John O'Connor

What is it that truly sets your community apart?

Is it your building’s beautiful architecture and design? The way you treat your residents? The landscaping? Good survey scores? Delicious food? Tempting activities?

I’m guessing that as important as all these are, they take a back seat to something even more critical to your success: the staff.

It’s no secret that labor costs typically eat up 60% to 80% of the operating budget at many locations. Yet turnover remains rampant across all sectors in this field. Do you think the way employees in senior living are managed might have something to do with this leaky bucket challenge? Me too.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to solve the problem. What we really need are a lot of silver bullets.

And there’s probably no better place to start looking than talent management. By any reasonable standard, this is not an area where senior living has historically distinguished itself. Fortunately, it appears that some solid assistance may be available from what might seem to be an unlikely source: Netflix. Yes, that Netflix.

When company officials revealed a PowerPoint that explains their unique approach to managing staff, it was viewed more than five million times on the Internet.

While the presentation consists of more than 100 slides, it boils down to five key points:

1. Hire, reward, and tolerate only fully formed adults. Ask workers to rely on logic and common sense instead of formal policies, whether the issue is communication, time off, or expenses.

2. Tell the truth about performance. Scrap formal reviews in favor of informal conversations. Offer generous severance rather than holding on to workers whose skills no longer fit your needs.

3. Managers must build great teams. This is their most important task. Don’t rate them on whether they are good mentors or fill out paperwork on time.

4. Leaders own the job of creating the company culture. You’ve got to actually model and encourage the behavior you talk up.

5. Talent managers should think like businesspeople and innovators first, and like HR people last.

For a more thorough overview, please see the January-February issue of the Harvard Business Review.

But be forewarned, this advice is a lot easier to read than follow. And if you don’t have the time or inclination to read all six pages in the report, I’ll make it simple: Hire the right people, make sure they care, and reward them when they do a great job – which should be often.

Does that sound like the way things work at your place? If not, perhaps you should consider using Netflix for more than cheap movies.


John O’Connor is Editorial Director at McKnight’s.