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Thriving in Unusual Economic Times

The last six months of 2008 were a time of great economic concern for most Americans and most business sectors. And now, as we settle into 2009, this concern has escalated into more layoffs, more government bail-outs, more failed mortgages, and more consumer concern about the future. Given this environment, it is safe to say that organizations are operating in “business unusual” mode, which is the focus of a useful and timely handbook by Price Pritchett and Ron Pound.

Business As Unusual targets three challenges many business leaders are facing right now-restructuring, budget cuts, and heavier workloads. The book is a quick read, mainly because it is organized into 27 straightforward strategies, making it easy for time-strapped executives to pick this book up, put it down, and pick it back up again for valuable strategies they can implement now.

Managing Turbulent Times

While the economic downturn hasn’t hit senior living as hard as it has other sectors overall, many executive management teams are looking to curb costs without reducing resident care and services. Executives also know that their staff members are concerned about layoffs, which can affect performance at a time that mandates top-notch customer service. In addition, prospective residents are waiting longer to move to assisted living as they struggle with shrinking retirement portfolios. And meanwhile, family members are dealing with the increasing acuity needs of their loved ones.

Such a turbulent climate means management teams must address these challenges at the community and regional levels. Staff members must bunker down and resurrect their focus on the basics of exceptional resident care and operational excellence. This will help organizations not only survive today’s economic climate, but come out of it even better than before. Pritchett and Pound pose three questions in Business As Unusual that senior living executives would be wise to address in any economic environment, but particularly in these uncertain times:

• How do you hang on to your good people?

• How do you keep morale from dropping through the floor?

• How do you get results from your team?

The authors recommend starting out by making people the main focus of any strategy-an appropriate tip for senior living executives given the nature of our business. In senior living, providing excellent care for every resident is the No. 1 priority, so this should be the starting point for executives and managers at the community level. Executives must provide managers with consistent strategies and messages that all support the resident care priority. Even the most basic communication strategies can help reduce stress and minimize confusion so community teams and leaders can focus on their goals.

Leading the Way

Business As Unusual, in addition to its 27 strategies, provides a cogent list of the authors’ top 15 leadership tips. All could easily apply to senior living executives, but several are particularly appropriate in today’s economic climate.

• Be a change agent. With budgets getting tighter, managers at all levels must be positive, flexible, and adaptable to ensure success-or survival.

• Give your troops clear-cut marching orders. Managers must minimize any ambiguity and address questions from staff quickly and completely.

• Focus on short-range objectives. This can also be interpreted as taking challenges one day at a time. It’s good to have ambitious long-term goals, but be sure to address the details.

• Motivate to the hilt. Be positive, recognize outstanding staff members, and communicate regularly with human resources and other managers to make sure you are addressing staff needs.

• Encourage risk-taking and initiative. Executives can’t come up with all the great ideas. Let staff members know you value their input and create an easy way for them to communicate their ideas.

• Distribute more “psychological paychecks.” Get back to your company’s mission and revisit the tenets of your organizational culture. Remind staff members in creative ways that they are what makes your company great.

These leadership tips can go a long way on any day to help executives be better leaders, but especially at a time when they must deal with economic challenges.

Getting Ahead

The tips and strategies presented by Pritchett and Pound in Business As Unusual can help executives survive turbulent times, but they can also help them achieve more than mere survival. In the end, executives and their organizations could come out ahead, despite any economic or market challenges.

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