Dining invests in staff through Day of Learning

Author: Reggie Kalili



Campus Dining leadership switched things up on Friday, Aug. 3. For the first time in the department’s history, they shut down operations to offer the staff a full-day, on-campus conference called the Day of Learning.

No one went hungry in their absence. Four food trucks pulled onto campus to feed the lunch crowd, a fun alternative on a summer Friday afternoon.

The day had been in the works for more than two years, after the department had gone through an Organizational Design and Analysis (OAD) that led to the transformation of Food Services to Campus Dining. The transition was more than a name change. From the OAD emerged a new way of thinking that recognized the department’s most important asset is its people.

“We created the Hospitality Training and Development team in response to feedback from our listening sessions and NDVoice,” notes Chris Abayasinghe, senior director of Campus Dining. NDVoice is a survey that measures staff engagement in their jobs and work environment.

“The Hospitality Training and Development team is empowered to develop strategy and content to lead our staff on important items such as training, talent development, safety, culture and engagement. We invest in our people on a daily basis through these ways and many more,” he says.

As director of hospitality training and development, Lisa Yates leads the team.

“Campus Dining is proudly a service department. We have an outward focus. Our goal is to deliver a high level of service to our students, faculty, staff and guests,” she says.

“But the Hospitality Training and Development team knew we needed to take a timeout and focus inwardly,” she adds. “We wanted to demonstrate to Campus Dining staff just how important they are. So, we began to consider ways we could close our operations for the day and bring our entire team together for the very first time.”

Organizers were intentional in choosing the content for the Campus Dining Day of Learning. They referred to data from the 2016 NDVoice report, which revealed Campus Dining staff felt the following areas needed improvement: Training and Development, Respect and Fairness, Effectiveness, Leadership and Accountability.

“We have been working especially hard the last 18 months: listening to our staff, responding to their feedback and developing action plans. While we are making progress, we still have work to do. We wanted to continue this work in our Day of Learning,” says Yates. 

To encourage open dialogue, rather than conduct sessions themselves, Campus Dining leadership sought out facilitators from across campus to lead breakout sessions. Speakers from Human Resources, the Mendoza College of Business, the Hesburgh Library, the Office for Information Technologies and the Office of Continuous Improvement volunteered their time and facilitation expertise. 

“I enjoyed having the opportunity to facilitate and participate in the breakout sessions,” says Marcy Simons, an assistant librarian and learning and organizational effectiveness consultant. “It was exciting to be a part of the day and witness how Campus Dining leadership and the staff are committed to engage in dialogue and discussion.”

The event also addressed how to develop a positive work culture. National speaker Jim Knight led the keynote session titled “Creating a Culture that Rocks!” Knight, who calls himself a culture catalyst, is a former executive for Hard Rock International. His high-energy message hit home. One respondent to a staff survey about the event said, “He was really able to connect with the crowd, regardless of the various roles people have in our organization.”

At the end of the day, the Campus Dining staff were invited to the football field where they posed for photos, tossed around the football and shared social time with colleagues and new friends. For Julie Buck, manager of South Dining Hall, “it was the first time I have been on the football field in my 44 years of working at the University. The Day of Learning was something we will never forget and I am excited for the next one.”

That’s right. Campus Dining has committed to making this all-day investment in their staff an annual event.

“We are excited to develop next year’s Day of Learning with the feedback and suggestions from staff,” says Yates. “The Auxiliary Operations division, of which Campus Dining is a part, is committed to demonstrating that people matter. The day is just one way we can show our team that people are the heart of our organization.”

By the numbers:
530 employees in attendance
14 facilitators from across campus
1 keynote speaker
3 general sessions
12 breakout sessions
4 food trucks to feed campus


Feeding campus without Campus Dining
Until Aug. 3, Campus Dining had never closed operations. When approached with the request to close Campus Dining down for a Day of Learning, Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves immediately approved it. “He fully supported our commitment to our team,” says Dave Harr, associate vice president for Auxiliary Operations. The leadership team then began to identify a date that would be the least impactful to the campus community based on historical data. “Once we determined the date, we wanted to ensure that campus had alternative dining options. We invited in four local food trucks, which was a unique alternative that was very popular,” says Chris Abayasinghe, senior director of Campus Dining.