Steve Moran recently introduced me to Adam Grant, a professor at U Penn’s Wharton School specializing in organizational psychology.

By Jack Cumming

Do you ever feel overlooked? Do others get advancement that you expected? Do coworkers sometimes take credit for what you do? Do you yearn for growth and development opportunities? If any of this applies to you, let me tell you about a book that can inspire you. 

Steve Moran introduced me to Adam Grant, a professor at U Penn’s Wharton School specializing in organizational psychology. I’ve been reading his book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. The core idea is that corporate “takers” do well in the beginning, but that they are passed by “givers” in the long run.

Corporate Politics

Think about that in the hierarchical politics of most companies. There are those who have productive ideas and who share their ideas freely. They put the interests of the business and the customers it serves first, before other considerations. They are “givers.”

Then, there are the “takers.” They may not have same creative fount of imaginative ideas, but they are skilled at taking ideas from others and using them to advance their own careers. We all know people like that. Some do very well. Some even make it to the C-Suite.

Grant makes the case that over the long run, individuals who are “givers” outperform “takers,” which is not surprising since their creativity flows while the “takers” only have access to the ideas they purloin. More importantly, though, “givers” may be driven out by the internal machinations of the “takers,” but the businesses with which they then affiliate tend to outperform the ingrown businesses they leave. Again, on reflection, that’s not surprising either.

Customer Obsession

We all remember businesses with a sign that read, “The customer is always right.” I remember a boss who told us to find a way to give the customer what he or she wants unless it’s impossible, in which case the boss herself wanted to handle the situation. It’s an obvious truth that without a customer there can be no business. Yet, often, we hear calls to put the shareholders-owners first even when that disadvantages the customers. It’s once more not surprising that so many businesses wither and fail.

Does this seem like nothing more than common sense to you? Do you know of businesses where less qualified people have risen because of their bland affirmation of their superiors while others more qualified have languished or left? We live in an era of self-aggrandizement, especially when it comes to vulture investors. We’ve read in this Forum how Brookdale has had trouble coping with vultures, and Brookdale is not alone. The golden rule may seem to have been repealed, but Adam Grant assures us that it hasn’t.

How does this apply to senior housing? That’s simple. Senior housing, for all its positive mission to help people cope with aging, is as much a business as any other. Every day we read articles touting the need for a social media strategy and, yet, we hear other voices advising actions “to increase revenues per resident,” a euphemistic way of putting money first and of taking advantage of the residential predicament.

Reputation Matters in a Social Media Era

The older adage – the idea of putting customers first – is more relevant today than ever, not less. That may not seem obvious at first, but think of how social media have empowered customers, residents, their families, their friends who visit, and others to influence the reputation of your business. No one would dispute Jeff Bezos’s success, although he has always “obsessed about customers”, naming customer obsession as the first of 14 leadership principles that have led Amazon to retail dominance.

Bezos distinguishes “missionaries” and “mercenaries” when he says, “The missionary is building the product and building the service because they love the customer, because they love the product, because they love the service,” he said in 2015. “The mercenary is building the product or service so that they can flip the company and make money.”  

Well, maybe “flipping” is extreme for senior housing though putting enterprise gains (and defenses) before resident interests is not. Residents are even now more often expected to be seen than heard in senior housing board and C-Suite circles. Still, enterprises like Beaumont Senior Living at Bryn Mawr are leading the way toward a future that may become prevalent over the next decade or so.

The Future Belongs to the Bold

It can be challenging for upper level executives to put customer-resident interests ahead of corporate interests.  After all, they are charged with the long term survival and well-being of the corporation. Nevertheless, paradoxically, time may prove that those enterprises which have found the right balance, and which provide the customer experience and customer value that future residents seek, will be those that prosper.  It takes courage to recognize a future that differs from the present, and it takes well-reasoned boldness, combined with courage, to embrace the future as a guide for the present. You can learn more about Beaumont at Bryn Mawr by clicking here.