Constant criticism will not be the path to success.

By Steve Moran

Mostly I spend my time talking to senior living leaders and that seems right, but I had a startling reminder that I also need to be talking to line employees. Here is the story:


I am a part of the leadership team for an adult Bible Study class at my church. The class spans a broad range of folks including young parents, retired folks and working folks. There is one person who lives in a senior living community and another who works at the front desk of a senior living community.

The Story

This past week after class I got to talking to Cathy, who is pushing close to age 70 and works at the front desk in a newly opened senior living community. What she told me made me vacillate between sad and mad. This community has been open for about 6 months and is at about 85% occupancy, which means they have to be way ahead of schedule.  

She then went on to tell me she is hoping to be able to hang on for a year, using the extra money to pay off her bills, after which she will be able to live off her social security income. She also told me that they currently have about 50 team members and that in the first six months they have been open, they have gone through 18 people, which suggests a first year turnover rate that will land over 60% in what appears to be a phenomenal success story.  

I asked her why she was so frustrated and . . . here is what makes me crazy . . . she told me that the leadership never offers a positive word of encouragement. They are ready at a moment to criticize and correct, but never issue out the words “great job”.

An Incomplete Story

One might accuse me of not having the whole story and that either, on occasion, the executive director does offer encouraging words or that Cathy is not a great employee (though I know her well enough to believe she is a good employee). Yet there are two important factors:

  1. If she is so bad that she never deserves a word of encouragement then she should be fired.

  2. If she feels this way, it is almost certain that most other team members feel the same way. A speculation that is reinforced by the first six month high turnover rate.


I confess that I cannot understand how any executive director manages this way. There are reams of studies and mass amounts of data that demonstrate that focusing on the positive is far more effective in motivating team members and getting them to perform at their very highest level.

Even though this community is performing well in this particular marketplace, there are several dozen new communities under development and that will open in the coming months. This means they will have to compete with a lot more inventory for both team members and residents. Constant criticism will not be the path to success.