Community Culture: Your Key to Solving Staffing Challenges

By Denise Boudreau, President, Drive

Staffing and workforce issues are certainly among the most important challenges facing senior living organizations today. Yet some communities aren’t nearly as affected as others. I have friends in the field who have said to me, “I don’t want to tell people we’re not having staffing problems because I’m almost embarrassed by the fact that we’re not.” What’s the difference? Their organizational culture. I consistently see that the communities that are least impacted by the workforce challenges are those with the strongest cultures.

I’ll be exploring the importance of culture in employee retention and recruitment as part of Love & Company’s upcoming webinar, “Workforce Recruitment and Retention: Strategies and Insights for Optimal Outcomes,” at noon on Thursday, April 7. I’ll be joined by Dana Pyles, Vice President of Client Experience for Love & Company, and Peter Corless, EVP of Enterprise Development for OnShift. You can register for the webinar here.

Your culture is defined by the worst behavior you’re willing to tolerate.

The truth is you will have a culture no matter what, but it’s the organizations that are intentional with shaping their culture who stand the greatest chance at success. Either you define your organizational culture, or someone else will.

Leaders tend to think organizational culture is just “fluff” and not worth much time. But culture has very solid business implications, and it can even be measured. Yes, you can actually measure culture, and the data generated from measuring it helps leaders to better manage all the other outcomes they obsess over, such as outcomes like occupancy, profitability, productivity, retention and safety. I often like to say, “We don’t run our financials by our gut, we run our financials with data.” Culture needs to be treated the same way.

Drive’s work is optimizing organizational culture so that leaders can hone in and address what’s holding them back and better leverage the great parts of their culture.

When looking at our field’s current workforce challenges, a lot of people talk about the “Great Resignation” and how it has affected organizational staffing. While that has some truth to it, you really must look deeper. I think that, as a field, way too many decision-makers accept high turnover as normal. And when you accept something as normal, then you don’t do much about it. Now that’s a whole different kind of resignation.

The organizations that are surviving this are the ones that realize, “We have a choice in this.” If your turnover is high, it doesn’t matter if you raffle a car, throw some pizza parties, or offer a little more money. That won’t make your community a place where people want to work. You’ve got to work on your culture.

Asking the Right Questions

To evaluate culture, we use a tool that literally measures it. This tool, which has been around for 25 years, is used by big-time organizations like Coca-Cola, Volvo and The Ritz-Carlton. It’s just three questions, takes only ten minutes to complete, and focuses on values.

The first question is about personal values. What are your top ten personal values? This is important because, if team members’ personal values are aligned with the organization’s values, they can show up at work as their true selves. They perform better, and because they perform better, the organization performs better.

Second, we ask: What are the top ten values or behaviors you currently see in the organization? This question brings to light the current culture, i.e., “how we work around here.” Third, we ask the magic question: If we were performing at our best as an organization, what are the top ten values and behaviors you would like to see? This gives us a destination, a place we want to get to over time. Too often when people focus on engagement, they focus on how things are right now. But to have a strong culture that drives engagement, we need the map to show us where we want to get to.

What I love about this tool is how it very quickly prioritizes what is most important. If you strategically focus on those priorities—those top ten values you’d like to see—you’re going to get changes that stick and that make a difference. You can be strategic, and you can shape your own culture. That’s when your turnover starts going down, and it becomes easier to recruit people.

Without a tool like this, you wind up throwing whatever you’ve got at the wall—blindly—wondering what will stick. That’s where things like car raffles, pizza parties, random raises and sign-on bonuses come into play. Managers try these things, and then get frustrated because they don’t work. They are like, “Wait, I did all this and it’s still not enough?” But it’s not what was important to the staff. This sets off a cycle of waste (time, money and resources) and can breed resentment in existing staff.

If I had to offer just one piece of advice on what you can do to help work on your culture, it’s to think about how you make people feel. Whatever you do, think about how it makes someone feel.

If you are walking down the hall with your face in your phone, and as you pass someone you don’t acknowledge them, how does that make them feel? It may make them think you don’t like them, or it may make them think you don’t respect them. And that becomes your culture.

Same thing for recruiting: If you have a long, cumbersome, paper application, or if someone shows up on time for an interview only to sit and wait 15 to 20 minutes to be seen, how does that make them feel? Are they going to want to come work for you?

Tailoring Your Approach

People often blame the millennials for turnover issues, but I don’t agree with that. I just think our world has changed. Work-life balance is a very real thing, and it’s not just about millennials. When you look at what millennials want in a workplace, it’s not that different from everyone else. Take coaching and mentoring, for example. It’s important to millennials, but guess what? Coaching and mentoring are important to every age group, and they should certainly be a priority.

What I coach my clients on is to adapt to the individual, not to the generation. Forget about the age separation and focus on what the individual person needs, and what is important to them. Maybe one person wants coaching and mentoring every couple of weeks, while someone else wants it every couple of months. Tailor your approaches to the individual.

By tailoring your approach to individuals, you learn their values and what is important to them. Then, by building organizational values to be in harmony with individual values, you lay the foundation for a strong culture. With that foundation, you can then define the destination: where you want to get to, and what you want your culture to be. That creates clear guidelines to follow. If you have team members whose behavior is not consistent with those values, then you can give them the opportunity to align with them or ask them to leave. Step by step, you can build a culture that increases retention, supports recruitment and provides the staffing you need to be successful.

I hope you’ll join me, Dana Pyles and Peter Corless in our webinar on April 7. During the webinar, I will explore the impact of culture on retention and recruiting in more depth, and Dana and Peter will share additional insights on effective employee branding and recruiting practices.

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