When we work on our community culture, the feeling of belonging , our occupancy and our operations success will grow. It is inevitable to not grow a healthy and happy community.
In this episode we dive deep into how to create belonging from belonging expert Professor Geoffrey Cohen's book Creating Connection and Bridging Divides.
I believe the connection component of teamwork and culture is a vital component to success. It will help eliminate a lot of unnecessary stress which is one of our #1 goals!
I hope you enjoy and if I can be of any service to you please get on my calendar and let me encourage you and help solve your biggest challenges!
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Welcome to the Aspire for More with Erin podcast, where we really focus on mentoring, motivating, and creating momentum for you to create your success. It is a podcast specifically for leaders in the senior living industry led by. A leader in the senior living industry. I believe your mindset is important. I believe your why is important, and I believe how you create momentum for your community is important. So come on, let's hang out and let's create a community that everyone wants to work in, that everyone wants to live in. Welcome back to another episode of The Aspire for More with Erin podcast. I know your time is valuable, so I appreciate and honor your time today. I want to say that I have an excellent topic that I wanna discuss with you, which is how do we create belonging inside of our community? Now, I feel like I have done a great job creating belonging inside of my community because my main goal in my career was to change the lives of the residents that we serve. As I became a more mature leader, I decided, I. That not only did I wanna change the lives, not only did I wanna change the lives of the residents that we served, I wanted to add value and change the lives of all the associates that work inside my community. So talking about belonging is something that I'm very passionate about and I do feel as if. It is a point of difference. It is a real difference in when somebody chooses a community versus when somebody doesn't, because I feel if everything else is the same, the prospects doing the tours will choose the community that has the more team involvement, that they feel more at home in, and that the sales process is more geared to adding value. And making them feel like this is their home versus this is what we have to offer. We hope you choose us as a company, as my company, the Aspire For More with Erin Coaching Company that I created, I have a roadmap that I follow that I believe helps you bring belonging into your community. Um, Really belonging and connection are the same outcome, just different words and connection is certainly one of the most important elements in my roadmap. But I believe belief is the number one step. You have to believe that you are successful. You have to believe that your team can do it, and you have to believe that you give the best care inside your community, in the counties that you're serving in, and also in the surrounding counties. And when you believe that you can lead a team to do that level of service, then your team will believe it as well. People want to believe that you believe what you have to offer is the best, and that's why I believe, as redundant as that sounds, that belief is your number one step. You can not be confident and yet believe that you have the best product. You cannot be confident in your leadership skills and yet believe that you're going to succeed because you're willing to do what it takes to succeed. Right? So belief can mask a lot of negative things. Um, if you just believe that you can do it. It's important with belief that your team believes that they are working together for a common goal as a unit, as a team. And when you have that belief of the shared vision, then you have what the next step is, which is clarity. And if you've got the belief and you have the clarity, then you are on your way to do amazing things. You have to have a combined vision that you and your team are achieving. They know their vision, and that gives them clarity that lets them know that it's okay to do the things that scare them because we're doing this together as a team, and this is how we're going to get there. Because things that could scare them could be getting a part of the marketing and sales process, talking to family members that they may not feel comfortable with handling. Presidents that may be kind of difficult to deal with when we know that we're doing things to be the best version of our, of ourselves to learn and to grow. There's a part of us that wants to do better, and that's what belief and clarity is all about on this roadmap, leadership and connection, which would be belonging for an for the other term, which is what we're gonna talk about today, are the next two. Stops in our roadmap, and then after connection is confidence and courage and consistency. You do not get confidence and courage without belief, clarity, and leadership and connection. You just don't. You have to do things consistently. In order to build the trust, the belief, the connection, the clarity of the team. Sometimes we have to put ourselves out there in a way that makes us uncomfortable. And unless you have the confidence and the clarity of why you're doing it, then you might not put yourself out there. It's awesome when you have a leader that's pushing you to do it, and then the connection with the team and a higher purpose of what you're coming together for every day comes together and. You have what it takes to reach the vision that you have. So today we're gonna talk about belonging. Why are we gonna talk about belonging? Well, as many of you know that I'm a Bridge the Gap ambassador, and I took the time to catch up on a few of the episodes of the podcast, and one of them in particular really taught me. Um, by surprise and actually made me feel, seen and heard my leadership style, my goals of being inside the community. And it was the episode where Josh and Lucas were talking to David Les, who is the c e o of the American Senior Housing Association, which is Asha. And they were reviewing what the midyear meeting was about, and I really liked. The quote that the Bridge the Gap podcast team shared, um, on LinkedIn and Instagram, and it was a date, it was a quote from David Sch less about their keynote speaker, which is Professor Jeffrey Cohen. And his work at Stanford University is about belonging and the quote that David Les said. Was, if you figure out how to make people feel at home in your community, I guarantee you that you're going to have a successful community, and a sense of belonging is crucial. As an employer, that is your secret sauce. I was floored because honestly, that's how I ran my community and to actually have someone in a. C-Suite role say that they researched communities in the industry, both assisted living and memory care and independent living, and found that the most successful communities were the ones who made belonging A focus. I felt seen and I thought, yes, I know. I know. That is how I have been so successful because my goal was to change lives and add value, period. Because I believe when you change lives and add value, the revenue will come and it will come very quickly. It will come more quickly than you realize, because when you serve your people good, they will invite or people to hang out with them where you are, when your team feels as if they belong, when your team feels as if they are a part of the success. They will invite more people to be with them as well. When you have a community that just wants people to feel like they belong, the right people will come. You attract who you set out to be when you're just authentic with who your vision is or what your vision is and who you want to attract, you will. Get the revenue. My community history and growing occupancy is a testament to Professor Jeffrey Cohen's work and his, probably his keynote address at the Asha midyear meeting where if you make it belonging a priority. You will grow your business exponentially. When you look at my occupancy success after Covid, we went from 67% to a hundred percent in one year and one month, and that is strictly due to how we treated our residents throughout the Covid Pandemic, how we communicated with our families and how we genuinely as a team wanted to change lives. And my. My associates knew from the housekeeping standpoint, from the culinary standpoint, from the caregiving standpoint, that everybody was just as valuable in my community as me. There was no value system. I just had more responsibility. I made sure that they knew that if you dot come to work, there would be a direct impact to the residents, and that is vitally important in how we serve our residents. But if I didn't come to work today, it really wouldn't be. Life altering. So your value and your purpose in this community is much higher from a resident standpoint than mine. So it's important for you to know your value and your worth in this community. Another community of mine went from 55% with a horrible state survey score of 57, hosted on the wall to a hundred percent in less than 18 months, strictly memory care. And that was because we valued the people that we served. So do not underestimate the value of a team, the value of adding value to people and changing lives. When you make that your goal, I promise you revenue will follow. So I wanted to do something fun and take the book that professor Jeffrey Cohen wrote, which is Creating Connection and Bridging Divides. And since he was the keynote speaker at the ASHA Midyear meeting, which is ASHA stands for American Senior Housing Association, and I wanna summarize his book for you. And then give us good senior living spin on it and how we're able to create positive outcomes with just belonging in our sales process and also also in our operations process. So again, the title of his book is Creating Connection and Bridging Divides the Top Seven Ideas. How to create belonging inside of our communities. And if you're a leader who is struggling with the balance of the business side and the passion of changing of the resident's lives, then this episode is for you because if you keep your number one purpose, Which is changing the lives of your residents and adding value to your associates. I promise you, the revenue will come. People will pay to live in your community, and they will pay the rate to live at your community. The first point of Professor Jeffrey Cohen's book, creating Connection and Bridging Divides is create a welcoming environment Now. That sounds so easy, creating a welcoming environment, but really it takes a lot of effort to create a welcoming environment and being present whenever somebody first moves in or when the first tour comes, that can take some effort. So when you come to work every day and you say hello to all of your associates, that creates a welcoming environment. So it doesn't have to be the leader. It doesn't have to be the administrator or the executive director. It can be the sales and marketing director. It can be the manager of the department. But when you actually, as a leader, as a manager, make the effort to go and speak to every single team member that you see that you know is supposed to be there, make eye contact. You make people feel seen and heard. So not only are you building the connection of I'm making an effort to see you in your space, you're also making sure everybody's there. So you're killing two birds with one stone. And so I believe that that is a pattern of success. To literally make sure that you place your eyes on every person who's on shift when you come in today and say, hello, how was your night? How's the morning going? Is there anything that I can do for you? As the executive director, as administrator, I did make an effort to make a round of the entire community, both memory care and assisted living every start of my day. And yes, that took me about a good 30 to 45 minutes, but it was important to me. It was important to me because I wanted everyone to see me, and if they didn't see me in the morning, people wondered if I was here or what was wrong, and that always made me feel good. It made me feel as if the extra attention I was giving them was appreciated, and sometimes there was times I didn't want to say hello to everybody. I'm honest with you. Um, one spot that I did always try to go to first is the culinary department, because they're the department that's in the same place for their entire shift, and they're the ones who don't always get to come to every meeting because they have something cooking in the oven or they have something that's in the fryer and they need to watch it. So I was able to bring information to them. Here's where our occupancy is. Here's what our moving goals are. We're two away. We have five tours today. Um, you know, if there's something that you're making special today, we would love to be able to give that to them. So, And brag on you a little bit. And after a while, because I made the effort to say this to them, they started making me little gifts, or they knew that I liked Taco Tuesday and they made sure that I knew that it was Taco Tuesday or I had a scone if it was on Wednesdays. So when you make the effort consistently, that effort is returned back to you. And it was literally a highlight of. My day to be able to go and talk to, um, all the people working that day. The more you make the intentional effort, the more the intentional effort to do a great job because you're the leader, because they wanna do the right thing happens. As a whole, and that's important. Your presence matters, and it's such a great way to start the day and to be able to talk about your vision in a, in a less threatening way. From a sales and marketing standpoint, the idea of belonging starts at the very first tour. How they felt when they came in, how they feel at each step of the sales process is important. Are you making them feel welcome? Are you adding value to them at every point of contact? Are you looking at them in the eyes? Are you listening to what the real problems are so you can solve those real problems for them? And honestly, for the current residents and even the new residents, when they are vulnerable enough to come to you. With good news and bad news concerns or even positive messages, how are we welcoming them into our office when we say to them, thank you for coming to see me. What can I do for you today? And then you say the corny line. Thank you for sharing afterwards. And if you're comfortable grabbing their hand and telling them, thank you for sharing. That makes them feel that they belong, that makes them feel that they are important because it's really important to not let them feel like they're putting you off, that you're busy. That you may be a bit defensive. I know that I have had times where I could have been less defensive in a family meeting and I worked on that hard to make sure that I could press everything else out of the way and only focus on what's going on in the moment. Because when they have your undivided attention, that's when they feel safe and seen and it really, it's just a space of courage. And I think it's important if you even added that in the meeting saying Thank you. I'm glad that you feel courageous enough to tell me about these problems that you have or that you feel courageous enough to tell me how awesome we're doing. Thank you. I appreciate that. Those moments of one-on-one interaction are very important in bringing belonging into your community. The idea of hugging can certainly be controversial. Some residents love it, some people don't, and I think it's important for you to understand what your resident likes, but even touching them on their shoulder, grabbing their hand, giving them a side hug, looking them in their eye and telling them, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate you choosing us. We appreciate. You and everything that you bring to our community. Those are important things to say. Step number two is to promote shared goals inside assisted living, senior living in general. You do have two big shared goals right off the top that you should be able to scream from the mountaintops if you're a new executive director. Number one, you're changing lives. That's it. Very simple. We're here to change lives every day when we walk into this community. Goal number one, you are important. In fact, you're more important than my position because if I didn't come to work today, nobody's life suffers. But if you don't come to work today, It's a direct impact on a resident's life. So number one, you're changing lives. Number two, you want to change more lives. So the sales process is important. So those two big collaborative goals, oh, what we focus on changing the lives of our current residents and adding new residents in so we can change the lives. Of those residents as well. And that may be a new way to think because not everybody brings their entire team into the sales process. But it's been preached to me over and over and over again about how the sales director may not need to be involved in the day-to-day operations. And I agree with that to a certain extent. But I believe it's the sales director's responsibility to get everybody excited about being a part of the sales process. And I do believe the administrator plays a role in that as well. But the good salesperson will sell the team on why they need to be a part of the process. Sales is a huge team building exercise inside of every community. You do not get to turn a community from 55% to a hundred percent. With a failing state survey score in 18 months without a team effort, you do not get to turn a struggling community around whether it's struggling from an operational standpoint or a sales standpoint. Without a team effort, one to two people cannot affect change that way. I want you to understand that if you and your competitor down the street offer the same things, the same amenities, the same care, the price points around the same, the person who's going to win the sale is the person who has cultivated the most connection throughout the sales process and who introduces their team the most. And whose team is receptive to being introduced. That's how you win. After a while, I was so confident in the fact that we would win because I did this same process every time, that I would tell everybody that we were the best in business. And so you say something enough times, you believe it, right? And so I cultivated a belief that we were the best and therefore everybody else believed it as well. So your shared interest is changing the lives of the residents and getting more residents. Inside your community to change their lives. The third topic that Professor Cohen writes about in his book is encouraging collaboration. Now, obviously this can reference back to the sales process and changing lives of the residents, but I think that we can look at this from a different perspective. And we can talk about inviting our associates to play with our residents in the activity program. I think it's important that we tell our caregivers and anyone else who wants to join in on an activity as long as their work is done. Yes, play is very important to us as humans, and it's also important to build teamwork and to foster that sense of belonging and welcome if we are asking these caregivers to take care of the residents. What better way for them to get to know each other than through the activity program? And what better way to build teamwork between care and activities than actually care coming into the activity program? Sometimes I think that the activity programming and the leaders in the activity program don't get enough. Respect for how much planning it takes to have fun. And so the more people see how thought out the programming is, the more respect the activity department will have, which then just again builds teamwork and trust and belonging. Who doesn't wanna help play. It just literally helps build the bridges between the care staff and the residents, and also between the activity team and the care team. They get to explore getting to know each other in a new way. And it was very important to me to make sure that the care care team knew that they could come in and play in the activity room, the maintenance team, the housekeeping team. If they had downtime and they wanted to play, then let's play. I went in there as well and played high decorating contests. Hungry, hungry hippo, bingo, lots of things to just build a connection with my residents in the form of play, cuz their favorite room is the activity room. Fourth topic that Professor Cohen talks about. Building belonging inside of a workforce, which we will say community. Is recognizing individual achievement. Recognizing individual personal achievement can be done in several different ways. It can be done with employee of the month, employee of the week, employee of the quarter, shining star, whatever it is that your company or your community names you. I just always had. In the last community that I worked at a problem with doing Employee of the Month because people would get a bunch of negative comments and then the people who got employee of the month didn't want it. And so we just kind of canceled that process and we changed it to focusing on the individual achievements in the meetings. Where we had the opportunity for each person to highlight somebody else because they went above and beyond and helped out another department. And I talked literally about every positive comment that ever came to me, whether it was a card, whether it was in the sales process, whether it was when a resident moved in or a resident moved out. Anything that was positive, I always made a note of, and we spoke about it in. Meeting that we called our pep rally meeting. So you have your morning standup meeting, and then we had basically an all associate meeting after the morning standup where everybody who was working that day would come and hear about what was happening that day. And so we would have about, you know, roughly 15 to 20 to 25 to 30 people depending on the day and if we were celebrating. But it was a time where anything positive was welcome and a lot of people were honored. On a lot of days, and that was well received and they, people clap for each other. People said, great job and how much they appreciate, appreciated each other. And it just fostered such a sense of teamwork and belonging and trust. And another way to promote individual achievement and be a part of the sales process is something called the 32nd commercial. So, The 32nd commercial is literally a memorized, but yet passionate, four or five sentences about somebody, something inside your community that evokes emotion and why we do what we do. So for example, I'm on a tour and I'm touring our activity room, and then I see an assistant and I say, hi, this is Debbie. She is our lifestyles assistant here, and she is amazing. She has been with us for 12 years and she makes a fool out of herself every day just to get a smile out of the Grumpiest residence. She sings, she dances, she helps garden outside, and she just puts on a show for our residents every single day. And so what I did there is summarize how amazing this woman is, and I did that in front of the associate. I did that in front of the prospect and I just built trust with both people. The prospect knows that I value my team. My team knows that I value them, and I did this publicly for everyone to hear. Talk about doing two things at the same time. Right? And if you are really good at it, as you turn the corner to walk away, you add another compliment. To the prospect about that associate, and hopefully the associate can still hear it because you just doubled down on how good your team is, how valuable that person is, and the trust that you're building with your prospect. And then you also wanna give Debbie a. The associate an opportunity to talk about why they love doing what they do, and that's their 32nd commercial. It is one of the most powerful tools that you can use in order to recognize achievement, build trust, and impress a sales prospect because you know your team, and if you're the sales director, it's even. Better. That's why it's important for your sales team to know your associates. Another way to, to recognize the team and also to talk about how important their 32nd commercials are, is that when a family chooses the community. Then in our pep rally meeting, I would talk about why that family chose our, why they, they chose us because. Debbie talked about how much she loved doing what she did and why, because we introduced five to seven associates on the tour because you looked at the tour as they went by and smiled because you were welcoming those things, those topics mean so much and building confidence and connection and courage. It's very, very, very important to consistently say these things. To let them know that they are loved, they are seen, they are valuable, and they are part of the sales process and changing people's lives. The fifth topic to create belonging and to bridge divides to me is important, especially in bridging divides, is to encourage open communication. It's important to create a safe space, and it cannot be just a safe space. You have to allow people courage. To say what they need to say, and one of the things that we as leaders need to do is make sure that we don't jump to conclusions. We need to allow people to say what they wanna say without judgment, without getting angry, and just soak that in and understand where they're coming from. Short example. I'll try to keep it short anyways, I was at a community. It was all memory care and the memory care program director, who was amazing and her team are, were not getting along. There was friction, I like to say drama, trauma going on, and something had to change. So I started diving in and trying to figure out what the root of the problem was, and I started seeing a pattern. And the pattern was that two people were speaking to each other, but no one was listening, no one was understanding. And so it just kept going badly. And so I. Asked my memory care program director to do something that was very risky. I asked her if she would be brave enough and trust me enough to sit in a meeting and allow all of the caregivers to come in there and to freely talk about what was bothering them, that we wouldn't talk until they were done and that we would listen to them. And that memory care program director was nervous, but she agreed. And I was just there as a buffer. And yes, some of it got a little heated and we had to temper it down. And ultimately it boils down to perceptions that weren't true. And as the meeting went on, the memory care program director understood where the communication breakdown was, and we were able to take something that wasn't working and build. A better version of it just by being brave enough to have an open line of communication. And we all needed a drink afterwards, honestly. But it turned out to be one of the best hour spent, and we had an amazing team afterwards that did amazing things, but it required an open non-judgment. Line of communication between two people. It required us to listen to what they were saying and understand what went wrong, and then allow us, they allowed us to speak to, and it was a beautiful, beautiful team building exercise that really led to a lot of trust. So, Encourage open communication. It is a little nerve-wracking, but my biggest advice is just to listen until it's your turn to speak and to not jump to conclusions and to empathize as much as possible because it does work. The sixth topic is personal growth. It's important to know the goals. Of each of your managers and directors and what they want. Something that I feel like we lack as an industry is personal and professional development, and if you know what the goals of your team members, your leaders are, then you can help create a plan to help them achieve those goals. But even better, you can hire people and tell them what the industry can do to help them grow professionally. If you're an L P N, this is a great industry to be in because you can eventually become an executive director as an L P N. You may be limited to do things in other areas in healthcare, but in assisted living and senior living, the sky's the limit. So why not come? Why not learn how to be a leader inside the industry and maybe one day we're on a community. If you wanna be a nurse and you need to be a caregiver first, work into memory care, because now you're going to be light years ahead of everybody else who has not spent the time inside of a memory care. As a leader, it's important if you know what the goals are of your team to help them achieve those goals. And create plans for them. That creates loyalty, that creates trust, and also you do feel seen, heard and valued because there was an open line of communication and the leader is helping them achieve those goals. Yeah, we might lose them. That's a real fear, but when you do good things, good things return to you. And that's just how I choose to operate and do business. And the last and final topic that we'll talk about on this podcast is giving and receiving the fee feedback. The number one reason as to why we struggle with feedback is one word. Vulnerability. I struggle so mightily with feedback. If you struggle with a compliment, you struggle with feedback. If you cannot accept a compliment without negating it in some way, then you struggle with feedback. Feedback in a non-formal setting is easy. Feedback in a formal setting is very difficult. Your annual evaluation, giving someone's annual evaluation or even receiving their own annual evaluation can be anxiety ridden, obviously, especially depending on someone's ability to communicate. But it's very important and it certainly is one of the areas that I could have improved on in my leadership. But again, The number one reason why we have the issue with feedback is vulnerability, lack of confidence, not believing the good things that are said about you and not believing the bad things that are said about you. It's important as a leader when you get those positive compliments, those positive affirmations, that you give that feedback to your team, especially if the family member's talking about someone specifically. And if you can say that in front of a group, then you are valuing the entire team. That's important. And it's also important to take the time when we have an event or we have a project. To give feedback about how that event was. Let's talk about two positives and a negative. What were the great things about the event? What could we have done better? So, These simple little meetings about the feedback like that can really do a great job of making other events better, of making the different projects or changes in software that we have better the next time. So don't lose sight of how important feedback is and be aware of the vulnerability aspect of you. And try to work through that fear and that discomfort. And believe me, I say that knowing full well that that was an area of mine that I needed to improve on, and I'm making the steps to be able to improve on that right now as I progress in my business. I think his book is amazing. Again, professor Jeffrey Cohen's creating connection and bridging divides. I think that David Sches in the Bridge the Gap podcast episode, um, talking about this was so great and I'm so happy that it's not about data and the numbers. It's really about. Changing lives and adding value. And I do believe as we move forward in the next few years, if not longer, the connection that you make through the sales process will be what wins the sale more times than not, because if you offer the same services and have the same amenities, the sales process, that solves more problems. Shows more empathy and compassion and has a team involvement will win the sale. So I just encourage you and I challenge you to make the efforts to make belonging connection. Encourage and confidence of your team, your main priority. Be courageous enough if this is a new concept for you to fail a little bit until you get it right, and don't be afraid to reach out to someone like me because I'm really good. But helping you forge this trail and growing your occupancy and solving your problems and making you feel like you're the king or the queen of the world, encouragement and positive thought processes and learning how to kind of narrate the story to serve you is not something that we get every day inside the senior living industry, and I'm trying to change that. So reach out, get on my calendar. I'm always available to help you change the lives of your residents. The most passionate thing that I'm about, and I just wanna make sure that you aspire for more for you.