Is your dining experience reflected in your staff culture?

Aged care dining staff culture fish rots from head

There is a saying The fish rots from the head.  Board and leaders set the tone within the company.  Does your dining experience reflect your real culture?
I recently caught up with a colleague who had just installed some kitchen equipment in a residential aged care facility and trained the staff.  He reflected “If they were my staff, I would sack ’em”.  I knew those staff loved their residents, strived to meet their needs and knew what they loved and loathed.  Those staff were changed fatigued, they had hours robbed from their shifts, they rarely saw management but got constant memo orders of what not to do, their good ideas went nowhere.  I understood their indifference.
When I ring an aged care provider or visit their head office or facility, I hear and see what the real culture is like.  Sometimes it is far removed from the vision and values I first read on the website and in the foyer.
When I ring a central number, the “welcome officers” at the call centre ask Are they expecting your call? Do they know you? Have they spoken to you before? What is your call about? How do you know them?  I respond by asking them about their typical day and how are they geared to cope with the myriad calls coming through about many complex and emotional issues.  I also witness amazing personalised service. I thought one call ended up with the personal concierge of a senior manager at a large provider. No, “just the receptionist”, but I felt really special and acknowledged.  The effort that went into looking after me was exceptional.
When I sit waiting for an appointment, your culture shines through in the staff interactions, whispers, engagement, friendliness, etc.  As I travel nationally, I occasionally find myself unexpectedly near a facility I have longed to visit.  If time, I pop in to say hi and introduce myself – and get a glimpse of the culture.  Sometimes the response is – the manager and chef are too busy, you need to make an appointment and give weeks notice.  I love the others who dash out, say they are on the run but great to meet you, lets catch up again and love to show you around. That’s all I needed.
I recently caught up with a new Linked In connection, a young Chef from a different culture. Wow! He loved his residents, sought to personalise their experience and took resident issues to management with a solution. He had a manager who trusted and supported him.  Together they pondered how can we get the best outcome for this person?

This followed another visit to an organisation with a great reputation. The 2 catering managers I saw spoke as one. They finished each others sentences, were full of energy and dreamed huge!   Their main facility was massive, but there was nothing mass produced or institutional about the service and dining experience. Their Chef in the kitchen – Wow! Cool, calm and had time for a chat.  The culture was not only immersed in the staff I saw, they drove the culture even further.

Shortly after I went to a very well known group, who had a Festival open day. I felt privileged to be there and changed my travel plans to be in the right place at the right time.  As I wandered round, I was disappointed that I wasn’t greeted or spoken to. I saw staff chatting with each other, but no engagement with me or other public on the day.  While there, I asked if I could have 2 minutes with the Facility Manager and/or the Chef, as I continually hear amazing things about the meals.  I said I was visiting from Brisbane and came to the open day. No, I was told, you need to book well in advance, you cant expect to see them. I felt dissonance between their website words and action.  I left, tail between my legs.

Lately I have been noticing “hard boundaries” around the dining experience. Staff must stick to an exact menu, everyone has to do the same thing at the same time, economies of scale dictate minimal variance. The tighter the boundary it seems the poorer the outcome. And no one I speak to is happy – residents, family, management, staff.

Many of the 45+ “functional stakeholders” I have counted that can support or thwart a meal are ignored. Until they are brought into the equation, there can be an ouroboros effect, where solving one problem can create many others.  Do you know who your 45 functional stakeholders are?

A starting point with your dining experience is matching your culture to your vision and values. Often I see a lag, where corporate words are not yet reflected in staff actions.  If there is dissonance between how management behave and what you expect of your staff, expect your staff to fail.

Are you struggling to achieve the dining experience you dream of? Lets explore these issues more.

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