A Vision for Growth

Jun 19, 2024 | Expansion/Start-up

By Craig Abbott, President/CEO, Saint Therese

Craig Abbott was named President and CEO of Saint Therese, a Minnesota-based multisite provider of senior living, in May 2022. Prior to joining Saint Therese, Craig served senior living organizations for more than 17 years with Health Dimensions Group (HDG), a Minneapolis-based senior living provider and consulting group. Craig’s 35-year senior living career has included leadership positions at Good Samaritan Society, Minnesota Masonic Homes and Volunteers of America before joining HDG.

How Saint Therese Is Planning to Touch 25,000 Lives by 2035

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of periodic blogs that will track the results of Saint Therese’s growth initiatives over the next few years.

When I joined Saint Therese in 2022, one of myriad items we devoted extensive time to involved developing a strategic plan for the organization. We wanted to clearly define the vision and direction for Saint Therese over the next several years. A key component to the plan was to create consensus on whether or not we wanted to expand our footprint and actively seek opportunities to extend our ministry.

In today’s senior living world, you have to make the decision: Are you going to commit to growth, or are you going to stay status quo? Saint Therese could have been a very intriguing addition to another larger organization. With three existing continuum-of-care communities and a fourth in development, plus a strong rehab service line and a small hospice community, we had a decent market presence, but we wanted to reach a more substantive scale to ensure long-term sustainability. It took a lot of consensus building with senior leadership and our board, but we collectively decided that we wanted to “be at the table, not on the menu.” We wanted to grow and very thoughtfully and mindfully extend our mission.

My Impetus to Join Saint Therese

Being based in Minneapolis for the vast majority of my career, I was already pretty familiar with Saint Therese before joining. Saint Therese was a client of Health Dimensions Group (HDG), and I knew my predecessor, Barb Rode, very well. I had loved watching the history of Saint Therese unfold from a distance. Its reputation is strong, it has a great mission and it has been serving aging Minnesotans for more than five decades. As I spent about six months going through the hiring process and meeting all the people, I was really impressed. There are wonderful, wonderful people here.

At HDG, I had also had a lot of experience working with Catholic organizations, so it was a good fit from that perspective as well. I felt Saint Therese had an opportunity to grow and advance its mission more broadly, not just in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area, but regionally in the Midwest and potentially further afield as well. The board was open to considering it; we all just needed to understand that we weren’t looking to grow just for growth’s sake, and we all wanted to ensure that the expansion of our ministry wouldn’t have an adverse impact on the organization and within the communities we currently serve.

How Saint Therese Defines Growth

For a growth strategy to be successful, you need to clearly define exactly what growth means to you, and then you have to determine how you measure your progress against your goals.

For Saint Therese, we think of growth more in terms of mission enhancement. As I stated previously, we don’t just want to grow for growth’s sake. We want to identify what’s special about Saint Therese and how we can use that to influence other organizations—whether bricks and mortar or otherwise—to carry the sense of Saint Therese forward in the senior living field. Because of this mission focus, we agreed to use “lives touched” as a way to evaluate where we are today and where we’re going to go in the future.

In 2023, Saint Therese touched 6,500 lives. We measured that by including all of our housing residents, those we served in short-term or long-term care and those we served through Ascend Rehabilitation. We also agreed to include staff as those definitely are lives that we touch in a meaningful, very person-centered way, as well as volunteers and donors. So, when we talk about the goal of touching 25,000 lives by 2035, we will be measuring these categories.

Our Priorities for Growth

How are we going to achieve this growth? It’s going to come from several directions.

First, over the next three years we’d like to bring—at a minimum—three new organizations into the Saint Therese fold. Whether it’s a sponsorship, a transfer, a partnership or an acquisition, we’d like to see a minimum of 1,500 units under our management by the end of three years. It could be one a year or it could be three this year. There’s no magic to that.

Second, to find these opportunities, we need to create awareness in the field that Saint Therese wants to expand and grow. Our initial focus will be largely in the Midwest as that’s closest to home. We firmly commit to the premise that “absence does not make the heart grow fonder;” we want to be very engaged and present in any markets and communities we serve. From my past experiences, I’ve seen too many organizations fall victim to being absentee partners and there is too much at risk if we’re not well engrained wherever we may serve. And while we certainly have strong foundational Catholic roots—and that will never change—we equally consider ourselves a broader faith-based organization today, not just a Catholic one. So, we are open to any conversation that firmly aligns with our mission and values.

Over the past year-plus we’ve started getting the word out there, but we’ve got further to go. We’ve been blessed to have several opportunities advanced to us for consideration, and at any given time we’re in very active exploration of a handful of potential opportunities. These have primarily come to us by word of mouth and/or direct outreach. But our goal is that this goes beyond just my relationships and connections. We want more market and brand awareness that Saint Therese is actively looking to touch more lives and expand our well-storied mission and ministry. If a not-for-profit organization in Pennsylvania is looking for affiliation opportunities, we want them to know that Saint Therese could be a good potential partner. That doesn’t happen by accident, and we are actively engaging in a multitude of ways to ensure more broad awareness in the field.

We also want to have—at a minimum—one new mission-aligned business opportunity that’s not in existence today. It could be management services, PACE or home care. There aren’t a lot of overly defined specifics as we are open to a number of possibilities. And we’re ideally not going to start from scratch. We’d like to find opportunities with a good strategic partner—or partners—so we can get deeper and move more expediently into community-based services.

Using EOS to Drive Our Plans

I’m a strong believer in the Entrepreneurial Operating System, or EOS. In EOS, one of the first steps is to cast a direction for the future. You start pretty broadly about where you want to see the organization. You set your mission, vision and values first as those are your guiding principles. You don’t get caught up in the minutiae at this stage; just ask yourselves where you want to see your organization go over the next decade or so. Then share that vision so everyone in the organization is on the same page. Once that’s set, you can start tackling how to get there.

EOS helps you lay out more tangibly the things you need to accomplish over the next week, the next 90 days and over the next year to move toward your mid-range and long-term goals. We didn’t actually start by mapping out a plan to touch 25,000 lives in 10 years. Instead, we established a three-year goal of getting from 6,500 to 10,000. Then we established annual and quarterly goals to get us moving steadily toward that three-year goal. It’s really about focusing, committing, holding yourself accountable, constantly measuring success and looking to achievable incremental growth and outcomes.

It took us the better part of my first year to get everyone aligned with the idea of growth, clearly defining what that meant for the organization and ensuring that the leadership team and board were collectively comfortable with the idea of growth. We’re in a very solid position as an organization currently and want to maintain that strong position into the future. So much time has been—and continues to be—spent ensuring we have the necessary infrastructure to expand our ministry and confidently accomplish the goals from a mission, human resource and financial standpoint.

Our First Acquisition

In July 2023, we closed on our first acquisition, IHM Senior Living Community (IHM SLC), in Monroe, Michigan. IHM SLC is a full Life Plan Community that was owned and operated by the IHM Sisters, a Catholic organization based in Monroe with the mission “to build a culture of peace and right relationship among ourselves, with the Church and with the whole Earth community.” As with many Catholic sisterhoods, as the sisters were aging they realized they needed another organization to carry the mission of IHM SLC forward.

This opportunity was already on the table when I started at Saint Therese, as we had been connected to the IHM Sisters by Lynn Daly of HJ Sims. At the time, the sisters were considering several organizations. After a six- or seven-month journey, the sisters selected Saint Therese as the right partner and fit.

The sisters chose us and we chose them for myriad reasons, the largest of which was a very strong feeling and affirmation of mission alignment. I don’t just mean the words you put on paper when you write a mission statement. We had deep conversations about mission and culture; when the sisters visited Saint Therese and our communities, they saw that we truly live our mission and values. That gave them confidence that the legacy they had built over the past 175 years was going to continue into the future. It’s what I believe was most important to them, and it’s what’s most important to us as we look at future opportunities.

The Importance of a Clear Vision

If it weren’t for the EOS work we were doing with our leadership team and board on asking tough questions, looking at what we do well and where we may have shortcomings, and clearly defining mission, vision, values and goals, I’m not sure the acquisition of the IHM SLC would have happened. This is why achieving clarity of your organization’s vision, future direction and goals is so important: It enables opportunities to happen that otherwise might pass you by.

Editor’s note: Please stay tuned to Love & Company’s blog series for periodic updates from Craig on Saint Therese’s progress on its growth goals over the next few years.

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