The Future is Here – And What We Need For Our Communities To Win

Our Competitor Is Fueling Up…2018 is the Year

Dr. Jacquelyn Kung, CEO of Activated Insights

Staying at home has long been our industry’s main competitor. The average age of our residents has jumped up, thanks largely to the blossoming of non medical home care agencies which enable safe aging in place…at home.

Well, in case you missed the news: 2018 is the year of transformation in our industry.

What we mean is this: a huge enabler of aging at home is driving and this year it’s getting easier. Many industry experts have cited self-driving cars as a bigger threat to the senior housing industry than most other innovations.

And, guess what? The future of aging-at-home is here. It’s first arriving in Phoenix. Since it’s funded by Google, this future will spread FAST.

What Is Happening

Since early last year, Google’s Waymo division has been quietly testing its car technology in Chandler, a suburb outside Phoenix. Many residents haven’t even noticed: these cars have had drivers behind the wheel so they “look” normal, and they are no longer the cute smiling Google pods but rather are regular Chrysler minivans with a boogie-board looking thing on top.

Google’s Waymo driverless car takes to the streets.

This year, Google is yanking the drivers from those cars. And before the holidays, Google announced their funding of Trov, a car insurance backed by Munich reinsurance, to cover passengers in all Waymo autonomously-driving cars. Yes, all of this is done with the support of government: Arizona’s Department of Transportation is practically gushing in praise in their press release.

What’s more: seniors, disabled adults, and busy families will be among the first to benefit. You might recall that the first passenger in Google’s driverless car was a blind man who took it to get a meal at a fast food drive through window. In a photo of one of the dozens of Phoenix area early rider families, you see two busy parents Ted and Candace with four kids. You can just imagine one of those kids replaced by Ted’s elderly parent.

In short, the future is here for us all. Living in San Francisco, I see it on highways during commute hours: people reading their iPads while at the wheel because their Audis, Teslas, and other technology-aided cars are allowed to drive autonomously to stay within the lanes. Uber’s rival Lyft, whose recent funding is from Google, will send a text to me as a rider to okay if my ride is in a driverless car. My friends in Boston have already gotten these texts.

What Our Communities Need to Do To Win – Measure, Improve, and Engage Our Workforce To Win In Times of Change

The defensive answer is to add move-in incentives or to add technology. But ironically, that is short-term thinking. I’d argue that virtual reality and iPads/Alexas are not going to cut it.

Rather, to win in the long term, we need to solve our core issues. One of the biggest and most transformative is around workforce. Here, there are three issues we need to address:

1.) We are not an industry of choice — instead, our organizations need to be competitive to the Disneys, Googles, and Wegmans of the world.

2.) We have a turnover and retention issue — to avert crisis, we need strategies to optimize, retain, and grow our workforce.

3.) We rest on our laurels of how-things-are — with the changes underway, we need to empower our workforce through great cultures.

If we look at other industries that have transformed through systemic changes like the ones we are facing, we can learn from the companies that have won in the face of change. Interestingly, the research shows a common tie: they focus on creating great places to work. From there, trust in management leads to engaged employees, who delight customers and these great-culture companies outperform. There exist two decades of research that this is the order in which things happen.

It sounds like a big strategy, but it is very do-able. And our industry – and each of our organizations – need to act.

Here is what each of our organizations needs to do – it’s starting with the basics and building great culture:

Step 1. Measure ourselves against each other AND also the best employers in the U.S. – to transform into an employer of choice

Let’s benchmark our organizations against our industry like we normally do, but more importantly, let’s also benchmark to ALL organizations that we compete against for talent. For instance, this means hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and others – for talent in housekeeping, dining, and nursing. Let’s become the best overall. This is the gold standard measure that you can use to compare your employee engagement apples to apples against ourselves in this industry as well as others across industries.

Great Place to Work Institute tracks the employee engagement of the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For. For thirty years across big and small companies, only one senior housing company has been on the list. It’s not because our industry can’t be great employers. I think it’s more because of a lack of knowledge of what to do mixed with a dollop of complacency.

Here is the key and what to do: this data is readily available, so work with Great Place to Work Institute. It is straightforward: for $995 and within 4-8 weeks, you can get your employees’ Trust Index score. Plus with this score, you can get, or work towards, Certification as a Great Place to Work.

Step 2. Improve using data and best practices – to lower our turnover

It’s no coincidence that the Best Workplaces have, on average, 50% LOWER turnover than industry averages as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Key to lowering turnover is knowing where our gaps are and what to do to improve.

None of this is rocket science, but it takes leadership and hard work. Get help if you need it. Across the U.S., you see many employers struggle with their hourly workforce in a myriad of ways. What you do not hear of is how many of them are working with Great Place to Work Institute. It’s because organizations engaged with Great Place to Work Institute are held in confidence – until they win a public award and are recognized in FORTUNE or PEOPLE.

Here is the key: there is a massive library of best practices gathered from over three decades of work that you can use. Many case studies exist of BAD or NEUTRAL workplaces transforming to be GOOD or GREAT. It does take leadership and hard work – but a roadmap exists that we can build on.

Step 3. Engage our workforce – to nurture a culture that is not afraid to innovate and transform to win against changes

This one is pretty self explanatory. Except, most people start here and talk about employee engagement. The key is that you need to measure it in order to improve it. And that organizations are not alone: three decades of research and roll-up-the-sleeves work has existed to build on. Major brands across the U.S. and the world are engaged with Great Place to Work Institute. You can benefit too.

None of this happens overnight, but in the past, organizations of 1,000 employees or more have achieved steps 1-3 in as little as eighteen months with a dedicated team of great leaders and some roll-up-the-sleeves hard work. Smaller organizations can transform even faster.

Conclusion: The Next Three Years And Why Act Now

Lest you think 2018 is the only year of fast change, let’s preview the next few years and the implications on our industry. It will be fast and furious from here. Here is a drive-through of the next few years (pun intended):

2018 – As mentioned at the start of this article, this is the year self driving cars hit public roads. Senior care will be transformed.

2019 – The little thing called healthcare reform shifts in 2019, when the first MACRA payment adjustments will hit over 700,000 doctors/nurses. Oh boy will we feel their referral changes.

2020 – Artificial intelligence (like Siri, self-driving cars, predictive services) will be more error proof and mainstream. Seniors are already using it.

2021 – Since some folks do not count 2018 in a 3-year view, let’s look at 2021 too – it’s when the first Baby Boomer turns age 75. Their no-way-in-hell-do-I-retire-like-my-parents attitude will permeate our industry.

As you can see, changes are coming and only speeding up. The time to act in strengthening our core is now. That way, we can win in this changing future.

In conclusion, the first step to ensure long term success in times of change is to work on strengthening our core: let’s fix our workforce challenges. And then we watch innovation blossom and the fun of winning in aging begin. What a great goal to start off the new year – happy new year!

Dr. Jacquelyn Kung is the CEO of Activated Insights, which is identifying and tackling the biggest challenges in senior services. With over two decades of experience in senior living and care, Dr. Kung has been a longtime author, speaker, and innovator in our industry. Previously, she was an operator of one of the largest CCRCs in the U.S., served Fortune 500 companies as the U.S. aging expert at McKinsey & Co, and started a technology which now serves over 1M seniors and caregivers. Her book was featured on the Today Show. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter.

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