Taking Your Employee Experience to the Next Level, with Delaware North’s Head of Talent

The Next Practices Weekly call series has become a well-attended and wide-ranging discussion for HR leaders each Thursday at 11am ET / 8am PT. On this week's call, i4cp Senior Research Analyst Tom Stone and Membership Director Jenelle Buatti facilitated a conversation with special guest Mike Eby, Vice President of Talent at Delaware North. Here are some highlights from the call:

  • Delaware North is a global food service and hospitality company headquartered in Buffalo, New York. The company operates in the lodging, sporting, airport, gambling, and entertainment industries (see brief video at 7:10 in the session recording).
  • Since Delaware North supports large venues and events, the COVID-19 pandemic hit their business particularly hard. Going into early 2020 the company had around 40,000 employees, but then during the peak of lockdowns/etc. they employed just under 1,000. Those employees were busy planning the return to work and the relaunch of all of their events and venues as the various national, state, and local governments allowed re-openings.
  • Key to do this was a having a lot of transparency and strong communication with all employees. The key was timing: staffing needed to occur slightly ahead of when governments allowed events and venues to open up again. Many employees were happy to return because they love their location and the hospitality industry, but also because of the way they were treated by Delaware North during the furlough/etc. period.
  • One of early decisions made to support employee well-being was to expand their EAP--which had previously only been available to a subset of employees--to all employees, including all hourly, seasonal, etc.. They have since further expanded the EAP this time by broadening what is offered, such as adding more learning opportunities in areas like financial planning 101, how to save for retirement, how to interpret and manage benefits, crisis management, etc.
  • The organization's EVP, Employee Value Proposition, is a critical focus at Delaware North (see brief video at 23:15 in the session recording). In developing and socializing the EVP, they focused internally first, and only later on the external employee brand. The EVP has three primary components:
    • Purpose
    • Growth
    • Connection
  • In the past, Delaware North's employee listening approach was very ad hoc--if they had 200 different properties, they very well might have 200 different approaches to employee listening. This changed as the need arose during the pandemic to consistently hear the voice of all employees. They launched a new platform to capture information from employees, and instituted lifecycle listening--meaning key moments such as interview candidates, 60 and 90 days after joining, exit interviews, etc. They also now engagement surveys on a rolling basis, every 8-9 months, due to the seasonality of their business. The platform they use is Qualtrics.
  • Delaware North firmly believes in what i4cp research has found is critical to an effective listening strategy: turning data into insights, and then ultimately taking action as a result. This is how you keep employees engaged and minimize survey fatigue. Eby shared one specific example of something they changed after getting significant feedback from employees: their approach to recognition. Beyond manager or team-centric recognition for exemplary work, now employees are recognized company-wide in the organization's newsletter and elsewhere. They also launched a new length-of-service recognition program, with special emphasis on their longest-tenured employees--some of who have been with Delaware North for over 30 years, and a few over 50 years.
  • Eby shared a talent development program that Delaware North has for aspiring chefs. They have formed a partnership with the Culinary Institute for America, where the candidates become certified as a sous chef, but also get aligned with an executive chef mentor. They are in year two of the program, and so are expanding it to include people who are at lower levels, such as recent high school graduates who get involved in what is essentially an apprenticeship program.

Links to resources shared on the call:


This event is approved for certification credits.