By Steve Moran

Starbucks is one of those companies I want to point to as an example of having great leadership, but — maybe in a way that is not dissimilar to senior living — just when you think things are really rocking, they have a major fumble.

Curiously, they always do better when Howard Schultz is leading than when someone else is leading. This suggests a failure in succession planning on the part of Starbucks and Howard Schultz (a topic for another article).

Does Senior Living Simply Need a New Blender?

A few weeks ago I came across an article at titled “Starbucks’s CEO Admitted the Company ‘Lost Its Way.’ It Turns Out the Thing It Needs Most Is a New Blender” (which also is one of the longest article titles I have ever come across, and my team would shoot me if I tried to get away with a title that long.)

Starbucks mostly used to sell hot coffee and other hot drinks that were pretty simple to create. This is no longer true. It turns out that their “most popular products are too popular” — particularly cold and frozen drinks. They now make up 70% of their orders. On top of that customizing, those drinks are extremely profitable, adding a billion dollars a year in sales.

The problem is, making those drinks takes employees more time — a lot more time because nearly everything about concocting those drinks is a manual process.

The Solution …

The obvious solution is to hire more people, except that Starbucks has the same problem senior living does. Adding people is expensive, if you can even find people to work. In addition, Starbucks has real space constraints. … There are only so many people you can fit behind the counter.

The obvious next solution is technology and automation. The idea of your fancy Starbucks cold drink coming out of a fully automated, high-tech blender conjures up retch-inducing images of drinking coffee from automated machines in waiting rooms. But these new machines will make better drinks than humans can, and the process will be faster and more consistent. Ultimately this will give Starbucks customers a better experience than the old way.

We Need a New Blender

Right now we are at a loss as to how to fix senior living. Occupancies are not as high as they need to be, expenses are climbing, and hiring and retaining looks like it will only get worse. Senior living needs a new blender. … In our case, this means completely rethinking everything we do. …

  • What if we did use robots in the dining room?
  • What if we paid team members more and expected more?
  • What if we hired masters-level life enrichment directors who created such amazing resident experiences that people were lining up to move into your communities?
  • What if every executive director was 100% committed to making sure every single resident and team member had a great day?

Ultimately we would call this new blender “culture.”

What if ….