By Steve Moran

And this might even be good news because it is fixable . . .

Today I got a message from a friend who is an excellent executive director. Until a year or so ago, she was working for a large senior living organization that was underperforming like crazy. She was micromanaged and yet unable to make the changes she needed to make in order to be successful.  

As she talked to me about her experiences, I found myself wondering if she was just burned out and had a bad attitude, meaning the underperformance was her fault. Then she heard from her replacement, who also quit for exactly the same reasons. The demands for better performance were crushing her soul. And, like my friend, she had no ability to make the changes, the decisions that would result in success.

Over and Over Again

Over and over again I hear these stories. Great local leaders who are so hamstrung, so overburdened with meetings, forms, systems, and, worst of all, saddled with salespeople, nurse managers, and food service directors they have zero ability to hold accountable or fire.

Who’s Fault Is It?

Some specifics about this particular situation:

  • The sales guy at the property is the brother of the regional operations manager. He underperforms and yet remains in the position protected by the ops manager.
  • Adding insult to injury, because this person is protected, he treats other people at the property badly with impunity. This in turn makes retention of staff and residents even harder. 
  • The regional operations manager has 8 or 9 properties and all but one are underperforming. She protects herself by blaming the executive directors and moving them on by firing or making them miserable.

The Large Organization Problem

Many in the senior living sector believe, because of problems like this, that it is impossible to do senior living at scale. I disagree and I think Atria is living proof that it can be done. But it requires doing things very differently. It requires zealously guarding against this kind of thing happening. 

The failure seems to be at the level above this regional manager, who has decided that the regional manager is not the problem, that those who work for her are.

As I write those words, it sounds ridiculous. But how else can you explain what is happening here? Maybe it even goes up another layer. It’s impossible to know from my vantage point or from theirs.

It Is All About the Front Line

The one thing I know is that no one above the regional manager ever, not even once, came to investigate what was really going on. To ask the local manager, the one person who should know, what is really going on. This is nuts. It means the wrong people get blamed for problems.

It is impossible to have a successful community when every 6 to 9 months the executive director is changed out. How can residents trust leadership, trust the company? How can team members form lasting bonds or trust their leaders?

If you have a problem building start by talking to the executive director. Ask them what is going on, and make sure it is safe to tell you the whole truth, the real truth. I am not suggesting that you just take them at their word because sometimes that leader will be the problem. It takes some digging, some time, some getting to know the building and the people.

It sounds expensive, but honestly, it is really free. Because, right now, this building is losing $70,000 or $90,000 in topline revenue every single month. Isn’t it worth a little investigation to figure this out?