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How Primrose Retirement Turned Their Culture Around

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By Steve Moran

Many weeks ago I interviewed Dylan Kessler, the Training and Development Coordinator at Primrose Retirement Communities, out of Aberdeen, South Dakota. They have had amazing, mind-blowing success in both their recruitment and retention efforts and these are the highlights of that story. At the end of the article, there's a link to the video of the entire interview which runs close to 30 minutes, but I would recommend it as time well spent.

This post is the “Cliff Notes” version.

Background

They knew they had a problem, but initially did not really understand how bad until they started crunching the numbers. It turned out they had no idea. The dollar costs were “astronomical and it was taking a tremendous emotional toll on the whole team.

Initial Focus

Their initial focus was on how they hire. Here are the questions they asked themselves:

  • Are we, are we being conscientious?

  • Are we being responsible?

  • How are we onboarding people . . . are we being responsible to our team members in how we're bringing them into our culture?

  • Were we explaining the expectations?

  • Are we giving them everything that they need in order to be successful?

Their Shocking Discovery

Dylan went on to describe how they took a number of wrong turns, one of the most significant was focusing on frontline staff. It turned out that they needed to look further up the leadership chain. What they found was that they had great managers in their buildings.

But . . . 

They were not giving them the tools they needed to be successful. What they ultimately figured out was the highest value thing they could do was focus on their director-level staff, specifically executive directors, sales directors, dining directors, and maintenance directors.

The big goal, the big idea was not to teach them the tactical stuff but to teach them how to be good leaders.

Nuts and Bolts

The way they do this is to take their community-level leaders on a three-day retreat where they work on things like strengths and weaknesses, self-awareness, passion, communication, servant leadership, and person-centered care, person-centered care is a very broad topic that includes the needs of team members.

Some Additional Key Takeaways

To get the full flavor and benefit, the whole interview is worth the time spent watching it but here are some additional takeaways:

  • Substantial culture change can happen in a relatively short period of time, meaning a year or two.

  • The first and maybe most important step in this process is to recognize that things are not right and being will to take a hard look at those things that are not working.

  • A big part of getting it right is trying things and seeing what works and what doesn’t, then doing more of the stuff that works and not doing any more of the stuff that does not.

  • Using a pre-employment assessment tool to help them identify prospects that have the emotional/personality traits that give their new hires a better chance of success.

Here is the entire interview:

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