Five Takeaways from the LeadingAge 2023 Annual Meeting

Nov 20, 2023 | Industry Trends

By Rob Love, President/CEO

If you missed this year’s LeadingAge Annual Meeting in Chicago—or even if you were there but could only choose one of about 10 presentations in each time slot—you surely missed a lot of valuable insights on how our organizations can best prepare for the future. Here are five of my key takeaways from the sessions I was able to attend.

1. CEOs don’t want to live in their own communities.

In an interesting panel discussion with Dan Cinelli and a few C-suite members from various organizations, Dan and his team shared findings from a planning session Perkins Eastman did earlier this year with C-suite members from more than 10 Life Plan Communities. Among the findings: None of the CEOs would move to their own communities.

While there were many reasons for this, one of the key takeaways was that most communities today still are not offering what many younger, more affluent people are looking for in a community. The key characteristics that most of the planning session participants felt were important to them included greater integration with the surrounding community, intergenerational relationships, and exploration and discovery. To illustrate the potential, the panelists shared conceptual examples of communities located on a college campus, in a downtown area and even built in conjunction with a new high school.

My biggest takeaway from the presentation is that to be successful in the future, our organizations need to shift from thinking about themselves as housing, a continuum of care and amenities to home, longevity and experiences. At Love & Company, we strongly agree.

2. Board education is critical.

With the many challenges that our organizations face today, it’s essential that we prepare our board members to make sound decisions. Diane Burfeindt of Trilogy Connect led a panel on “Helping Your Board Change Before It Must” in which she highlighted many of the challenges boards face. We need to remember that board members are not experts in our field. They often don’t really understand the bigger trends that the C-suite understands. How can we bring them along?

In many cases, it’s the CEO that needs to lead the board. That was the case with the upcoming affiliation between The Well-Spring Group and Brightspire in North Carolina. It took the forward-thinking vision of the two CEOs to get the two organizations’ boards to think proactively and understand the benefits that joining forces could bring to each.

How are you preparing your board to think proactively about your organization’s future? If you’re not sure, Diane is a great resource.

3. There are ways to improve recruitment and retention.

Not surprisingly, recruitment and retention received a great deal of attention at the meeting. Charles Turner of KARE gave a particularly enlightening presentation that shared many of the differences between what caregivers really want and what management thinks they want. A few things that stuck with me were:

  • Flexibility is essential. For many certified nursing assistants (CNAs), senior living is often their second job and they need to be able to build their schedules around their lives.
  • Benefits are more important than we think. Management’s perception is that workers get their insurance from a spouse because only a low proportion enroll for healthcare. The reality is that benefits are very important to workers, but they simply can’t afford them. Given the cost of healthcare insurance, this isn’t surprising when more than half of communities that responded to the survey said they only paid half or less of the cost of an employee’s healthcare.
  • Other nontraditional benefits are also important. Most workers want paid tuition and mental health support benefits.
  • Caregivers do not care about your mission statement. They care about being able to “get their dopamine hit,” and that comes from caring for seniors. That’s where they get their joy.

If we can successfully address these challenges, we can significantly improve both retention and recruitment.

4. We still have a long way to go with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

DEI programs were another topic area that got a lot of attention during the conference. While there are no easy solutions to the DEI challenges in our field, one panel gave a particularly moving presentation on the challenges facing more diverse members of the C-suite. Kendra Roberts of HumanGood, Marvell Adams of W Lawson and Philippe Saad of DiMella Shaffer shared some of their experiences.

What struck me the most was the honest conversation the panelists had about the fears that hold back members of diverse groups in their interactions with others in business settings. These are fears that you are going to be perceived as a stereotype (the “angry black woman”) or as someone less than those around you (the “imposter syndrome”). As a result, most diverse leaders in our field are in mid-management positions like HR or nursing, not in senior VP roles, because they feel safer in those roles.

If you’re interested in understanding more about how to effectively include DEI in your community, I suggest you look into Marvell’s Longevity + Inclusion Alliance Fellows Program, a new program he has created to ensure leaders, organizations and business partners within the field of aging services are culturally competent, courageous and intentional in their journeys of DEI, belonging, accessibility and justice.

5. Marketing didn’t get much love.

As a marketer who specializes in Life Plan Communities, I always look forward to hearing about current trends and success stories in marketing and sales. Yet it was hard to find any this year. The sessions in the marketing track were about recruitment marketing, how your dining program impacts marketing and how marketing can impact your culture, but there was very little on what is working in marketing and sales today. I found this surprising, as most of our work these past few years has been helping communities rebuild from low census levels. So, stay tuned for 2024: We will certainly be submitting presentations on effective marketing and sales programs. It will be interesting to see what LeadingAge picks up.

I look forward to seeing all of you in Nashville next fall!

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