Buckingham: Encourage Talent and You’ll Cultivate Careers in Senior Care

by Katie Sloan

SAN DIEGO — Marcus Buckingham has a rather simple yet effective piece of advice for seniors housing operators: stop focusing on the negative.

“We have strengths and we have weaknesses. What should you spend more time on?” he asked. “Most people are way more focused on the weaknesses and identifying flaws and fixing them. It has a lot to do with fear. We should be honoring strengths.”

Buckingham, a leadership and management expert, delivered the comments to more than 2,500 seniors housing executives on May 15 at the 2018 Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference & Expo held at the San Diego Convention Center.

There are currently 93,300 people working in seniors housing in the U.S., according to Argentum, an inadequate number Buckingham said. Experts note there should be a one-to-one ratio of employees to residents. Compounding matters is that more exciting industries like technology and creative professions draw the younger generations away from traditional career roles, resulting in a jobs crisis.

While seniors housing may not be as sexy as the tech sector, Buckingham believes a change in attitude can do wonders for employee retention.

“There is a lot of turnover in the first 90 days, but people don’t measure that,” he noted. “You need to develop a data standard and you need to track employees. To be successful, you need as much data as possible.”

“Look at early indications,” he continued. “There is a light staff turnover of up to 70 percent. That’s really significant, and that’s really hurtful.”

Keep employees engaged

Buckingham went on to note there is a clear relationship between employee engagement and job satisfaction, which in turn results in a higher retention rate. He was also careful to clarify that focusing on the positive and building up one’s strengths did not equate to ignoring mistakes or pretending that weaknesses did not exist.

“Honoring strengths does not mean you ignore weaknesses,” he said. “Of course you don’t. You’re a busy team leader and you have to fix weaknesses that you consider to be high priorities.

“But do not confuse that for development or fostering a ‘well-rounded’ individual. Providing immediate negative feedback is not development. You actually become learning impaired when immediate negative feedback is presented.”

Buckingham explained that the central nervous system goes into a state of fight or flight when employees are admonished on the spot for a poor performance. This, he says, forces them to focus on their flaws and insecurities.

“You actually get learning impairment when you do this. You learn less,” said Buckingham. “If you want someone to learn, you have to activate their parasympathetic nervous system. This is a rest-and-digest state of mind where the brain can open up. It can broaden, and it can build.”

The best way to achieve these results is to provide immediate positive feedback when a job is well done, said Buckingham. That should come at a ratio of five to one, meaning, in an ideal world, a seniors housing employee should receive praise five times for every one weakness that is addressed.

Buckingham also noted employers can tend to assume their workers know their strengths and, therefore, that they don’t need to be addressed. He believes this can be a costly fallacy in industries already hurting for support.

“People are so close to their strengths that they don’t see them,” he asserted. “Catch your people doing what they do well and say ‘I saw this.’ You’re recognizing them. You’re showing them that you know them, and you’re replaying your knowledge of them so they can step back and see the patterns that are already within them.”

This, Buckingham believes, is the best model for growth. Praide results in higher job satisfaction within the seniors housing industry and, consequently, stronger retention rates.

“When you help someone learn, you’re not taking a piece of advice and injecting it into their head,” he said. “It’s releasing and refining what’s already there. Find people’s strengths and help cultivate them with intelligence.”

While employee satisfaction and retention may be the priority, Buckingham believed this advice could be applied to residents as well. This type of strategy can create the kind of positive experiences property owners are looking to cultivate in the current marketplace, which emphasizes experience over goods, fulfillment over facades.

“You cannot just take human feelings and words and imagine we’ve created a genuine human experience,” concluded Buckingham. “You get these things when you have a raw ingredient, and that raw ingredient is love. We had better help people find their love in what they do or they will loathe their jobs.”

— Nellie Day

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