Is the culture in your organization deliberate or accidental? Is it great or something else?

As I was putting together the Sunday Afternoon, More Right Than I Knew article about Keystone Place at Legacy Ridge my wife made the point that, while it was great that  Keystone Place had a system in place to deal with off-hour inquiries, the thing that was really important was that they had a culture of caring, a culture of excellence. Her point was that, when the woman and her brother showed up desperate and frazzled, looking for help figuring out what to do with Mom, the front desk person could have just blown them off telling them to come back tomorrow and no one would have known.

The sales person who was in the middle of Sunday supper could have easily figured out how to put off this other family until the next day and no one would have known. Instead, they stepped up to their community’s culture and did the right thing for a family in need of their help.

5 Observations on Senior Living Culture

1. It’s All Local –  The culture of a senior living community is always what it is exclusively local because of the culture the executive director creates at that community.  This is good and bad news because an executive director working for a mediocre company can run a spectacular building.  Conversely, even if a company is deliberate and purposeful about creating a culture of excellence, a bad executive director can make hash of that goal (though that executive director won’t likely be around for very long).

2.  Good Culture Can Be Accidental or Intentional . . . sort of –  Here is what I mean by this.  I have crossed paths with a fair number of small regional operators where the owner felt deeply indebted to their employees, residents and families.  These are the people who are smart, intuitive business people with caring hearts.  These are people who didn’t really set out to create a culture that is excellent and caring, it is simply how they view life.  These are the very best people and the best organizations to work for.  This sort of accidental great culture is a very special gift.

3.  Terrible Culture is Always Deliberate –  Some time ago I went to visit the CEO of a small senior living company with the hope of selling him a Vigil Call System for a new building he was developing.   As we chatted about his operation I told him how the Vigil System uses pagers to annunciate calls in order to reduce or eliminate noise clutter.  He exploded, telling me he would never use pagers because his employees would either steal them or deliberately break them. I got out of their as quickly as I could.  I did not want him as a customer It was clear he had created a terribly toxic culture where his employees were out to get him whenever they could.  I didn’t actually get to visit any of his communities but I can only imagine this toxic culture was reflected in those communities.

4.  Random Culture – Most companies and senior living communities develop on their own culture in a totally random fashion.  This means that no two buildings in an organization have them same culture, even though they are working off the same set of policies and procedures.   The Executive Director may spend lots of time in the facility, on the floor, with residents or with families or they may not spend very much time in the building at all. It is whatever they want. Department heads learn that they are on their own to create their own culture.  Some may be pretty good and others may create petty little fiefdoms. You know that culture is random when you look at staff turnover and it is well . . . . average.

5.  Great Culture Is Possible for Every Organization –  This will be part 3.

Steve Moran

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