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Six Reasons the Senior Housing Industry Needs Executive Coaches

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By Glenn Maul, Managing Partner, The Maul Group

You never know who you’re going to run into while presenting at a professional conference, or what they’re going to ask you to do!  

I co-facilitated a session for senior HR executives at last month’s Senior Care Human Resources Executive Summit – also known as the SHINE conference. We talked about retention, turnover, HR strategy, how to find great talent, and other quite serious topics.

I really shouldn’t have been surprised to run into Steve Moran, publisher of Senior Housing Forum, since he goes to conferences as a way of staying in touch with trends and people in the senior living industry. Steve and I caught up about what’s been going on since I left Brookdale, which, of course, is the industry’s largest company.

Yes, I’ll admit we speculated a bit about my former company with over 82,000 employees, where I had been the Chief People Officer and accountable for the entire HR function. We didn’t talk much about Sunrise Senior Living; I had worked, there, too, for over five years before going to Brookdale. But, mostly, I was glad to bend Steve’s ear a bit about why senior living leaders really need professional coaching and what the results have been since I founded The Maul Group to provide that service.

Of course, the leadership lessons and coaching tactics I use with clients cut across all the industries I’m involved with now. I’m glad to be working with retail executives again, as I did earlier in my career, but there’s a special place in my heart for senior living executives and I see a particular need for coaching in this still-young industry. Here’s why:

  1. Many of our regional and divisional leaders, as well as more senior leaders, are a product of the industry. They’ve been able to build their careers by growing in place and moving up fairly quickly. But they’ve stayed in one industry and, in many cases, at one company. They know their particular business inside and out but they haven’t had the benefit of a broader range of challenges that exposure in other companies and industries provides. So, the only way they’ve expanded their horizons is through reading books or connecting with others at conferences with a focus outside the industry. Working directly with an executive coach provides the broad perspective that is missing.

  2. Another point to consider: in senior living, we tend to either promote great department heads to executive director roles or hire executive directors from other senior living companies. But most senior living companies are small and don’t have the internal training and coaching resources to develop these talented department heads into the dynamic leaders a community needs. So, we essentially hand the keys to the community to someone who was great in a previous job but who is a novice in this new one, and we don’t give them an instruction manual! Some can figure it out quickly, some take a little longer, and, unfortunately, some never figure it out. An executive coach increases the odds of success and decreases the amount of time for an executive director to get up to speed.  

  3. If we hire experienced executive directors from outside our own company, we can’t be sure they got the quality training that’s needed to succeed. And you know as well as I do that training programs are vulnerable to cuts when occupancy is lagging or communities are short staffed. It’s a fact of life that training can be seen as less of a priority when other problems loom. An experienced executive coach can mean the difference between success and failure in these situations, and can accelerate the process of unsure new executive directors growing into seasoned leaders. Those executive directors can, in turn, provide coaching to those they lead.

  4. In senior living, we also tend to promote executive directors to multi-site leaders. But we forget that the skill sets are not the same! And great regional leaders can’t necessarily make a successful leap to run entire divisions or move on to central corporate positions. Many times, for various reasons including budget constraints, we rely on the next layer of management to provide training and, while some managers are excellent at it, others simply are not. After all, the ability to provide training and coaching is a specific functional discipline; some can do it and some cannot.

  5. Another obstacle is that HR departments are often staffed insufficiently. Senior living has some of the best HR talent available, and CEOs in other industries are starting to notice. We’ve got great people, who create great programs, but with the turnover they are facing as well as the other layer of administrative tasks to be completed, they struggle to deliver consistent programs. So, a significant way to bridge the gap and provide the opportunity for those we promote to learn new leadership skills and understand broader perspectives is through augmenting the work of in-house HR talent with executive coaches!

  6. Here’s one more benefit of some “outside help”:  new managers or newly promoted managers are less likely to tell their boss they are struggling, yet will freely tell a coach they are struggling. That open dialogue can actually save the day – and a business.

With “people” as the single largest line on a senior living company’s profit and loss statement, it’s rewarding to see a growing number of forward-thinking companies and executives who are looking to set their people up for success. These leaders recognize the potential of protecting the investment they’ve already made in their people by offering up some outside perspective through coaching. 

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