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The 4 Most Important Lessons from A Year of Thinking About Culture

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By Steve Moran

2018 has been an amazing year for Senior Housing Forum and for me personally. 18 months ago Denise Boudreau-Scott and I started a journey to offer discussion-based gatherings of senior living executives to explore together how to create senior living organizations that are amazing places to work. Organizations that will be the first choice place to work.

Our premiere event is the Culture 2100 Inner Circle that wrapped up the week before Thanksgiving with a gathering in Puerto Rico. I came away with four key observations about senior living organizations:

4 Key Learnings

  1. Most organizations have too many programs -- We have mostly moved away from solving problems by creating a new rule or regulation and replaced it with the idea that we solve problems by creating programs. But what happens is that too often those programs became another form of business that distracts from the real problem, which is to create more and better human relationships.

    They take time, energy, and money.

    They create an illusion that you are making things better.

    They mostly add additional work and stress to team members who already feel overburdened. This is particularly true for leaders at the local property level and their regional support staff.

    Don’t get me wrong, programs are like rules, some are absolutely necessary, but the goal should be to get rid of as many as possible and to implement new ones only as a last resort.

  1. Most leaders are wasting too much time on the wrong things -- What I mean by this is that the CEO's/COO’s primary job has to be going insane about creating and improving the culture of their organization. They should be eating, sleeping, thinking about, and working on culture all of the time.

    Yes, there are other things a CEO has to do, but many of those things can actually be done by someone else. Making deals can be so exciting, being on the board of _________ ”is a huge honor." And to be sure, some of that is important because it is about modeling a certain kind of behavior.  

    And it may be that in some organizations, the CEO is actually not the right person with the right skill set to do this, but in that case, there needs to be a COO who has the power and the authority and the passion to fill that role.

  1. Most senior living leaders are terrible at collecting and telling organizational stories -- This one confounds me more than all others. I frequently ask leaders this question:

    “Tell me a story that will make me cringe, cry, laugh, or teach me something about how your organization has changed the life of a resident, team member, or family member.”

    Almost every time I make this request it is followed by a long pause, after which the response is “we have lots of stories that happen in our organization each day.” I then ask for just one.

    Most of the time I get nothing or a story that is not that great or at least not told in a great fashion.  

    This is a huge problem. TELLING STORIES IS THE ONLY WAY TO PROPAGATE CULTURE!  

  1. Most leaders are addicted to the drug of business -- The best place to see this is at senior living conferences. Everyone has to be at the Senior Living Innovation Forum, NIC, Argentum, LeadingAge, AHCA, and yet watch how it plays out . . .

    They leave early, they step out to work on documents, work through emails, and take phone calls. At the end of the day, they are there but not really present.

These are hard truths and I have been guilty of all of them except maybe the storytelling part. At the end of the day, they are all really about being present and in the moment for the people you and your organization serve. It is not just a CEO problem. It happens to regional and executive directors as well, but C suite leadership sets the example. 

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