As the market for new senior living communities continues to see growth and a greater understanding of what future residents and their families want, more and more companies are highlighting things like longevity, qualification, and training of their teams. But how do we train that untrainable thing? How do we make our CNAs, our dining teams, and our housekeepers care? And where does that training start and end?
Hopefully by now, if you're a professional working in the industry, you've heard of Second Wind Dream's Virtual Dementia Tour, but if not, it is worth looking into and exploring. This training walks participants through a simulation of many of the symptoms of dementia, including peripheral neuropathy, vision changes, confusion, and even hallucination. The training is amazing and many communities have incorporated it not just as a training piece for their teams, but also for families and the outside community.
Training is great, and definitely a step in the right direction. The problem is that many times, trainings like these are isolated occurrences rather than fundamental shifts in the way our teams approach our residents. It's not enough to feel empathy during a brief training on Monday if there isn't a story that goes along with it about how our organization cares, acts, and speaks.
So here's how you make an empathy exercise stick:
Let your team create the story.
Here's what I mean. How often have we, as leaders in our organizations, been to a train-the-trainer where we buy in to content, tools, and end goals that others (sometimes even folks who don't work directly with the population) have created? Then we go back to our communities, roll it out, expectantly wait to see a culture shift, and slump our shoulders when change doesn't come.
But imagine this scenario. We sense the culture in our community is no longer focusing on the resident needs. So instead, we invite our associates to come to a meeting of the minds where they tell us what they see, what the hope for, and what they need from us and from each-other to get there. We let them write a story about who we are, how we treat our residents, and what it feels like to live and work at our community.
During this meeting, we set the ground rules that everyone will be expected and allowed to contribute openly, we will write down every single idea, and then once everyone has shared, we will talk about what we will do. This meeting isn't meant to be an inspiration session or a review, it's meant to be a fundamental shift in the story we tell so that each day, every associate has a clear idea of who and what we are.
Empathy is a thing that we can't create. Most of our associates have it, or they never would have wanted the job. Those who don't have it will eventually walk themselves out of the job. What makes a good community different than a great community is the story, and that story starts by allowing our community's voice to be heard and told.