When You’re the New Kid…

When You’re the New Kid…

Kristen Dalrick, CDALBy Kristen Dalrick, CDAL
Executive Director
Market Street Residence
Watercrest Senior Living

In my professional life, I’ve experienced the joy of putting together a team dedicated to a common purpose and selecting each individual carefully for the value they will bring to the overall goal. This story is not about that experience; this story is about the team that you inherit.

More often than not, as an executive director in senior living you are joining an existing team as their new leader. They may not have had a great experience before you; even if the last executive director left the community in tip-top shape and only left because they won the lottery, the existing team has a lot of baggage the minute YOU walk through the door. They have been holding it together (or not) while you were being recruited, hired, and onboarded. They are slightly suspicious of this new leader who is probably going to change everything, make new rules, and doesn’t understand their work/life balance issues. It’s up to you to make yourself their trusted leader, but this takes time and time seems like a luxury you do not have. Don’t panic. Strengthening a legacy team is possible if you as the leader are willing to adjust your style and stay highly aware of issues under the surface.

Here are three steps that have helped me along the way:

Step 1: Assess the Team.

Just like a competitive analysis, you need to quickly schedule some one-to-one time with each of your managers and assess their strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. What is each manager bringing to the table? What is their level of proficiency within their own department?  How do they assist other managers in achieving overall community goals? Do they blow their budget every month? Do they even know their budget? Never assume they have the tools to do their job until you have asked them if they do and then once again given them those tools. Make sure the team knows not only what they are doing, but WHY they are doing it.

Step 2: Align the Team.

You have determined that each member of your team has the appropriate mindset to accomplish the overall goals of the community. They are interested in serving seniors with dignity, ensuring their needs are met, and hopefully exceeding expectations at most opportunities. But now you need to get this group of folks on YOUR team. Now is the time for you to think about everything each person said in their one-to-one meeting and make it your mission to incorporate one great idea or key point from each of them, and bring them all together as you set a vision for becoming the best community in the area. This is not your time to talk and this is not a time for you to say, “What I want is…”.  This is the time to praise everyone for what is going well and provide a collaborative solution for what may not be going well. If dining is your challenge, this would be the time to say, “We all know how much fun it is to go out to eat; let’s all commit to solving the issue of ‘x’ in the dining room. Joe had a great idea about welcoming residents to the dining room and putting down place cards to elevate the experience. What does everyone think of this?” There is a reason they say no man is an island. You are not a dictator. If you give credit for great ideas and you allow your team to assist you in finding great solutions, they all buy in. It costs you nothing to give credit where it is rightfully due. It costs you everything if you steal it.

Step 3: Reinforce the Team.

Now, everyone is performing to their highest level and you’re 100 percent occupied—your community is full of happy seniors (and families!) being cared for by happy team members and you can focus on other things, right? No! You can never take time off from shaping and growing your team. If they are doing great, stretch them in different directions (with their permission). If they need a little coaching, do it privately and with respect. You as the executive director have an awful lot to do every day, but do not bury yourself in your office when you could be out in the community building relationships, rolling up your sleeves, pitching in, and continuing to shape and monitor your culture. Step three is crucial to being the leader people want to follow instead of being the leader that “just doesn’t get it.”

Keep touching your team and they will keep touching others. Give them wings and they will fly.