"The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” These words, first spoken by Winston Churchill, have guided Nona Golledge, director of KU Dining Services at 30,000-student University of Kansas in Lawrence, during her five years as director. Through mergers, budget cuts and culture change, Golledge has used her team-oriented philosophy to revolutionize the university’s foodservice. These efforts were recently applauded in the university community when Golledge was named one of the 2009 KU Women of Distinction.
“I always tell people that Nona is probably the most ‘politically correct’ person I know,” says Alecia Stultz, assistant director of retail. “She shows the ultimate in ‘KU Dining Calm.’ Her open-door policy extends to all and I know that it makes a difference with the staff.”
Advance, not retreat: During Golledge’s first year as director, it was imperative that she get her team on the same page regarding her vision, because Golledge was responsible for managing the merging of residential and retail dining into one unit.
“We took two completely separate, but both equally fantastic, teams and merged them into one,” Golledge says. “That was a bit of a challenge because everyone was still operating under the way they used to do it. So I knew that we had to somehow figure out a way to get a more cohesive team. We did that through a lot of communication and keeping the staff informed from start to finish.”
Golledge says a turning point in the process came when she decided to hold one of her “advances.” Advances are what Golledge calls her staff retreats—“we don’t retreat, we advance,” she says.
“We spent several hours together in a room and we just wiped the slate clean,” Golledge says. “We tried to get everyone to forget everything they knew from the past, and we developed our own strategic plan. I think when everyone left that room, everybody felt like, ‘Wow, this is going to be good.’”
Golledge says the advances—she holds one every year—are demonstrative of her preferred leadership style.
“My style of leadership is that it is a team effort,” Golledge says. “I like to get everybody involved. I value people’s expertise and want their input, so it felt like this was everyone’s plan. When members of my team make decisions, they make those based on the same goals.”
The merger wasn’t just good for team morale; it encouraged significant growth in every area of dining—retail sales by 36%, catering by 31% and residential dining by 11%.
“Nona was instrumental in merging [those two departments], and she did so in a very gentle and effective fashion because those mergers can turn into a bloodbath,” says David Mucci, director of KU Memorial Unions. “Our situation was a little different because we had to meld a state operation with an affiliated corporation on the retail side, so it was apples to oranges.”
Sustainability: Another huge area of growth that Golledge has fostered has been sustainability. During Golledge’s time as director, the department has been chipping away at the sustainability checklist—implementing trayless dining, starting a rooftop herb garden, switching to biodegradable disposables, collecting used cooking oil for conversion, increasing use of locally grown foods and more.
“One of the things in our strategic plan that is important to us is guest services,” Golledge says. “The team observed that sustainability is important to the campus community, so it was easily included in our plan. We set goals and tried to attain them according to the budget. It’s just been amazing to see the staff really wrap their arms around that and they now make their product decisions with sustainability in mind.”
The department’s sustainability efforts were recognized by KU’s Center for Sustainability in 2008 with a Campus Leader award.
“That was a highlight because it was a team award,” Golledge says. “Every area has done something along the sustainability lines. We still have a long way to go, but we’re definitely making progress. Our goal for this year is to expand the rooftop garden and start a composting program.”
Showtime: Golledge’s team-oriented approach is most evident in the Showtime employee recognition program she started two years ago. The program is made up of 100 best practices, categorized in 10 areas such as guest services, marketing communications and food safety.
“We were seeing staff doing really great things, but we wanted to make sure that all the best practices were put together into one booklet where we could share it and set expectations across all of Dining Services,” Golledge says. “The cafés earn points for going above and beyond in any of the areas, and we have one person that keeps track of those scores so we can reward them accordingly. The program is called Showtime because when we’re serving, we say ‘it’s Showtime.’ We stick with the Showtime theme by giving the cafés ‘leading’ and ‘supporting’-role certificates each semester. Then in May we host an Academy Awards-type event where we reward the best in all the best practices categories.”
Plowing forward: One of the more recent challenges Golledge has faced, like many foodservice directors, is a reduced budget. However, Golledge and her team have found innovative ways to combat budget restraints, while still moving ahead with several projects. Budget-wise, it’s been the little things that have made a difference, according to Golledge. Little changes such as getting rid of the department’s plant service and changing service hours where there wasn’t much traffic all saved the department money. Golledge says the small changes that were made were ones that wouldn’t show a great difference in its guest services. The savings allowed the department to move forward with other projects such as a café in the new school of pharmacy being built on the university’s West Campus.
“The university has a plan to see more growth on West Campus,” Golledge says. “The new pharmacy school will be over there so the university thought it was a good place to put a foodservice location. Since it is a pharmacy building, we thought it would be fun to put in an old-fashioned soda fountain. There will also be a Pulse coffee shop, a small student store, a grill and eventually a salad bar and deli. We did a survey with faculty, staff and students in the pharmacy and found out that they really wanted some options that are local, fresh, organic and healthy, so that’s going to be our focus at that location.”
Another new venture for the department is the continual development of the department’s relationship with the athletic department. Although an outside company manages concessions, KU Dining took over the catering for the 40 football suites, as well as the donor atrium in the basketball arena this year.
“We heard that the athletic department was going out for an rfp for the suites catering,” Golledge says. “Knowing that our catering department does an excellent job, we felt we would be able to provide them service at the quality they desire. That was a new adventure for us this year but an enjoyable challenge to work through.”
It is this ability to work through and overcome challenges and create a place where everyone has a say that Golledge says makes her very proud of her team.
“I think as a leader you sometimes feel like you should have all the answers,” Golledge says. “Success is about being able to rely on the expertise you have in your team. It gives me confidence to trust that they’re going to make the right move.”
Golledge has gained many fans, including her boss, Mucci, because of her ability to do just that.
“I think foodservice needs an individual who despite all this pressure can maintain a professional equilibrium,” Mucci says. “To be really successful you have to communicate with all those constituencies, and above all you’ve got to be principled and understand why you are here. I don’t think that’s an easy package to find, and Nona has been able to do all that.”