The 5 Success Principles

In recent years the senior living industry has drawn quite a bit of attention from the investment community. This attention has not only increased the activity from investors, but also accelerated the proliferation of new technology that is expected to transform the senior living industry. 

We know what Silicon Valley and Wall Street think, but what do the operators believe? Is there anything at the moment that is truly compelling? What is their selection criteria? Do these operators have a governing methodology for implementing technology?

Equipped and intrigued by these questions, Beatha Group set out to interview a number of thought leaders within the senior living industry.

While the conversation focused exclusively on technology, it was fascinating to see how often this discussion transitioned focus to the softer side of technology. We are not only referring to software, but the general philosophies followed by each organization. None of these thought leaders were overly enamored by technology. Instead, they shared an undeniable commitment to leverage technology in order to improve the overall experience for employees and residents.

More importantly, these interviews lead the Beatha Group to identify the 5 success principles that help operators fully realize their technology investments.

These 5 success principles were chosen based upon their consistent presence throughout the dialogue. This incredibly insightful group of thought leaders offered some real and tangible solutions that can be tailored and applied to your organization.

The purpose of this executive study is to share these best practices with fellow operators. This study could be equally valuable to technology providers looking to drive greater value to their clients.

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1. Strategic

Most senior living executives will tell you the single best way to promote a relevant strategy is to have it front and center in nearly every conversation. It should be simple and transparent. This is critically important especially when deploying costly IT solutions.

The alternative and what is often the default position presents a number of challenges. Operations work in silos. Left to their own devices, the collective whole will generate far too many unnecessary projects when taking a bottoms-up approach. It becomes an unbearable list of “busy work” that ends up having little impact to the annual goals of the organization. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult to link initiatives to the broader strategic imperatives as the fragmented teams work on their respective priorities. While those initiatives may not necessarily be at odds with the business strategy, they often become reactionary exercises to justify such investments.

The general consensus among the leaders we interviewed was that they supported the notion of top-down planning. In other words, strategy is about choice. Organizations must decide on those “few annual bets” upfront and rally the entire organization to fully realize those critical investments. As for IT initiatives, they must figuratively represent a bridge from the current to the future state. All other efforts are simply distractions and should be retired or deferred to the following year.

Vitality Senior Living is a terrific example of an organization that demonstrates this type of approach. They are a new entrant into the senior living industry with a leader poised to make a big impact. Chris Guay is the President & CEO.  He explained, “We are building a business on the fundamental layers of data, communication and connectivity. We are laser focused on those elements as we know they will become the foundation for future projects.”

2. Engaging

There is no doubt that attracting and retaining talent is a top priority for any senior living executive. Unfortunately, this challenge is not an industry phenomenon that will soon pass. This reality will become even more difficult as demand outpaces supply and natural selection eliminates those organizations lacking a clear, compelling value proposition for employees.

It was interesting to hear how these thought leaders are grappling with this issue. We heard in nearly every conversation that retaining talent almost always comes down to the way in which you engage those individuals in your most important initiatives. Engagement is not about capturing employee feedback in a survey. Employee engagement has everything to do with giving your employees the keys to unlock your destiny. Engagement is found in your organization's DNA. Are you willing to entrust your employees with fulfilling your mission or is it a game of optics?

Keven J. Bennema is the President and CEO of Charter Senior Living, LLC. Kevin is an incredible catalyst for change with a penchant for creating positive outcomes. He pointed out, “The only way you will be successful is if you engage your entire organization. Your staff needs to be fully vested in the end game and the solutions that will help them get there. After all, they will be the beneficiaries.”

IT projects in particular can offer dual-benefits. If employees are engaged, you can strengthen their skills in managing complex and often nebulous projects. Additionally, greater engagement in an IT project will translate into significantly better adoption and outcomes.

3. Flexible

One challenge with any large IT implementation is attempting to rollout massive change without losing the ability to tailor the value to each resident. This assumes that there is a measured response across your people, process and technology. John Triscoli is the Senior Vice President and CIO at Erickson Living. He has been successful in this regard when following an interesting philosophy called, “freedom in a framework”.

John and his team take advantage of common system elements including corporate best practices along with a vast enterprise infrastructure. This works when process and technology are inextricably linked. These common system elements also encourage flexibility, so employees can serve the specific needs for each resident. This requires teamwork across the business and IT organizations as neither party can arrive at an optimal outcome alone.

For example, the Erickson team crafted a culinary solution that offers custom menus based on the unique tastes in each community. The key foundation for this solution is built on system-wide processes and technology. As a result, the business can effectively streamline menu planning and order fresh ingredients while consistently providing an exceptional dining experience.

John will tell you this approach works if you can leverage your economies of scale while reducing your long-term costs. He summed this up by stating that, “In order to compete in this market, we have to deliver unmatched value. This happens when our team focuses on the most efficient way to offer a personalized experience to each resident.”

4. Collaborative

Some have described the disconnect that exists between Silicon Valley and senior living operators as a chasm. While some may resent this idea, nobody will dispute the larger and more systemic challenges cannot be properly addressed unless we see greater collaboration.

Now more than ever, organizations both large and small will need to partner with a broader market contingent. This collaborative effort will include operators, technology providers, health systems, social services and public officials. This will be necessary as we see the convergence of influencing factors such as rampant chronic disease, a shifting healthcare paradigm and the need to integrate many disparate technologies.

John Larson is the CEO of Cantata Adult Life Services. The Cantata team is a firm believer in collaboration. John is a leader that walks the walk with a vision for the future. “We all play a role. No organization can solve this alone.  It requires a group of like-minded spirits willing to contribute their gifts to a larger calling and cause.”

The face of the industry will change dramatically over the next decade. With the right intentions to collaborate, the industry has the opportunity to positively impact the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political landscape for seniors.

5. Pragmatic

The latest technology buzz in the industry tends to focus more on those moonshot ideas rather than what is practically important to operators. There is an endless list of buzzwords and acronyms such as IoT, big data, the sharing economy, mobile health and AI. All of which will likely have a significant impact in resident living, however, most operators are far more interested in those technologies that will bear immediate fruit.

Every thought leader we interviewed summarized their determinant for technology needs into one quintessential question. What problem are we trying to solve? This is such an obvious question that is often overlooked as we become infatuated with the promise of technology.

One approach for alleviating this conundrum is to introduce a project charter as an extension of your business case. Project charters should not only clearly define your problem statement, but also layout your plan and those quantifiable measures you expect to attain.

Jim Tarantino is the Founder & CEO of Capri Senior Communities. Jim believes in being incredibly pragmatic. This is evident in Capri’s philosophy for promoting resident growth. This philosophy guided Capri’s success through building an incredible sense of community for over two decades. Capri is constantly testing technology to either strengthen social structures or improve care through Telehealth solutions.  

For Jim’s team, technology is a vehicle for driving greater value to their residents. In fact Jim opened the interview with these remarks, “We are in the people business. Technology gives us a platform to drive greater engagement with our residents, their families and employees.”

Conclusion

The 5 success principles represented in this executive study are intended to illustrate how some of the industry’s thought leaders have applied these concepts to their business. Operators and technology providers can stand to benefit if they choose to harness the same fundamental ideas.

As the industry continues to confront the many challenges and opportunities, it will be exciting to see the collective response. Technology will certainly be a greater enabler. If applied correctly, it will help improve the lives of many and allow seniors to live simply and sustainably.