5 tips for staffing a new senior living community

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Debbie Penn
Debbie Penn

Senior living executives know that having a solid team is an essential part of running a thriving community. Maintaining proper staffing for an existing senior living community is no easy task, however. Recruiting to fill all positions at a brand new community can be an absolute challenge.

Watermark Retirement Communities is preparing to open The Watermark at Trinity in Trinity, FL, on May 20. Although the construction of this sophisticated 117-residence community for assisted living and memory care has been a major focus, so too has been building a winning team to work there. We're committed to creating extraordinary communities where people thrive, and building a team with the right mix of dynamic individuals is key to making that vision a reality.

With more and more new senior living communities being built all across the country, here are five tips for recruiting a strong team to bring your mission to life:

1. Be prepared.

The first step in staffing a new community is to develop a solid plan. Decide which positions you need to fill, focusing on those you need to fill first, such as the key leadership roles. Determine how much time your recruiting effort will take, and create a timeline that aligns with your opening date. Then plan the steps — according to your budget — to implement your plan to attract the best candidates.

2. Give yourself plenty of time.

Staffing an entire senior living community does not happen overnight. At The Watermark at Trinity, we began recruiting efforts nine months before the anticipated opening date.

Finding the right people, especially for the most critical positions, takes time. Build plenty of time into your schedule to train all staff members after they are recruited and hired. Make sure your timeline accounts for all key milestones so you have well-trained staff members who are motivated, confident and ready by move-in day.

3. Tell your story.

Use recruitment activities that give candidates a clear picture of your community's personality and vision. For instance, our advertisements don't merely list performance expectations; they tell a story about the job, our company and our vision, giving candidates a feel for what makes Watermark special.

If your new community is part of a larger organization that owns or manages other properties, share stories from those communities to illustrate what makes your organization unique. Host events where candidates can meet and get to know members of your team.

In general, recruiting efforts that create a more personal connection will help candidates better understand whether the job is right for them.

4. Find the right fit.

Finding the best people for your team requires a solid understanding of what type of person aligns with your organization's culture and mission.

When considering candidates, look beyond the resume. Know what character traits ensure that a candidate will excel.

At Watermark, for example, we hire people who are compassionate, love working with seniors and come to work each and every day to make a difference. During interviews, we ask many performance-based questions, to give us a clear picture of candidates' past behaviors, which ultimately will predict future performance. We discuss our operating principles, such as “Do The Right Thing” or “Come from Abundance,” and we ask for relevant examples.

Also, encourage candidates to interview you. Doing so will help the interviewees feel equally comfortable with the decision to join, should you make an offer.

5. Work closely with sales and marketing.

By opening day, will you have enough deposits to fill the community? If so, plan accordingly. If your new community is not at maximum capacity at the time your doors open, then you may not need a full staff on opening day. Maintain close communication with your sales and marketing team to stay updated on how the number of deposits increases over time. Use this information to have the appropriate level of staff members in place when the community opens.

When you're preparing to open a new community, there's no better time to invest your resources and energy into building a team of exceptional people who fit your culture and will advance your mission. These are the individuals who will be interacting with your residents every day and will define the experience far more than the bricks, mortar and fine finishes of the building. They have the power to turn your vision into a reality and should feel excited and empowered. Proper planning, vetting and leadership will help ensure success in staffing a new senior living community from the ground up.

Debbie Penn is the national director of recruitment for Watermark Retirement Communities, which manages 38 retirement communities coast to coast.

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