Editor’s note: On the 2018 Best Workplaces for Aging Services list published by Fortune, Senior Star earned the top spot among operators described as senior living-dominant (independent living, assisted living and/or memory care). Here, Senior Star CEO Anja Rogers describes why she believes the organization is a Great Place to Work.
I wasn’t surprised but overjoyed and grateful when we heard the news that we were among Fortune’s 50 Best Workplaces for Aging Services.
So if you asked me to describe our culture, I think about the 35 years with my fellow associates and find it difficult to describe in words.
Instead, let me share two stories with you that I think encapsulate what we do that is special and different in our communities.
Mission and values: Jennifer’s story
It’s critical that an organization defines and aligns everyone around a common vision, mission and set of values.
At Senior Star, our vision is for a world of difference-makers. Our mission is to unite as exceptional stewards for seniors and those who love them, and serve as thoughtful spokespeople for senior living. Our values also also clearly articulated to spell out CHEER (Commit to fiscal responsibility, Honor each customer, Embrace innovation, Enjoy what we do, and Respect each associate).
One story that comes to mind that illustrates how our mission and values are lived is through Jennifer and the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
To understand the meaning of the story, you first must know that Senior Star associates are relentless in our support of the Alzheimer’s cause. We are part of the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s National Team Program, focused on large-scale fundraising. Through this program, we have grown to become the fourth-ranked fundraising team in the nation. These successes all are thanks to our associates, who have fully embraced the Alzheimer’s cause as one of our top company priorities.
Six years ago when we launched our Alzheimer’s initiative, we created an acronym, EXCEL, to help communicate to our associates why our involvement in the cause is about more than giving back and doing good in the world; it also is a good business decision. We tied this acronym back to our company mission, values and goals. From there, Senior Star associates across the nation began to engage deeply.
One such associate, Jennifer, works here in Oklahoma. Even though Jennifer already had surpassed her personal fundraising goal by asking her network of contacts for donations, she recognized that she could do more. Part of our acronym EXCEL includes the letter L, which is to lead the Walk results in each market we serve. What we teach our associates is the importance of understanding the bigger picture beyond our own company. We want our associates to tune into what their city’s Walk is trying to achieve to help fulfill the Alzheimer’s Association’s vision of a world without Alzheimer’s disease.
Jennifer understood that the Tulsa Walk to End Alzheimer’s still was working toward achieving its Walk funding goal, and she came up with the idea of bringing awareness to the cause by getting the Gathering Place, our town’s brand-new, multimillion dollar park, to turn its lights purple for World Alzheimer’s Day. She shared her idea, the Gathering Place embraced it, and it happened.
This story touches me on many levels.
In Jennifer, we have an associate who exemplifies our company culture. Her actions represent so much more than the simple act of turning lights purple. She recognized her opportunity to help the Alzheimer’s Association advance towards its goal. She took actions that involved thinking deeply, searching for excellence and perseverance. She went above and beyond for one of our top company priorities. Like so many Senior Star associates, Jennifer is a difference maker.
Associate recruiting and retention: Jason’s story
In thinking specifically about worker shortages in our industry, a portion of our Senior Star mission statement comes to mind, which is to unite as exceptional stewards for seniors and those who love them.
When we look at the worker shortages and high turnover that is occurring in our industry, we know it’s not enough to think only about how to attract prospective new employees. We’ve made it a top priority of our company to focus on the associates who choose to stay with us — the folks who are committed to making a difference and are a culture match.
We really spend time thinking about our associates’ journey and what motivates each individual. We can help our associates unite in exceptional services when we take a person-centered approach to hiring and retaining associates.
I’ll share a related story. Let’s call him “Jason” – he wouldn’t want to be called out by name.
Years ago, I was interviewing a prospective candidate for an executive director position at one of our communities. I recognized this individual as a top talent whom I wanted on my team.
During the interview process, he shared with me that if hired, he likely only would stay with the company for two to three years because he is someone who needs a challenge in life and tends to become stagnate at a job after a few years.
I decided to make it my mission to make sure this individual would remain challenged during his time with Senior Star. He already was an exceptional leader, and I worked to help him expand his thinking.
When his community was sitting at 96% occupancy, I walked his building at night, making notes about little things I noticed that could be improved. We went on community visits as part of training, and over time, he truly excelled in his ability to focus on continuous improvement.
“Jason” has been with our company for 22 years now.
Retaining top-notch talent will require everyone thinking this: How can we help everyone be their best? We must understand what each associate needs and wants and what drives him or her, and we must provide solutions that address his or her life’s purpose.
Anja Rogers is the CEO of Senior Star, based in Tulsa, OK. Senior Star owns and operates 14 communities employing a total of 1,300 associates.