Elizabeth Newman

Recently, I was chatting with a long-term executive about someone we both knew, an administrator who had risen through the ranks in her organization. That administrator had known many of her colleagues for a long time. But when she took over, she had to have some difficult conversations, and even let some people go.

That’s because, as wonderful as institutional loyalty is, it doesn’t outweigh the need for an organization to innovate. If your staff members refuse to change — or simply can’t — why are they still there?

I was reminded of this when attending “2017 Workforce Trends” at the LeadingAge Illinois show on Thursday. On a list of desired trends, the first is having an “agile organization,” said Todd Andrews, regional vice president at Sodexo Seniors.

“You cannot make long-term successful change with people who are blocking it,” he said. “As a leader, if you foster an environment where people are free to share ideas, you will be better than if you don’t.”

We know this, of course — how often have you heard your boss say, “I’m interested in great ideas, no matter where they come from?” The problem that I’ve seen is twofold. One, you can’t push changes down to employees without their buy-in. Two, anyone can come up with a great idea, but “leadership has to take charge to follow through,” Andrews noted.

Which reminded me of another conversation I had with an executive recently, which was about the ability in the interview process to ascertain whether applicants would not just “talk a good game,” but also be able to implement plans. It’s a lot easier for an administrator in an interview to discuss how he or she would prioritize residents than it is to know if he or she would sit down after a meeting and outline a plan of action.

Andrews also noted the need for long-term care to not only appreciate diversity, but to think about “diversity of thought” when it comes to making good hires.

“The two most important things you need is compassion and strong sense of customer service,” he said.

Another trend for organizations is moving toward a “matrix organization,” where the reporting relationship is set up as a grid or matrix. This replaces a traditional hierarchy of always reporting straight up.

The bad news, in my view, is that this creates many more people you need to report to, essentially running the risk of four bosses telling you what to do. It can absolutely drain resources.

But the benefit is that it allows services and planning to be done across departments, which is critically important in any resident-facing initiative. It should, in its ideal state, break down the silos of departments and foster a sense of creativity and positive morale.

Of course, in response to Andrews earnestly noting that the future of the workplace is how “16-year-olds in the dining room [clearing dishes, waiting tables, working in food prep, etc.] have to feel empowered,” the man next to me muttered, “Oh, [expletive] me!” We’ll put aside whether that is a negative example of “personal branding,” noted by Andrews as another trend, but I do think it gets to the heart of an issue the industry is struggling with: The idea that young people need to have buy-in.

For whatever reason, when middle-aged executives do something bad (See: Embezzling money for strippers), we shake our heads in disgust, but we don’t make judgments based on their demographic. However, when 20-year-olds break the law, we complain, “Oh, those millennials. When I was their age … ”

Your mileage may vary as to whether you believe a 19-year-old certified nursing assistant made a bad decision when he SnapChatted a naked resident or whether he or she is a bad person. But please stop talking about this related to someone’s age, and stop assuming no young people want to work in your facility. As Andrews said, another workforce trends is “unlocking the potential of millennial talent.” No one is going to attract that talent by making it sound like you’re an old man yelling to the industry, “Get off my lawn!”

Follow Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.