Sherry Yard is an award-winning chef, restauranteur and author who has presided over some of America’s most prestigious kitchen staffs. You might recognize her from television, as she’s served as an expert judge on numerous cooking shows. Today, as the chief operating officer of hospitality at the luxury movie chain iPic Entertainment, she’s redefining our notions about cinema cuisine — goodbye, popcorn; hello, “naan-chos.”
Yard is a star, but she didn't reach the upper echelons of culinary celebrity alone. All along the way, she relied on teams of people who helped achieve her vision. As the executive pastry chef at Spago in Los Angeles, Yard’s egalitarian management style was as celebrated as her prize-winning desserts. Even as kid growing up in Brooklyn, she corralled friends into her (profitable) Kool-Aid and cookies start-up venture. Although she’s taken home the prestigious James Beard Award, Yard says she is most proud of her ability to inspire the people around her.
After years of success in the culinary business, she’s discovered a recipe for building imaginative, ambitious teams. Here, Yard talks about seven tried-and-true strategies that will energize a team and give it a stronger sense of purpose.
FEED THEIR BRAINS
I swear by those peel-and-stick dry erase sheets. For executive team meetings, we’ll throw them on the wall and write up our goals and initiatives. But I especially love using these in our kitchens, where we put up a “Word of the Day” — because learning is growing!
BE ON THE OFFENSIVE
Be proactive about creating a happy work environment for your team. Don’t wait until morale has gone south to think about what people might need to feel happy and fulfilled.
DOLE OUT TREATS (EDIBLE OR NOT)
Part of my role at iPic is to give my team something to look forward to. When I first started here, one of my general managers mentioned that he loved doing employee raffles during the holiday season. We tried it, and it worked so well that now we do them all year long! If you come in early, work late, or do good for someone else, you get a ticket. Winners are encouraged to share and trade their prizes, which encourages them to engage and open up about their interests.
HIRE THE CURIOUS ONES
The most inspiring members of any team are usually the most curious and observant. Ask every interviewee: “Why do you want to be here?” Hire the cook who answers, “Because I want to know what’s in that chicken recipe,” or the front-of-house person who answers, “I like the mix of people who come here, and I want to be around like minded people.”
CELEBRATE STRONG FEELINGS
When emotions flare among my team members, I always look at the positive: If tension is coming from passion, that’s a good thing! I try to listen to what’s being said, not how it’s being said. If I can empathize, I can direct that passion somewhere productive — whether into a new dish, a new skill, or even a better-suited department.
GEEK OUT ON SYSTEMS
I worked at McDonald’s when I was young; I’m very proud of that. I loved the sense of urgency, the camaraderie and the systems! I’m addicted to systems, and perfecting them for everything — from sweeping a floor to butchering a chicken to taking reservations. When expectations and processes are flawless and transparent, a team is freed up for creativity.
In life we always need something to look forward to. At iPic, my role is to foster an element of surprise for both my guests and my team members. By creating a new candy bar or adding a giant hamburger (with a bib) to the menu, we’re keeping it fresh, making twists and turns. And that’s inspiring to the team. It’s all about, “What’s next?”