SHN DISHED: Navigating the Roadmap to Technology Adoption Excellence

SHN DISHED: Navigating the Roadmap to Technology Adoption Excellence

This article is sponsored by U.S. Foods. This article is based on a Senior Housing News discussion with Sean Rowe, President and CEO of MealSuite, and Tess Sutter, Manager of Menu Solutions at U.S. Foods. This discussion took place on May 17, 2024 during the SHN DISHED conference. The article below has been edited for length and clarity.

Sean Rowe: The reality is technology is entirely changing the way that we, as businesses, are operating, the way that we interact with our residents, the way that we interact with our staff. It’s critical. We’ve never seen so much interest in just technologies and menu systems and point of sales in the last eight years as we have in the last eight months.

There’s a lot of things that can go wrong with this stuff. Technology is a journey, and sometimes it does strange things. OpenAI made an announcement this week with their new model, they called it their new GPT model, which will change the way that we interact. As a part of this, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing a lot of these things come to fruition.

Tess Sutter: We’ve seen thousands in our roles. Some have been perfect, some have been pretty good, some have been expensive paperweights, just sitting there. Let’s imagine we’re all on this bus together. Some of you might be excited. Some of you are, like, “Great, I need a break. It’s Friday, let’s go somewhere.” Some of you might be, like, “Where are we going?” This is what happens so many times when you’re implementing technology.

Then you have these individuals on the bus or the individuals after the sale on a kickoff call, and they’re, like, “Wait, what? This is what I have to do. I have to do XYZ in two days.” Then we see crying, then we see people quitting their jobs. You really have to ensure you have the right people joining the bus and knowing where the bus is going to be successful.

Rowe: The reality is we want to know what’s coming next. Life is scary. We want to be in control of these environments. Far too often, what we see is a lack of what we call internal due diligence.

The best operations and the best projects that we’ve seen are when people take the time to first look at all their internal stakeholders and put in the extra 30 to 40 hours to truly work and map out what is important to them. I’ve seen groups go to each team and find out what they want, need, and what’s most important to them.

What they did from that is they built a comprehensive list of all the must-haves, nice-haves. Then they actually shared that with all the vendors before the process started. Every vendor went into it with a demo script, and they were expected to go through and actually show the flow and proof that they could effectively execute on the entire flow. They had representatives from every single one of those teams there and present so that they could weigh in or challenge or ultimately even change their mind on what that selection process went.

That made it really easy, because as a vendor, it’s almost like you’re going through the kickoff process that often happens after the sale closes. Then, we were able to start the project on a much more successful first foot because we already knew and already had those relationships, but more importantly, knew what was important to every single team and knew how we were going to approach that particular phase of the project.

Sutter: Phase 1, if you do it right, you’re great, but where are we on our journey with the bus? I still haven’t really told you where we’re going. We’re going to go on a hike. Let’s go to the mountains.

Some of you are going to join me on this bus. Some of you are going to be hesitant. That’s what happens once the technology is decided upon in an organization and then starting to be implemented.

Think about even in your personal lives. I feel like we’re getting an update to our phones like every other week. Sometimes, I’m like, “Heck yes, this is the coolest update ever.” Other times, I’m like, “I don’t know how to learn this.” That’s what your staff is feeling every single day when you think about implementing technology.

Rowe: I’ve seen people completely break down at that moment. Our brains are naturally wired to not want to change anything.

Think about how that goes—how hard it is to change the direction once it’s already been set. Our brains are always thinking of the worst-case scenario.

Think about when you were learning to drive a vehicle, how overwhelming it was every moment. You couldn’t think about two things. You’re panicked the entire time. Now, think about the last time you were driving and were you actually even really thinking about what you were doing while you were driving? You were probably thinking about something completely different. That’s those neural pathways that are formed, which then save that energy.

That’s why you’re going to see hesitation, and that’s where buy-in and building excitement is about disarming the brain to reduce the anxiety around change.

When you have a team that’s there, you have to go in and think about it psychologically from the very beginning. First of all, what’s in it for them? You have to approach the process and tell them what the project is, why you’re doing it, and all the work that you did upfront to reduce that initial impact to them. Even if you’ve already made your decisions, you have to make it feel to them like you haven’t made your decisions yet.

You have to ask, “What do you think, in this particular project, could go wrong? What are the risks that you see in that?” When they voice that, they feel like they have a say and that reduces that anxiety of what’s coming next.

Then, you ask them things like, “What is important to you to see before we kick this off?” By going through those processes, the brain continually disarms, disarms, disarms. It sees what’s coming. That allows you to then get their buy-in. After that though, once you’ve disarmed, you have to engage and excite. You have to make it something that ultimately motivates them to want to go and actually fully adopt it and build that habit, build that new neural pathway, and break the old one. That’s not easy to do.

Let’s imagine that we’ve been able to overcome those initial obstacles. Often, the new process works for a week or so, and then everything goes back to the way it was before. It happens all the time. That’s where we go to the third phase.

Sutter: Yes. We’re on this bus now. I convinced some of you, I forced some of you on, but we got to keep these tires on this bus. Otherwise, we’re going nowhere. We’ve gone on our first hike. 10 miles, you’re, like, “Oh, my gosh, this is amazing.” The endorphins are pumping. And then, we get a flat tire. Why? Because I was so eager, I was so excited to get on that hike, I didn’t think about having a spare tire. I didn’t think about having a mechanic.

This is what happens a lot with technology implementation. We just talked about getting the right stakeholders. We talked about getting that initial team buy-in. That first week and that first hike, you guys were, like, “Let’s go. Let’s keep going forever. I’m never going back to my job.” Then we got a flat tire, and now you’re, like, “I want to get the heck out of here. Where’s the next airport? Get me out of here.” That’s what everyone feels, in technology, after that excitement wears off and you don’t keep up with it.

So many different times, we see that technology be deployed. It’s a great go-live day. It’s a great go-live week. Then the excitement wears away. The leaders step away, as Sean said, and go back to their normal day-to-day. Then, the tires fall off.

You lose that excitement, you lose that momentum, and you’re just stuck to square one of what I talked about, just having a very expensive paperweight in your operation that is crucial to move your operation forward. There are ways to keep the tires on the bus, there are ways to keep people excited, to keep your employees excited with technology. You just have to be strategic about it.

Rowe: Habits don’t form overnight. Think about in your personal life, how many of you have tried to create a new habit? It’s hard.

The reality is that building that habit requires you to break the past neural pathway, learn the new one, and fully write that pathway in the brain. We have to reward ourselves. Cue, execute, reward.

When it comes to these technology projects, you have to do two things—you have to create the habit, you have to reward the habit, and most importantly, when something goes off the rails, you have to have a mechanism to alleviate the anxiety and give them a path out from a safe space.

This is where the whole concept of the ongoing maintenance strategy comes into play. Until your team has successfully done something for 90 days, do not consider your project a success. What you need to do is to empower your team and make it an activity that everybody is watching that streak tracker.

It can be something as simple as getting a whiteboard and putting it in your kitchen.

You can create streak trackers, you can create checks, you can do all different things, but then what you have to do is create a reward around it. Financial rewards obviously work the best. Get creative with it. It doesn’t have to be complex, but you have to monetize and put something at each phase until the adoption fully takes effect. Then that neural pathway is programmed and then that’s what causes the ongoing.

Most importantly too, have a sheet. When there is any issue that anybody runs into, they need to be able to go to that sheet and write down what the issue was. That needs to be evaluated on a weekly basis. They need to know that leadership is looking at that sheet.

That little quick standup of your leadership team of just showing that all the feedback is actually going back through that cycle in that first 90 days brings confidence and it buys you just a little bit of grace when something does go wrong because then the whole team feels like they’re in this bus and they’re maintaining it and moving it along together.

In summary, break it into phases, set it up for success so you’re not doing a U-turn. Get your people on the bus, and then, ultimately, maintain that bus.

Sutter: Not everyone is going to want to do what you want to do, but this is necessary to make sure that you’re having success long-term in that technology adaptation that is crucial and not going away in our industry.

Rowe: Lastly, give yourself some grace because it’s not your team, it’s not your culture, it’s not you that caused all these people to be reluctant to change. Psychologically, we are all going to push back. Don’t get frustrated at your team. At the end of the day, this is a game. If we play the game really well, the game of business, we’ll all succeed. Best of all, the resident will be the one that gets the benefit from it.

US Foods is a leading food service distributor throughout America. US Foods has over 70 locations and partners with over 250,000 restaurants to bring exciting food offerings to their clients. To learn more, visit:

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