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Great expectations

October 1, 2010
by Michael Goins, CALA
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Setting training standards to maximize public perception

Culture is ever-evolving and so is training. Gone are the days of stacks of papers looked at once and then stored away in training purgatory. During a time when children are Skyping to see their parents in a nursing home, the industry must adapt to the growing needs of a new generation. We, as an industry, must change our culture and change the way we do business. We must now make it easier for the customer to do business with us. It starts with three things: the people, the training, and the willingness to change.

Change isn't easy

Changing the service culture of an industry takes more than paper handouts and two-hour in-services. It takes a dedicated team committed to changing the culture of an operation and it must run from the top to the bottom. As managers we must lead by example and set the example for our staff. Our community, Chelsea Senior Living in Toms River, New Jersey, focuses on creating department head initiatives that will translate to the line level positions and initiate an osmosis effect for the rest of the staff. For example, each week our department heads pick one resident each and create a memorable experience for that resident. We want to change the way we look at our residents. As much as we must follow care plans and doctors’ orders, we must also look at a way to improve the resident quality of life beyond the medical aspect.

Look to develop a daily stand-up meeting that focuses on communicating important information to your department heads that they can communicate to their staff. When doing this, think outside the box. Use this time to create a five-minute interactive daily training session. Cite situations that happen in your facility and look for ways to resolve them. Give your staff the tools to empower them to resolve resident issues on their own.

Leadership tool kit

In our community we use a leadership tool kit that has an objective for the week. Each day of the week focuses on a training session that is used to give our staff the best chance to resolve any resident issues and improve the resident's stay. Each training session is personalized and interactive so that the lessons learned are remembered rather than stored away collecting dust in a folder labeled “Required Training.”

We must retrain ourselves in the way we do business. Think about the customer-prospective residents. Are we making it easy for the customer to do business with us? What hours do our department heads keep so that someone can be reached? Do we work on weekends or do we have programs that cover weekends so that we can handle tours or readmissions? The senior living industry is still growing and with more competition as operators, we must focus on the medical and social needs of our customer.

Hire good people

While using new methods to train may help provide a good foundation for your facility's service, it must start with the people your facility hires. Too often we find ourselves as operators hiring for need. We find ourselves short-staffed and rush to find “bodies” that will cover the hours. However, we rarely hire the people we know will fit into the culture we created. We must take our time to hire the right people who not only can do the job, but will be willing to practice the methods we preach. Hire people who are willing to continue learning on a daily basis-people who not only want to do their job and help change resident care, but also find solutions to problems. Take your time finding the right person. Our community conducts a series of interviews before the final candidate meets the administrator for final selection. This process, while lengthy, also ensures that we are hiring people committed to the job and committed to the company's culture.

Set expectations

The whole process starts with setting expectations. Set expectations for your department's heads, your frontline staff, and the administrator. These expectations must be followed through on a daily basis. Usually training is perceived as a required, cumbersome task that employees must go though. However, training should be looked at as a tool to improve the way we do business with our customers. Set the expectation for training as well. As an operator, ensure the training stimulates the employee's mind and also follows the same expectations you set in the workplace. Make sure the training starts on time. Be prepared. Focus on what your staff will learn and be able to apply to their daily tasks.

Training your staff to interact with your residents and potential residents is the single most important thing that will prepare them to improve your operation. Change the culture and build a better brand. People will notice the building, they will notice the food, they will notice your services-but they will remember your staff.

Michael Goins, CALA, is Executive Director of Chelsea Senior Living in Toms River, New Jersey. Prior to joining Chelsea, Mr. Goins was Project Manager at STARR Restaurant Group. For more information, e-mail

mgoins@cslal.com. Long-Term Living 2010 October;59(10):58

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