Leaders really believe they are listening to what their direct reports are saying. Yet, those people who are being “listened to” are not really being heard.

By Steve Moran

Denise Boudreau-Scott and I move closer to the start of our 2018 Culture 2100 initiative where we will be gathering with a select group of senior living executives to explore what 21st century culture for senior living teams should look like — meaning a culture where it is more exciting to work than Apple, Google or Facebook.  

I have become almost obsessed with listening to, talking to and thinking about senior living team members — from executive directors to frontline staff — who wish things were better. There seems to be a significant pattern emerging . . . and I am really struggling to understand how to fix it.

Here is what it looks like:

  • Leaders really believe they are listening to and paying attention to what their direct reports (and those further down the employment stack) are saying.

  • Yet, those people who are being “listened to” are not really being heard.

The thing that makes this really tough is that those who are, or should be, in the position of listening think they are doing exactly what they need to do, what they should be doing; therefore, because they are doing exactly what they think they need to be doing to grow their teams and build relationships, they are frustrated and baffled by why they are not getting the results they want.

The usual response is to create or purchase a program or system that will make things better. Instead of this working, mostly what happens is that these programs add to the physical and emotional workload for the already overtaxed individuals they are supposed to help. Consequently, they end up producing completely unexpected results that are the opposite of what was desired.  

Your Team Really Has Most of the Answers

We in senior living have this horrible inferiority complex that says we are doing badly compared to other industries — be it culture, marketing, technology, programming, and anything else. While in a global sense it may be true that we are slow to evolve in some of these areas, we also have some individuals and organizations that are doing some amazing things.

It is likely that if you will not just listen but actually hear what your team is telling you, they will help you fix the challenges you are facing.

Here are some ideas:

  • Ask your frontline staff the one thing that would make their job better if they could wave a magic wand and change anything. It will hardly ever be money or at least money in a vacuum.

  • If you have a high performing community ask those leaders to teach struggling leaders what they are doing. This can be a scary thing, because they may end up working outside the prescribed programs or norms. Sometimes this is a problem but in many cases those programs or norms are part of the problem and not a solution. If you are getting the results you want, DON’T MESS WITH IT.

  • When people make suggests simply saying “thanks” or “I appreciate the suggest”  is NOT enough. You need to respond in a way that your team members know you got it and are or will think about it.   

  • It’s ok to say no, to an idea, but you need to describe why it is a no, (and not just no “because I am the boss” or “we don’t do it that way”). You have to talk about why it won’t work or isn’t practical. Then it becomes an opportunity to find new, better creative solutions.

Over a couple of years as I have been exploring this more deeply I can point to dozens of folks who have quit their jobs for greener pastures because they were listened to but not heard. If you are struggling with turnover at the top or the bottom this may be a significant factor.