of the best ways to do that is in the one-on-one meetings. And honestly, on this form, you can have very clear, “Hey, here are the one, two, or three things that I want you to report on each week. Come take a look.” And so no one wants people to be second-guessing or not knowing. And so a little preparation on your part, which will then expect a little preparation on their part as they come to the meeting, so everyone comes to the meeting better prepared. So, everything's better prepared, and that will make all the difference for the end result of the meeting. So, the meeting should have a great impact for you and for your good employees. It will. And it’ll lead you to the point where they start looking forward to those meetings and not dread them. All because you did a little preparation on the front end. If you and your employees don't look forward to these meetings or if you just want to take them up a notch, then think in terms of mise en place and get everything in order first so that you can make the impact that you want. My template can help get you started on the organization. Otherwise, just start doing these things.

You can apply this principle to other parts of your business as well. Another one that comes to my mind is on-boarding of new employees. Man, this is another place where being prepped beforehand will make the new employee feel so much better. Have any of you had a lackluster onboarding experience? I know I've had one. I had a zinger. And I won't even go into some of the details. But it was underwhelming to say the very least. And honestly, it starts leaving you questioning why you wanted to join that team in the first place. Oh, man, don't be that company. Don't be that leader that leaves it up to chance and just hope that it turns out okay. You don't want to do that because, generally, it won't, unless you prepare beforehand and have everything in place. 

How about in the organization of your office? Ensuring that employees don't have to search for something, especially common items. They can have everything they need ready in their hand, it will help increase productivity and reduce frustration on everyone's part by having things at hand and ready. Have you ever been looking in an office, just looking all over the office just searching and looking for something some super basic like paper clips or copy paper? I mean, it's stupid. It's a waste of time. And you end up being super frustrated and you’re like, “What kind of operation we run in here?” That's what the employees often thing. Something so simple. It doesn't have to take much to get things in order. Just a little intentionality. I'm telling you, there are an infinite number of other applications of this. 

Since next week, is the new year. I'm reminded of actually another application: our goals for next year. Do you have everything in place for the new year? Do you have your goals already set? Maybe you've set them but maybe you haven't done really any meaningful preparations to make sure that you hit the ground running. So, what can you do to ensure that you start out right? There are lots of things. One place to start is that this week if you're off work, I'm sure some of you are off work potentially for this week and others are still working like normal. But generally, depending on your business, generally, it can be a little bit more calm this week, between Christmas and New Year's. And if it is for you, fantastic, take the opportunity to take some time and think about the places where you can put things in place so you can be ready to succeed, ready to hit the ground running. Perhaps this is your chance to take some time to do some annual planning for yourself, for your business. Or maybe it's a chance to intentionally plan out some other parts of your life. Sometimes we just leave some of our personal life, just things to chance. And we just think, “Oh, well, if things aren't too busy sometime in the year, maybe we'll take that vacation with the family, or maybe we'll do some other big thing.” 

I'm telling you, Stephen Covey says this, he says, “If the big rocks don't go in first, they aren't going to fit later.” If you don't put these big rocks, the big things, in your life first, they're not gonna fit later, they really won't. Scheduling a time to take off a week or take off a few days. If you don't put this in your schedule right from the beginning of the year, other people will schedule their things that they find important for you. So, put your important things in first. And then you can make sure that you have that time for you and for your family. 

I love this idea of mise en place and getting things in order. So, I can't wait to hear how you get things in order in your life. Please share them with me. I truly would love to hear how this helps your life. I hope you have a fantastic New Year. And until next week.