By Steve Moran

The thing that makes senior living so, so tough is that it is a people business — people serving people — and those people are all over the map, from high, high incomes to low, low incomes. (I must be into repeating words words today.)

The people who are the customers, residents, and family members are oftentimes dealing with some of the most stressful and hopeless parts of this journey we call life.

This Means

This means a lot of things:

  • There will be big misunderstandings, which will cause hurt feelings — and things will go wrong.
  • Sometimes all options are terrible for the resident. Their life is going to come to an end, and while some choices and decisions may be better, often no one really knows what the best ones are.
  • For most residents, senior living is a massive expense, which means managing money can be a flashpoint.
  • As expensive as senior living is, operators are rightly focused on controlling costs so they can keep fees reasonable, and this means making judgment calls about how much service is offered and provided (which should always be the same) — which means there are limits. Not every resident can have 24/7 supervision.
  • Sometimes people simply unintentionally make mistakes that cause significant harm.
  • Sometimes even when everyone does everything right, things still go wrong.

Managing Risk

When organizations are managing risks right, they first assume that things will go wrong, and because of that assumption, they create an environment where the risks are minimized in these two ways:

  1. They make it 100% safe to talk about problems or potential problems staff members are involved in or observe.
  2. When something goes wrong or the potential for harm is recognized, they rapidly act to make it better — a lot better.

An Exercise

Sit quietly with a sheet of paper, and make a list of the number of things that went wrong in your life in the past seven days. Unless you had a perfect seven days (which no one does), there will be things. Most of them will be tiny and with tiny consequences. They could be as simple as:

  • Misplacing your keys or phones
  • Having one or more drinks too many
  • Being brusque to a service worker
  • Standing someone up for an appointment

Or maybe make an easier list: things that did not go as well as you would have liked — a conversation with a friend, your kids, your life partner, a work colleague. Maybe you paid too much for something or didn’t buy something you wish you had.

Now here is the question …

On that list, how many items did you actually create a plan for, or change your operating system for, to make it less likely those problems would happen again?

For instance, if losing keys or your phone or the TV remote is a constant problem, you could fix it by committing to yourself to always putting those things in the same place, or maybe one of just a couple places.


Imagine for a minute that you made a list of things that didn’t go as well as you would have liked with your team and then spent a few more minutes asking each other, “What can we do to make this not happen (or a lot less likely to happen) again?”

If you try it, I would love to hear about it.