Thanksgiving is coming right up. As modern, change-embracing trend-setters, I know you and your fellow members of the KJR community will be taking advantage of convection ovens to cook your birds faster than your parents achieved with their quaint conventional roasting technologies.
No? You don’t use a convection oven? Me neither. But if you’re like me, you’ll warm up your leftovers in the microwave.
Microwave ovens were hugely successful. Convection ovens weren’t. Recognizing why will make you and your teams more successful in rolling out the incipient changes you’re championing.
When microwaves first appeared on the scene (the ovens, that is, not the 300 MHz to 300 GHz electromagnetic radiation, which after all appeared on the scene shortly after the universe got started) … where was I?
Oh, yes, when microwave ovens appeared on the scene, Americans had already embraced convenience foods, whose principle attractions were (1) they were packaged as single portions so everyone could eat what they were in the mood for; (2) they needed far less effort to prepare (none) than the equivalent meal made from a recipe (between some and a lot); and (3) they were ready to eat far more quickly than the equivalent meal made from scratch.
Convenience foods might not have been as tasty as home-cooked meals, but they were palatable enough that the convenience outweighed the difference for many households on many evenings.
The microwave made convenience foods even more convenient, along with the salutary speed they brought to defrosting frozen food and the ease with which they warm coffee that’s become lukewarm.
Speaking of which, excuse me a moment …
Compare microwaves to convection ovens. Convection ovens are for cooks, not for folks heating prepared meals. For cooks they speed up baking and roasting by maybe 25%. That’s nice but not transformational. And it added enough uncertainty that cooks couldn’t rely on the conversion charts that came with the convection oven.
They also couldn’t rely on their experience … their feel for conventional cooking, refined over a lifetime of kitchen endeavor.
Convection cooking either meant abandoning recipes collected and practiced over years, decades, even generations in favor of those in a convection oven cookbook. Or else it meant subjecting every recipe to trial and error to get the convection time and temperature right.
And oh, by the way, the cook doesn’t have the luxury of serving a few burned or undercooked meals to the family while getting the hang of the new appliance.
This meant cooks, faced with a convection oven, had to start over. I, faced with a microwave and a frozen burrito, did not.
One more bit of information: Convection ovens haven’t been a dismal failure. They’ve been a dismal failure in the home marketplace, but as I learned while researching this article, they’re quite popular in commercial kitchens.
This makes perfect sense. When you’re running a restaurant, cutting baking and roasting cycle time by 25% or more means delivering meals to customers that much faster, which in turn means turning over tables by roughly the same amount.
Which, following the logic chain to its unavoidable conclusion, means that comparing otherwise identical restaurants, one using convection ovens has 25% more capacity than a competitor that uses conventional ones, with no loss of meal quality.
Of course restaurants learned to use convection ovens. They couldn’t afford not to. And their chefs were (and are) developing new recipes all the time. Developing them for convection ovens took no more effort than developing them for conventional ones.
> A major cultural change had preconditioned the home-kitchen marketplace, plowing the metaphorical field for microwave ovens. Convection ovens had no such advantage.
> Convection ovens made competent cooks less competent. Microwaves might have encouraged laziness and less discerning palates, but their only impact on home cooks was to make convenience foods even more convenient, thereby letting them off the hook for even more meals.
> In commercial situations, convection ovens offered direct financial benefit, with few or no serious negatives for the chefs.
Ask your change teams: Are their plans consistent with business culture? Will they make change targets’ lives better in some easily explained way? Enough better to offset their short-term loss of competence, if it’s going to have that effect?
Because when it comes to making change happen, business benefit might be the goal.
But it has little impact on success.