Your success in a senior community depends upon the staff you hire and how they care for your residents.

By Leslie Quintanar

Senior Living is big business. All sorts of companies, from REITS to private companies to the large big-box operators continue to expand their horizons and stake their claim in this ever growing industry. There are publications out there that can give you the latest numbers, market penetration, and most desirable locations for new developments. You don’t have to look far to find groups of really talented people seeking to make a name for themselves in this burgeoning market.

Yet, in the midst of all the numbers, statistics, innovations, and latest trends, it’s amazing how often a very essential truth is missed; that your success in a senior community depends upon the staff you hire and how they care for your residents.

Simple yet complex

Seems pretty simple, right? But how many of us have ever followed behind a poor leader in a community? How many of us have lost great staff due to poor company culture, pay, or sub-par benefits? Finally, let’s not forget the coup de etat; your supervisor. Study after study shows that one of the top predictors of an employee’s satisfaction is directly linked to their relationship with their first-line supervisor.

If you were to ask most leaders in the senior industry they’d heartily agree that they fully understand this valuable piece of information. Yet we continue to have “messes” to clean up, wounded employees, and worst of all, those lovingly referred to on-board terrorists. Why hasn’t the needle moved more in this regard?

I don’t have a magic bullet answer, when you deal with people it’s never cut and dried. There are always extenuating circumstances and other forces at work that sometimes make it difficult to do exactly what we’d like to do at the time.

But I do have a few suggestions; my hope is that you’ll take a look at them, take them to heart, and contribute some of your non-negotiables. 

Here are a few at the top of my list:

  • Hire the right people at all costs. I think all of us have a story of that employee we hired because we were in a pinch and they turned out to be a nightmare. No matter how stretched or stressed you may be, don’t give in to this temptation. You. Will. Be. Sorry.

  • Don’t treat all people the same. One of the best business books I have ever read is “First, Break all the Rules”. It sets forth the great truth that you cannot lead all people in cookie-cutter fashion. Yes, there is an expectation for uniformity in following policies and procedures, but when it comes to effectively coaching performance in your employees you must recognize that they are individuals, not robots. It is imperative that we learn to draw out their strengths and communicate with them in a way that highlights their unique contribution.

  • Don’t tolerate poor performance. This sometimes goes hand-in-hand with my first bullet point. How often do we tolerate bad behavior or less than acceptable performance because we don’t have any better options? Allowing employees like this to stay will only serve to spread negativity, drag down morale, and cause your high performers to be frustrated.

  • Don’t just espouse your company culture, live it. Nearly every senior living company has some platitudinous mission statement; but sadly it’s not too hard to recognize those who pay lip-service to those flowery declarations. Strive to have mission statement that people seek to adhere to and a culture that you protect fiercely at all costs. I recently took a job with a new senior living company and one of the biggest selling points for me was their culture. It is strong, vibrant, and most of all, it permeates all levels of their organization. When you walk the walk you will find employees will be willing to be more invested because they realize there is action behind the oftentimes lofty goals set forth in their mission and values.

The Bottom Line

My list isn’t exhaustive by any means, and you may notice I didn’t include anything about NOI, occupancy projections, or market conditions. Those components that allow us to drive the business forward are very important too. But, if you don’t have the right people in place, it doesn’t matter how detailed your pro forma may be, how thorough a market analysis you have done, or even how well appointed your community may be; if you don’t start with the right people you will not get far.