Think Tank

Mar 28, 2020, 23:41
Think Tank Resolutions For 2019

Think Tank Resolutions For 2019

03 January 2019

The most important director’s task is thinking beyond today’s chaos and planning for the best future culinary program. Paul Sorgule provides stepping stones to achieve strong program plans.

By Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC

This is the time of year when we reflect on where we are, what we have done, what we ignored, where we could be, and how we might change. If you are like most (myself included) it becomes all too easy to make personal promises and proceed finding ways to ignore them as the year goes on.

Exercise more, lose weight, eat healthy, don’t judge others, take more time for family, save money, waste less, and the list goes on – these are common additions to New Year’s Resolutions lists. How did that work out for you in 2018? What we tend to ignore is building in the time and commitment for the resolutions we made. We forget to build in measurement and reward, and as a result find numerous reasons to put these promises aside in favor of the immediate.

Deans and directors tend to look at January as the beginning of the countdown to the end of another school year. There are so many tasks on your To Do list that it doesn’t seem possible anything other than what is in front of you could ever hit that priority list. We struggle to fit in faculty evaluations, building next year’s budgets while justifying the one that will end, preparing for graduation, creating analytical reports for various committees, and surveying various stakeholders finding out how we are doing. There is also the constant challenge of working with admissions to meet enrollment goals for the next year.

How can we possibly put on our future thinking cap? Yet, I must implore you to consider thinking beyond today is the most important task for deans and directors. Tomorrow is not that far off and we all know culinary education and foodservice work is facing major challenges now and just around the bend.

There has never been a more important time to think about tomorrow and build in measureable, timely, and aggressive resolutions to accomplish in the coming year. If you are struggling with what those resolutions might be – here are a few suggestions:

Think beyond today
Living in the moment sounds nice. “Don’t Worry - Be Happy”1 was a song that put a smile on our face a few years back. “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”2 was a best-selling book. “Tomorrow May Never Come”3 gave us a pause in thinking. But, tomorrow will come and with it a real need for leadership and the willingness to change. Start your resolutions with a commitment to an open mind about tomorrow and the planning that must ensue.

Invest in myself
You will never build an environment of change without first investing in building your own base of knowledge about what is around the corner. Deans and directors need to make the time to engage with others in their field, attend conferences and workshops, build a network of future thinkers, and read, read, read. Make the time every day, week, and month and invest in yourself.

Invest in the team
Share the insight you gain, pass on those connections, and find the resources to build a platform of understanding among your team members. Just because you say they need to change doesn’t mean they will. Your faculty and staff need to feel the need, see what others are doing, and experience the results before they willingly embrace the need to do things differently.

Listen more intently
Listen to a variety of people on what is taking place, what problems exist, and the approach they suggest in finding solutions. Seek out their input and really listen. Talk with employers, directors from other cutting-edge programs, industry leaders, chefs, alumni, students and faculty. This is such an important part of your job. The best ideas need not originate with you – you are the portal to bring those ideas to the surface regardless of where they come from.

Create partnerships
Culinary education is best presented as a partnership between industry and schools; between faculty and administrators; between advocates for change and those who are cautious about change for the sake of change. Pledge to invest the time and energy in building platforms for these partnerships to exist. Remember the rules of real teaching according to Benjamin Franklin, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn (and become advocate).”

Look around – seek out future indicators
One of the many things that differentiate a faculty member from a director is the scope of their attention and engagement in the macro environment that impacts teaching. Deans and directors need to pay attention to the economy, demographics, change indicators in the food industry, employment statistics, and paradigm shifts in various industries from transportation to housing and banking to healthcare. Every ancillary industry has a direct or indirect impact on our ability to teach, to fill classrooms, and provide assurance that our graduates can be gainfully employed.

Be an advocate for change
One of the hardest tasks of any leader is to not only accept, but advocate for proactive change. Change is tough and it is never fully embraced by anyone, including those who profess to relish moving in a new direction. Those industries that fail to understand this are far too frequently caught in a vortex of negative results.

Live excellence
Stand on a soapbox and through your own actions demonstrate whatever is done within the program that sits on your shoulders will be done with an attitude of excellence. There can be no room for mediocrity in a highly competitive environment that takes no prisoners. Live excellence every day in the classroom, in the lab, in the restaurant, with connections to alumni and employers, in how everyone interacts with every stakeholder, and how you and the school build the culinary brand that will define you to the general public.

Think brand difference
Know that nearly every culinary program in the country is built around a cookie cutter approach toward what is taught, how it is taught, and how it is evaluated. In a highly competitive environment – how will you stand out? Why would a student choose your program over another? Why would an employer consider hiring your graduates over those from another school? Why might a manufacturer desire to invest or contribute to your program when there are hundreds of other programs following the same model? Make 2019 the year when you begin to look for your niche, your competitive difference, and your real brand.

Build value measurements that exceed expectations
How much an education costs should never be strictly measured by what you charge. The measurement should be defined by what that education is worth in the long run. What did students learn, experience, and what unique skills did they acquire that set them apart? How proactive is the school in helping graduates find the best jobs with the greatest potential? How involved does the school stay with students after they graduate? These are value measurements that supersede the base cost of an education.

Don’t let the roadblocks get in your way
We all know that post secondary education is famous for bureaucracy and the numerous roadblocks that seem designed to slow down change and discourage new thinking. Be the director that understands the environment but never lets the roadblocks stop you. Be persistent, do your homework, build alliances, develop convincing arguments, and never succumb to those who resist what you know is right.

Lead where you can, follow when it makes sense
The need for leadership in all industries has never been greater. Every organization needs committed, intelligent and persistent leadership. At the same time, it is an organized followership that get things done. Followers need leaders and that is exactly where you should live. There may be times when compromise and following the lead of others is necessary, but never allow this to be an excuse.

Take the time NOW to build your own list of resolutions and do so with a system of checks and balances in place to keep you on track. Ask the question every day, “Is what I am doing right now bringing me any closer to meeting the future goals of the program?” If not, then re-adjust. Don’t delay, do it today. 


“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

1 = Don’t Worry – Be Happy, by: Bobby McFerrin
2 = Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, by: Richard Carlson
3 = Tomorrow May Never Come, by: The Spinners

Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC, president of Harvest America Ventures, a mobile restaurant incubator based in Saranac Lake, N.Y., is the former vice president of New England Culinary Institute and a former dean at Paul Smith’s College. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..