Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Three ideas to strengthen your community relationships

My mother in law had emergency surgery two weeks ago; now she’s in a local nursing home under hospice care. Meanwhile, my father-in-law, who no longer drives, needs to be picked up from the other end of town daily, brought to visit his wife, and returned home.

Fortunately for my husband and I, his two sisters also live in the area. The three of them are alternating days – for now. Both sisters have summer vacation plans, and we’ve got work-related travel that we can’t reschedule.

Like millions of Americans, we’re living the classic “sandwich generation” life. We’re squeezed between the needs of our elderly parents, our own children and our work demands. Add to this the anxiety many are experiencing related to job layoff or uncertainty, and its no wonder families are feeling the stress.

It seems like the perfect opportunity for senior care companies to step in and provide some relief.

“Hey,” you say, “We’ve got the vacancies. We can help by moving their parent in tomorrow!”

For many families, however, an immediate move isn’t the solution. Worries about finances make this a bigger challenge – and potentially longer closing time – than anytime in the past several years.

So what can you do to support those families in your communities that are feeling the squeeze?

Offer respite care – and let the community know about it
. Now is a great time to really promote your respite care options. For families that are on the verge of burnout, just a weekend or a few days mid-week can make all the difference. Can you offer it at a reduced rate for first time users? For repeat clients? Be creative and think of ways to nudge the family into giving respite care a try. They may well become long term clients with this small first step.

Beef up your family support services.
You probably tried family support groups with little success in the past. This might be the perfect time to try it again, however. Call them “Family Education Seminars” rather than support group. Schedule area professionals to be your guest speakers, including physicians, pharmacists, occupational and physical therapists, hospice nurses and more. Tap into public service announcements on radio, TV and in newspapers to promote these seminars. This is a perfect opportunity to position yourself as the expert in senior care, and as the trusted advisor to families living in the community.

Offer caregiver training for family caregivers
. You probably train caregivers all year long in your community. What about extending an offer of training to family caregivers? You can set up a short series of training sessions, charge a nominal fee and offer it to families in the community who are choosing to care for a parent instead of seek placement in a care setting. Contact us to set up a blended training program offering families some training through our online courses, followed up by hands’ on training you provide in specific caregiving skills. We’ll help you design a ready-to-launch family training program that can be a genuine benefit to caregiving families in your community and a great PR tool for your company.

These are just a few of the ideas you might want to explore to help ease the pain of families in your community who are feeling the pressure of being, as one person puts, it, “the baloney in the middle of a smushed-bread sandwich.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Training and retention go hand in hand for building a successful team

Here’s an interesting concept: hiring someone else’s star employee won’t necessarily ensure that he’ll become your star employee. In fact, a professor at Harvard Business School recently found that it can take up to 5 years for a person to work at his highest level within a company. Until then, he’ll be underperforming.

This professor found that it’s far more efficient and effective for a company to take individuals with raw ability and talent and train those persons in the specific tasks needed to do the job.

This professor found that several factors go into getting the best out of your team members, including these:
  • Colleagues (we know from the Gallup organization that employees are more engaged when they have close friends at work) ;
  • Supporting functions (employees function best when they don’t have to worry about routine aspects of their job like pay and benefits, having adequate supplies, etc.);
  • IT systems (there’s a learning curve to any IT system you use, whether its for the purpose of online training, charting or managing work);
  • Corporate culture (organizations have their own culture; it takes time to learn the culture and feel comfortable and a part of that culture);
  • Trust with supervisors (you’ve probably heard the phrase: “Employees don’t leave jobs; they leave managers”).

Interestingly, the best and brightest employees tend to stay longer with a company, too, according to the same research. They may be sought out by other companies, and they may threaten to leave for more money, but, by and large, investing in building stars in-house is a big step to improving retention.

Surround your stars with other high-performing employees, and watch your retention increase even more. That’s easy for me to understand: there’s nothing more frustrating for a person who is working really, really hard to achieve a goal than to be surrounded by other people who are not nearly as invested.

Think about the marketing person who is a dynamite salesperson. She knows all of your key referral sources by name and can comfortably call any one of them for a chat. When a family calls with an inquiry, she has them laughing and comfortable with her within the first few minutes of a call. You can tell that families coming for a tour form a quick, deep bond with her. And of course, her results are excellent. You rarely have vacancies; often you even have a waiting list.

Now think about your stellar marketing person surrounded by caregivers who don’t have any investment in the success of the operation. They don’t look at visitors with a smile, let alone know regular family members by name. They don’t bother to keep the hallways tidy, and would never think about making a quick pass before a tour to plump up the pillows on the sofa and tidy the activity room.

How long do you think you’ll keep your marketing director?

This example is one that is very visible and obvious; the same is true, however, for each person on your team. Surround your team with teammates who are engaged and motivated, and they’ll all do better work. Surround them with slackers and even your best will either leave or begin underperforming.

Turnover not only sucks away valuable dollars, it consumes a lot of management time and focus. The key seems to be less focus on hiring the best, and more focus on growing, managing and supporting the best – right within your company today.

Monday, July 13, 2009

4 steps to becoming a learning organization

Our culture and society is in fast-change mode. If you don’t believe it, look at the largest growth industries today. One of the largest growth companies is Google, whose very business premise didn’t exist just a few years ago.

Many senior care providers are operating in ways very similar to how they operated 20 years ago. Staffing models are essentially the same; the menu of services and the way it is delivered is unchanged.

We’re on the verge of a dramatic change in our society that will affect the way senior care is delivered as we boomers advance into old age. We will likely insist on change, as we refuse to age the way our parents and grandparents aged.

Learning organizations are those that have the foundational structure in place to keep up with these changes. They’ll be the leaders – or perhaps the survivors.

How can you nurture your own organization (or your own department, for that matter) into become a true learning organization?

  1. Get rid of the language that resists change. When you hear someone on your team say, “This is the way we’ve always done it,” ask one question: “Why?” Teach your team to ask why as well. And then open the doors to thinking as a team about how else it could be done. If it’s working really well, leave it alone. If it could be done better, change it.

  2. Take action, then analyze. When we started the first online CNA training program in the state of Oregon, we decided that we needed to own the entire training program. That meant getting lab and clinical training sites located throughout the state, managed by a variety of non-profit, for-profit and government owned organizations. Some of our sites were very well run and managed; some were highly dysfunctional. Within 90 days we realized that the program needed to be changed. Fortunately, our co-sponsor, Oregon Health Care Association, was open to a healthy, rousing analysis of what was working and what wasn’t. Together, we arrived at Plan B. We were no more sure that it would work smoother than Plan A, but we knew we needed to at least try it. Now, we’re offering just the online aspect of the course, and requiring our training partners to manage all other aspects of the training program within their program. We gave up all ownership of students and programs, and simply offer the online course. It works well – today. But we’ll be continually reviewing the program to catch it quickly, we hope, if we need to change it again. The point is that if we would have waited to launch the program until we knew exactly how it should work, we may never have launched it, or we may have been so invested in the Plan A approach that we may have been unwilling to quickly change to another approach.

  3. Include all levels of your team. Typically the folks in the “C” suite (CEOs, CFO, COOs and their kin) make all the strategic plans for an organization. But in a true learning organization, all levels get involved. Who understands best, for example, what works and doesn’t work in your kitchen beside the cooks? Who understands best scheduling dynamics of shifts better than the caregivers? Learning from experience means getting all levels involved. It means fostering an environment, from the ground up, that allows people to ask questions and give input; that takes action and then analyzes that action, without assigning blame or fault.

  4. Make change a part of your culture. Managing change is one of the hardest aspect of running an organization, especially change that affects everyone in the company. Some employees will resist any change; others will actively look for ways to make the change into the problem, rather than truly analyzing the results of the change. Communicate to your team that change is a fact of life – that things WILL change. Invite them to become a part of the change in a positive way. Make change fun, exciting, interesting, and most importantly, productive and worthwhile. Let your team know that if the change doesn’t produce the desired result, you’ll analyze it and take action – you aren’t just changing for the sake of shaking things up. Team members will begin to see the value in this continual iterative process of plan-launch-analyze-tweak until they, too, start participating in the process.

Most of us won’t have the luxury of business as usual, year after year into the future. We’ll need to become true learning organizations to survive and thrive.

Concepts for this article were taken from the Harvard Business School video titled “The Importance of Learning in Organizations.”

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Getting ahead of the competition: become a learning organization

I really enjoy watching the Harvard Business School’s youtube videos. They’re very short (that’s good for my busy schedule) but they’re generally packed with nuggets of information that get me thinking about my own business.

The video I watched today is the one titled “The Importance of Learning in Organizations.

The point of this video, and the books and articles that it is based on, is that organizations who are able to learn from experience and observation and continually change as the result will be the leaders. They may, in fact, be the survivors.

Think about the change that the internet has brought to many businesses. At one time, information was a commodity that was valuable and relatively scarce. If I needed to know how to create a simple contract between myself and a tenant, I’d consult an attorney. His time was worth a lot of money to me since that information was not available anywhere else.

Today, I can find a dozen landlord-tenant agreements on the internet, most of them free. I can pay a very small fee and download a legal form that exactly meets my needs.

That change undoubtedly affected the business practice of most attorneys.

The accessibility of the internet has certainly changed my own business practices. Now, instead of training a small group of individuals at a time, in a classroom or conference somewhere, we’re training thousands of individuals, disbursed over time and space, all taking the same class over the internet.

Here’s a key concept from this video (which it worth the time to watch):

“The rate at which organizations and individuals learn may well become the only competitive advantage. If you’re learning more rapidly than the competition you can get ahead and stay ahead. If your rate of learning isn’t greater than the rate of change in society you’ll fall behind.”

Next week we’ll look at what you can do to facilitate this crucial learning in your organization.