CDM, CFPP of the Month - March 2017

Christopher Liebel, CDM, CFPP

Name: Christopher Liebel, CDM, CFPP

Job Title: Director of Nutrition and Food Services

Employer: Briarleaf Nursing, Accord Health Services

Job Location: Doylestown, PA

Years at Current Facility: 21

Years in Current Position: 21

CDM Since: 1991

Why did you decide to become a CDM, CFPP? 

I had already worked as a chef from as young as age 16 as an apprentice. Having medical training and background as an Army reservist was also helpful in this growth process. I was approached by a CDM in 1988 (Jack Ruffin, RIP) and advised to take the courses in preparation for the CDM exam. I was thankful to do so with a 4.00 GPA, which further seemed to indicate my aptitude for the profession. 

What are your main responsibilities in your current position? 

I am steward over a team of 33 (full-time and part-time). When hired, the CDM role was about 80% clinical, with only general oversight of operations via production managers and cook supervisors. I restructured the leadership/clinical team by increasing RD hours for clinical items to allow me to do what I do best: OPERATIONS. This includes, but is not limited to all aspects of what I call “The Three C’s”: Customer service, compliance (with regulations), and cost-containment. All operational tasks flow from a balance of “The Three C’s”.

How do you organize your time at work to make sure you accomplish all your responsibilities? 

This is so vital to success. It beings with a philosophy of care and approach first modeled to me by one of my early mentors: “If everything is a priority, then nothing is” (paraphrased). As many other CDMs can attest, our work days are fraught with many interruptions. Many are necessary, while many others are not. Working from a “time matrix grid” (via “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Covey), this paradigm differentiates levels of importance and urgency.

Organizational tools:  I’ve been a huge fan of Day Timers since about 1989, and I’ve always carried a planner with me since about 1982.  My policy: If it needs to be done, either do it now or write it down (and plan it out in writing). 

I also work from a well-designed weekly “calendar of responsibilities”, which covers the most important items which MUST be done regardless of weather emergencies, equipment failures, staff absences, and other such unplanned set-backs common to a CDM CFPP. In short, I commit nothing to memory, and I am constantly updating my planning tools on a daily basis.  I also program periodic alarms via my smart phone to provide “pop-up reminders” as needed.

What is an example of an innovative way you have made change at your facility and how did you implement it? 

As many a CDM can attest, the hand-written cards need to be sanitized, they were constantly getting “lost” on the stations, and there was too little room to address a resident’s custom nutritional needs. Working as a co-designer with our software vendor, we implemented a tray card system customized to each resident, with single use cards, and with a database which allows us to really “dial in” on food preferences for each individual.

This presented a win-win-win for my employer, our residents, and my teams, allowing us to reduce wasted resources, reduce unneeded “rework” and to better serve our clients. The above was only one of many changes that continue to be made as the industry changes and grows, and involving my teams with needed changes is always part of this process.

What was your first job in the foodservice industry?

Not counting “cash jobs” before the age of 16, McDonalds as a Crew Chief while also opening a Steak and Ale restaurant at the same time. Learning the many “ins and outs” with the opening of this restaurant was a tremendous opportunity for me via the apprenticeship program through my two-year Restaurant Practices program. I was thankful to take part in it. 

Who has been your biggest mentor in foodservice and how have they helped shape your career? 

I have had many excellent chef/mentors, but the one I reference the most has been Mr. Jack Ruffin. Jack was always there to answer my questions. In addition, he “held my feet to the fire” and took a sincere interest in my development from early on.

I have also borrowed much from his leadership style. Jack was a “no-nonsense, get-it-done” director, but he did so with compassion for his teams. Early on I also reached out to Jack as a new director, and he was always available to answer my questions.  Jack is no longer with us, and how I would love to have a cup of coffee with him today to share him all that his “apprentice” has learned since 1982, and I write this with moist eyes because I miss him dearly.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your position and how do you handle them?

Singer Billy Joel once said it quite well: "I am merely competent. But in an age of incompetence, that makes me extraordinary."  Sadly (and to the chagrin of many fellow directors), the “work ethic” of many has seriously declined since I have entered the work force. It is this degrading work ethic that presents many of us with the greatest daily challenges.  The good news?  I have developed a “recipe for success” that keeps the “low work ethic” to a minimum, as a teacher and mentor to my teams, and as a result my teams regularly receive excellent appraisals and reviews from our clients and their family members. Building and maintaining of trust has been the main “ingredient” of this “recipe”, including, but not limited to: 

What is your favorite part of your job? 

Seeing smiles on my customers’ faces, and knowing that I’ve done all I could with the available resources to provide the best possible care and services for them.  

How do you stay up to date with current innovations and trends?

ANFP resources have served as the core from the beginning, and of course there are the additional ANFP approved seminars, webinars and books for CE’s. Internet searching is a regular part of staying current, and I network regularly with my directorial peers and fellow CDMs.  

How do you envision the foodservice industry in the next few years and foodservice?

I’m very encouraged to see the ever-increasing long-term trend of liberalizing diets and the honoring of a client’s rights now being given a higher level of importance than previously overly restrictive diets in years gone by. This has resulted in healthier, happier clientele to be sure, and this is one “trend” I hope will continue. It’s also wonderful to see an increasingly growing segment of the population taking a greater interest in their own nutritional needs, as evidenced by the increase in returning to more regionally grown foods by customers.

In addition, I see the “certified organic” food market really starting to take off in recent years, and this consumer model appears to be on the increase to be sure. 

What is your advice to those just getting started in the foodservice industry? 

First, determine if you really enjoy what you do. Ask yourself, “Why take the next step?” Case in point: I have done 90% of the cooking for my family, and I quite often tend the grills at extended family gatherings…  which seems to indicate that my interest in being a chef and serving good food goes far beyond that of my “day job”.

After determining you’re truly interested in the field, network with as many of us as possible. Make phone calls and interview others to see what they say about their careers.

Once you’ve decided to go this route, ENJOY yourself, and always be about “tweaking” things for the better, and resolve to be the very best food professional you can be.