New Morrison CEO: Dining Must Keep Up with Rapid Changes in Senior Living

With a refreshed brand, a new name and a new CEO, Morrison Living is shooting for innovation.

The Atlanta-based hospitality services company — which is part of the Compass Group — plans to do that in part by implementing food trucks and robot bussers in some of the more than 400 U.S. senior living communities it serves. The company has also adopted a tech-forward hiring service that has helped reduce its time-to-hire average by six days.

All of this is aimed at innovating amid changing preferences from residents, according to Morrison Living CEO Barbara Conn, who assumed the role in October after nearly two decades with Compass.


“We’re really focused heavily on innovation and bringing that to the forefront of what we’re doing,” Conn told Senior Housing News in a recent interview.

Morrison’s new CEO takes the reins during a transformative period for the company. In addition to appointing a new CEO, the company also recently changed its name from Morrison Community Living to just Morrison Living, and announced a brand refresh in December.

Senior Housing News caught up with Conn to talk about the way forward for Morrison, and learn about some of the ways the company seeks to meet the demands of tomorrow’s senior living resident.


The following interview was edited for length and clarity:

SHN: How did you get into senior living?

Conn: I began with Compass Group about 20 years ago, just a few months short of 20 years now. And I started out on the supply chain side at Foodbuy, our procurement arm. That’s where I began my career. I started out more in a technical role, managing volume allowances and the technology that pushes that for Compass group. I was there for a number of years, about five, and then I decided to go into sales. And I actually sold senior living in the Northeast. I did that for another six years. So that was really my entree into senior living.

And then in 2011, Compass Group was awarded the Ascension Health contract. Ascension went out to bid for all of their acute care at the time and there were some senior living in that, as well. And Compass Group won that. In fact, Touchpoint was really created to just handle the Ascension business. I joined [Touchpoint] in 2011. And at that point, I was doing field support, so anything that wasn’t directly financial or operational, like communications, learning and development, branding. I was the single point of contact with the corporate Ascension client at the time. And then about three years in, I decided to go into operations. At that point, I started managing about half of the country from an operational level, and 18 months or so into that, I was promoted to President of Touchpoint. And then in October of this year, I was promoted to CEO with Morrison Living.

What is your leadership style?

I really value diversity and inclusion. And by that, I mean all kinds of ways. I love building a team that thinks with the whole brain. I like creatives, I like more analytical folks. I like folks who come at it from a more scientific place, and then people who come at it from the heart.

If you can put all those different things on your team, then you can solve problems faster. I think with more empathy, you really get to a different place in the problem-solving realm.

What are your current priorities as CEO, and what do you think you’ll be focused on in 2020?

“Be the best part of someone’s day” was the brilliant nugget that came out of our brand refresh. So, I think we’re going to be really focused on how we turn that into action every day in every location. That could mean being the best part of your colleague’s day, or a resident’s day, or a resident’s family member’s day, or someone on staff at the community’s day.

We’re looking right at a lot of different ways that we can drive that, measure it, celebrate it, recognize it. We’ve just launched Workplace by Facebook as a great platform to do that.

Attracting and recruiting and retaining associates, that’s obviously a top, top priority for us, like probably everyone else in the country at this point.

And then, how we continue to drive real satisfaction and memories and experiences for our residents, and how we help our clients meet their objectives and their outcomes. So really, the three buckets are: focusing on our associates, our residents and our clients, and what it means to them to be satisfied.

Why did Morrison feel the need to refresh its brand?

I think it was about really thinking through the new landscape that we’re currently all in. The industry is changing pretty rapidly. We’re just starting to see the new generation of residents coming into the communities, so we really wanted to stay on the forefront of that. And make a slight pivot to being more focused on living than aging, and to bring with it the enthusiasm and the excitement and the vibrancy that it connotes. We’re really focused heavily on innovation and bringing that to the forefront of what we’re doing, and not doing what we’ve always done.

How are older adults’ preferences evolving with regard to food, and how does that affect your business?

A lot of what we’re seeing is about choice and variety. We’re also seeing so many different things about various chefs partnering [with communities]. Cloud kitchens. Everything is moving in the direction of meeting someone where they are.

We’re really looking to be authentic and transparent with food. We want to make sure that what we’re offering what it is our clients want, whether that’s a food truck, whether it’s no longer having fine dining, whether it’s having a cocktail or a lounge area. Whatever it is, we’re trying to ask the right questions, and get the right information so that we can customize our solutions to what it is they want.

You’ve piqued my interest with cloud kitchens and food trucks. Does Morrison currently do either of those things in any communities right now?

We are just now in the process of working on food trucks. We don’t have one out there right this minute. We have done some pop-up food trucks, but we are definitely working on it in two different locations. The idea is to use it there in the community. It breaks up the monotony and it’s something cool and interesting, and something that you can change the menu for pretty rapidly.

Regarding cloud kitchens, we really haven’t gone down that path yet. But it is something that’s very interesting to us and we are exploring it.

What are some other current cutting-edge food trends? And how are you working that into what Morrison is doing now?

We just rolled out robots into a couple of communities. Bear Robotics is the company we’re working with. These robots actually can deliver food and they can bus tables. There’s a tray on the top, and it can be programmed to get back into the kitchen to drop the dishes off. That’s just one of the ways that we’re looking at the labor shortage that we’re all facing right now, and upping the cool and wow factor in the communities, as well.

One other trend that we’re really focused on in terms of design is food halls. We’re working on at least one of those where there’s multiple dining venues in one place.

What is your take on plant-based dining in senior living?

It definitely is a trending topic, and it’s one that we’re exploring and looking at. There are some people who are very interested in it. I think adding more plant-based offerings as a part of the variety that’s offered is of interest to residents. Compass is also very forward-thinking when it comes to sustainability and wellness and corporate social responsibility. So, it’s something that our company is looking at.

I know that staffing is a major bugbear for this industry, especially in food service. How does Morrison hire and retain its food service workers?

We have really begun trying to put together a targeted approach to staffing.

We feel like we have a really strong culture, and that allows us to offer referral bonuses for our current associates who know like minded people who want to work somewhere where they can serve their purpose. That tends to be something that most of our associates have in common, that they’re there because they find joy in serving the residents in the communities that we serve.

We’ve started to look for where we might find like-minded people. Is that in a volunteer organization? Is that in some other sort of organization that supports the community? Or at a culinary school or a community college?

We’ve started to apply some analytics against that, as well. Our data team can take a look and see the vast majority of folks that work in this location and live in a zip code. So, let’s go out into that zip code and see if there’s a way that we can effectively recruit. And we do a lot of data-slicing on our folks. We track all kinds of demographic information to see if we can find a commonality.

We’re also using some tools for hiring that help us cut down on the amount of time spent there. We’re using video technology called HireVue to interview. It’s something that appeals to millennials. They can simply apply anytime on their own mobile device and upload a video. There’s a lot of artificial intelligence and algorithms that are a part of the video technology. So, a lot of the heavy lifting is done for us by the time we get the videos, and then we can make an offer on the spot if we’re that taken with the person.

This has helped us reduce the time-to-fill for positions, which is a big deal in this market. We’ve seen the total time to hire reduced by six days. And the associates that complete the video interview have an average time-to-fill at just four days.

I mean, we’re dealing with a market where unemployment hasn’t been this low since 1969. And in many of the communities that we serve — Nashville, the entire state of California — finding people is really, really difficult.

But once we do find them, we do a really nice job onboarding them. We have a nice onboarding program, because we really feel like that first impression is the make-or-break difference between us retaining those associates or not. We will continue to refine that onboarding program so that when we do get folks, they have the best possible experience starting with day one.

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