The VALUE in Combined Activity & Marketing Events

By: Art Carr

A hallmark of my considerable success in directing fill-ups of new senior living properties and turn-arounds of under-performing communities has been a focus on enhanced resident lifestyles as the foundation for effective marketing campaigns.  Energizing and elevating the level of activity programming makes meaningful interaction between prospects and current residents possible.


This contrasts with traditional industry marketing principles that emphasize large socially-oriented events.  Under the WOW theory, an over-whelming impression is made on the prospective residents (and/or their adult children) once they are persuaded to get through the doors.  With the money invested by ownership in upscale furnishings, etc., this has been somewhat and sometimes effective in helping evolve the “rest home” perception for many of the “Greatest Generation”.


This type of social event often revolves around FOOD and maybe some entertainment, but is effectively passive in nature, with the prospects more of a spectator than a participant.  Conversely, a combined Progressive Retirement Lifestyles (“PRL”) Activity and Marketing Event is designed to engage the visitors and integrate them into on-going daily activities of the senior living community.  This establishes an important level of normalcy to the process, encourages the formation of relationships with current residents and staff and minimizes barriers to the move-in process.  We have also found this to be somewhat more appealing to the newer, more demanding generations of prospects than the older “Greatest Generation”.[i]


To illustrate the difference between these concepts, two examples of marketing events are described below:  a) traditional Dessert Extravaganza and b) a combined marketing and activity program such as the “Older Adults Mind, Body & Spirit Olympics”.  You decide which approach stimulates the greater likelihood of a move-in.


Dessert Extravaganza

This type of event is organized under the “shotgun” approach” with the expectation that enough invitations mailed out to prospects (regardless of their defined interests, etc.) will lead to enough attendance with enough prospects being “WOWED” to lead to move-ins.  Therefore, invitations are typically issued to everyone on the prospect list.  A substantial number of guests (25 or more) are expected to gather for a special 2 o’clock Saturday afternoon affair.

Dessert Extravaganza

This type of event requires a fair amount of time and money for planning and preparation (or purchase) of a variety of baked goods, confectionary treats and other “finger foods” such as petit fours, tarts, cookies, mini-cheesecakes, eclairs, cupcakes, macarons and other pastries.  It does give the Community an opportunity to showcase their “Executive Chef”, especially if s/he has talents as a baker.


Each visitor registers (to qualify for door prizes – as well as for follow-up) and is encouraged to “take a tour” on a standard tour route and to view a decorated model apartment.  Afterwards, they partake of the dessert buffet and then sit and (maybe) listen to a pianist or keyboard singer for a couple of hours.  After that, the guests leave and the residents are served their dinner for the day.


Does this scenario sound very familiar to events you’ve sponsored or attended?


Of course, the $64,000 Question at this type of event is when a guest meets a current resident and says “This was really nice; how often do you have this type of dessert event?”  Typically, the answer is something like “whenever the census gets too low and the marketing department is willing to pay for another party!”


The point is that this is perceived as a special event for new prospects and not something that is designed to benefit / improve the lifestyle of the current residents.





Older Adult Mind, Body & Spirit Olympics

The PRL Olympics and similar campaigns combine exOlder Adult Olympicsisting activity programs with new initiatives to boost the quantity and quality of activities and resident lifestyles.  Prospects are encouraged to come in, join a TEAM and participate in events with 3 – 4 current residents.


This gives immediate satisfaction of their needs for socialization while the opportunity to compete promotes a sense of accomplishment and ego satisfaction.[ii]


Our plan is to acquaint prospective residents with rewarding and meaningful daily activities that they can expect to continue on a routine basis after they move-in.  We strive to promote their level of independence while introducing them to new experiences and lifelong learning opportunities.


These are actually provided during the event(s) – not just “promised” for some time in the future.


PRL takes a holistic approach to our combined activity / marketing events by challenging the participants’ mind and body while improving their spirits through socialization and fostering of new relationships with other prospects and current residents.  This also induces a certain degree of peer pressure that is beneficial in encouraging the prospect to move in.


Consider the following PARTICIPATION by a prospect over a several day event:


Day 1 – Morning

  • The prospect (“Mary Jones”) arrives and registers. She is greeted by Sally, John and Mabel from the Community.  Along with one more prospect or resident, this will make up an Olympic TEAM.
  • The TEAM will find a seat and be asked to complete a 10-Question Quiz about Brazil and the Summer Olympics. The answer booklets serve as the registration for prizes for correct answers and door prizes.
  • The Opening Ceremony will include an overview of the games with basic rules and a LifeLong Learning Seminar re. Rio de Janiero, Brazil and the Olympics.
  • Next, the TEAM will participate in a seated Beachball Volleyball Tournament.
  • Mary will have lunch with her teammates.


She can take a tour whenever she has down time between events – at her convenience!


Day 1 – Afternoon

  • Mary will be taught how to win at Sudoku and her team will play Tournament Sudoku utilizing the special PRL Magnetic Board.
  • Next, the Team will participate in the seated basketball H-O-R-S-E contest.
  • Finally, Mary and her Team will join in the special Steeplechase Horse Racing challenge before dinner.

Steeplechase -a

Day 2 – Morning

  • Each member of the Olympic TEAM will complete in the events of the Older Adults Pentathlon:
    • Bicycle: How long will it take to pedal a mile on a stationary recumbent bike or Nu-Step machine?
    • Then “Power-walk” a course through the building’s corridors.
    • Target Shooting: Use a Nerf Gun to shoot 5 targets.
    • Balance Beam & Agility Drill: Staying on the ground (unlike the Women’s Gymnastics), they will walk the “balance beam” and navigate an agility course between orange cones.
    • Big Board Scrabble: Mary will challenge her vocabulary skills in the TEAM Scrabble tournament.


Day 2 – Afternoon

  • Olympic Golf will be the focus after lunch. Mary will compete on a 9-hole course that is comprised of part Wii Golf holes and part different putting games.
  • Then she will be taught (if necessary) how to use a computer mouse to compete in solving jigsaw puzzles on a timed basis.


Day 3 – Morning

  • “Track & Field” Events will be held outside in the early morning before it becomes too hot:
    • Discus: A Frisbee is used to sail for distance to emulate this event.
    • Shot Put: A softball will be “put” from a seated position with maximum distance measured.
  • The last TEAM events for Mary will be the simulated “100M Dash” and the “5x100M Relay”. These are set up similar to the horse racing game with movements and winners determined by roll of the dice.


Day 3 – Afternoon

  • Award Certificates will be presented in a ceremony during lunch.
  • Afterwards, guests are invited for a “formal” tour of the Community.


Whether the event is held for 1 day or 3 days (as in this example), the prospects will begin a process of integration into the daily living of the Community that should soften the “transition trauma” of a future move-in.  The visitors will have received a casual tour of the Community as they participated in various events in different Winner - Lady w Trophyparts of the building.  They will have built new relationships with their future neighbors, enjoyed several meals similar to what they can expect in the future, have learned new skills and information and had FUN with an enjoyable and positive experience.


Most importantly, the event has gone a long way towards dispelling fears about living in a senior living community.  The prospect is given insight into the interactive lifestyle that allows them to continue to maintain their independence and dignity as they LIVE in their new prospective home.


We believe this will encourage positive feedback and receptivity to follow-up by the sales & marketing staff.


If you would like to learn more about how you can implement the innovative and contemporary “Older Adults Mind, Body & Spirit Olympics” for your senior living community, please contact Art Carr directly at or 615-414-5217.


[i] The Greatest Generation has been the predominant driving force in the evolution of senior care / living facilities from skilled nursing to independent retirement centers over the past 30 – 40 years.  As the World War II era population dies away, smart operators must evolve their methods to remain relevant to newer generations.

[ii] According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, people of all ages will continually seek satisfaction of these higher level needs.

Even ALL STARS Make Outs 60% of the Time

Baseball can teach lessons to our Senior Living Marketing & Sales Teams- as well as Management and Ownership.  As this picture depicts, the Greatest Hitters in the history of baseball made outs more often than they got hits.MLB All Star Hitters 2

They became All-Stars because they kept trying, learned from every “at bat” and then used that knowledge to get better the next time.


Top 10 Lessons We Can Apply to Senior Living


  1. Realistic Expectations. Management & Owners should NOT expect every person who walks through the door to become an immediate move-in.  “Move-ins are a Process, not an Event”[i] and, generally, the sales & marketing staff must build a relationship with the prospective resident and/or their family before the move-in will occur.


  1. Positive Attitude. Just as the Batter must go to the plate anticipating that they will hit the ball, the sales staff must be prepared to “close” every encounter with a prospect and capitalize on every opportunity to connect with them.  A batter will surely go into a slump if they lose faith in their ability to hit the ball!  The same is true for the salesperson who loses confidence in their product or their ability to relate to the customer.


  1. Everyone is Not Equal. Managers set the line-up to give their best hitters the best opportunity to make meaningful hits that give the TEAM the best chance to win the game.  Successful Senior Living Management understands the difference between anyone[ii] being able to show someone around the community and a professional tour conducted by a Super-Star.  They make sure that all “tour guides” are properly trained and have the personality and tools to effectively “close” a move-in.


  1. Multiple Chances to get a hit During the Game. A tour should be viewed as parallel to the 9-inning baseball game in which the starting players get at least 3 chances to hit.  The sales staff should develop multiple opportunities to “close” during a tour, and not simply wait until the 9th inning (i.e. the end of the tour) to try and score.


  1. Take What They Give You! Great hitters can’t always wait for the perfect pitch and the perfect pitch count[iii] before they swing at the ball.  They are opportunistic and prepared to swing when they get a pitch “right down the middle of the plate”.  The sales staff should do the same when conducting a tour and learn to STOP the tour and sales spiel; sit down and move to closing when the prospect provides them the right cues that they are ready.


  1. Numbers Game. No one is going to get a hit every time they go to bat or successfully close every time they interact with a prospect. Success does depend on NUMBERS → the more “at-bats” for the baseball player and the number of leads / prospects and interactions with them by the Sales Team.


  1. Sometimes a Walk is as Good as a Hit! In baseball, the key is to get runners on base, so even if the All Star walked instead of getting a hit, he has contributed to the Team’s ability to win. AND, the batter frequently had to work just as hard to get the walk.  In senior living, the comparable might be a person asking for a tour who states up front that “I’m just looking” – possibly for another family member.  The sales person should put just as much effort into providing a first-class tour because it may lead to the next “at bat” when the prospect returns and/or makes a referral to others.


  1. Short Memory. Ballplayers state that you must have a short memory to be successful.  Whether they hit a home run or struck out in their previous at-bat, they must forget it the next time they come to the plate.  Worrying about the last time (or even what they did in the field) doesn’t allow them to “keep their mind in the game” and focus on the current situation.  The same rule applies to senior living sales, where the sales staff will generally have multiple contacts (in person [e.g. tours], phone calls, social media, etc.) with different prospects during the day.  They must focus on each of those interactions as they occur, regardless of what happened with the previous contact, if they wish to have the greatest chance of success with each prospect.


  1. Practice and Preparation. All Stars have natural talent but success over their career is predicated on hours of preparation and practice.  They study the opposing team and individual pitcher’s preferences and tendencies to increase their chance of being prepared for the pitches that are thrown to them in different situations.  Then they practice their stance, swing, etc. until the repetition allows it to become “second-nature”.  The sales staff should follow the same concepts:
  • Prepare for every scheduled encounter with a prospect or family.
  • Review notes from prior interactions and determine “hot buttons”.
  • Know which apartments you plan to show during a tour[iv], plan the route to those units and preview the route / apartment to insure no surprises during the tour.
  • Learn something about the prospect from every visit and record it to assist in future meetings.
  • Critique your “performance” and make notes for future improvements.[v]
  • Practice to get better.[vi]
  1. Takes a Team. No one baseball player willTEAM win a championship. No matter how good a hitter they are, they are only 1/9th of the Team at any point in time.  Without contributions from other team members, the All Star would have minimal chance of success.[vii]  Activities, housekeeping, food services, care services, maintenance, etc. all play a role in the presentation of the senior living community.  A move-in should generate a Celebration for this entire TEAM!


[i] See for a further discussion on this topic.

[ii] I once had an E.D. who insisted that every one of her care assistants could conduct a tour and that she didn’t need to spend the money for a designated “marketer” – even though the building was in declining occupancy with about a 50% census.

[iii] i.e. balls & strikes

[iv] These should be based upon the type of accommodation(s) that the prospect will likely prefer.

[v] This may seem like a contradiction with #3, but it is not really.  The critique should be done, noted and then move on to the next encounter – not dwelling on the past.  There is always room for improvement.

[vi]You may also want to refer to “15 Networking Techniques for Senior Living”:

[vii] If nothing else, the opposition could simply walk them every time they came up and they would never even get a chance to hit!

C’mon Man … Where’s Waldo?

Source: C’mon Man … Where’s Waldo?

Published in: on October 28, 2015 at 9:49 am  Leave a Comment  

C’mon Man … Where’s Waldo?

“Where’s Waldo” children’s books[i] ask kids to locate the red-and-white-striped Where's Waldo 2shirt character in a series of camouflaged illustrations.

You won’t find Waldo or any residents in these pictures sampled from senior living websites around the country[ii]. Each depicts a “place” (e.g. main lobby) in a community, and many are very elegant…

BUT, “C’mon man … we’ve been talking about selling LIFESTYLES and not just real estate for over a decade! These pictures – and many more like them on the internet – SCREAM REAL ESTATE SALE!

Who are we trying to impress with these photos?   OURSELVES? (i.e. Look what I built?)

C’mon man … this swimming pool is NO different from the pool at the local multi-family apartment complex. This dining room could be at a nearby campus dormitory and the other shots could be in a hotel lobby. WHERE’S WALDO?

I know, I know: the experts say that you shouldn’t show elderly people in your ads; that the prospects won’t relate to the images of the showcased older residents or the advertised community.   They’ll say, “I’m not like them; that’s not the level of service I need!” If the depicted residents appear to need assistance with their daily activities, the concern is that “higher-functioning” prospects will say “I’m not READY YET!” Other views of active adults may be criticized as “unrealistic”.

Thus, we default to sterile pictures of the real estate features and leave it up to the prospects to use their own imagination to picture themselves in that setting. That approach may work for family housing when buyers customize their “new home” to fit their individual tastes.

WE ARE DIFFERENT in Senior Living! We provide “communal living” and should SHOWCASE what we offer. Do we really expect people to want to live in a museum-like environment where you can “look but don’t touch”?   Isn’t that the message that pictures without human beings conveys?

The Progressive Retirement Lifestyles (“PRL”) program is built upon an interactive lifestyle for all of our residents and advocates the marketing of a robust lifestyle to attract newer generations of prospective residents. We believe that senior living communities should depict scenes with a feeling of warmth and positive aging through social interaction and activity that provide benefit on an on-going basis:

  • Residents actively participating in a water aerobics class (if you are lucky enough to have an on-site swimming pool) is much more meaningful for a potential resident and their family than the passive picture shown above.
  • Residents sharing a meal with their new acquaintances in the dining room would be more appealing than the picture of the empty dining hall.
  • Residents using the common area spaces by participating in an activity there – or at least sharing a moment in conversation with other residents – shows that the building is ALIVE!

I’m ART CARR and understand that this is a controversial topic, but am convinced that my Progressive Retirement Lifestyles concepts create Superior Senior Lifestyles that promote increased occupancy. I welcome your contact at 615-414-5217 or via email at to learn more about the potential of the exciting Progressive Retirement Lifestyles program.




[ii] These are just a sampling of the vast number of similar pictures posted on community sites and are offered as a representative group for the industry as a whole. For that reason, specific communities and/or companies are not identified.

C’mon Man … Show Some Respect!

Source: C’mon Man … Show Some Respect!

Published in: on September 24, 2015 at 2:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

C’mon Man … Show Some Respect!

Over the past decade, I’ve had success in building occupancy[i] with a focus on activities to demonstrate a superior senior lifestyle. It is encouraging to see more operators utilizing activities to convey LIFESTYLE CHOICE in their ads, but “C’mon Man”, we need to show more respect for our customers than is displayed in this direct mail piece:

“… we offer a lifestyle that allows you to focus on the fun things in life. You never have to worry about what to do today because there’s always something going on to keep you engaged. Join us today for one of our activities and stay for lunch. It’s on the house!


5 Things “NOT to Like” with this Marketing Technique


  1. This independent living ad targets prospective residents, and/or their families, who are ready to turn lifestyle management over to the facility. This “needs-based” approach has contributed to higher average-aged residents, older residents at move-in and shorter lengths of stay.   It has also led some experts to question whether the recent building boom in senior housing will create a supply that outpaces demand[ii], even with the influx of baby boomers into the “senior” classification.
    • We must promote independence with dignity and respect to meet the positive aging demands of newer, higher-functioning generations and attract adequate numbers of potential residents.


  1. This ad is synonymous with the “cruise ship on land” marketing concept that assumes “old folks” will be happy toCruise Ship on Land just sail off into the sunset and be happy as long as they get plenty of food and have something to entertain them between meals. Unfortunately, this is good intentions masking a form of benign ageism as identified by the MacArthur Foundation Study.[iii]
    • The dated “rest home” mentality was based on this principle that older adults no longer contribute to society and must be “cared for” in sheltered facilities at their end of life.


  1. Current and prospective residents have been responsible adults for most of their lives and don’t want to just have “fun” all day.   They lived an active and productive lifestyle BEFORE deciding to move into a senior living community and most desire to retain as much normalcy in their lives as possible.
  • Progressive Retirement Lifestyles (“PRL”) draws its scientific basis from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.   In order to continue satisfying the higher level needs – e.g. EGO – of older people, our senior living 3b Activitiescommunities must provide mental and physical challenges for their residents with a diverse array of activities. The “3 B’s”[iv] – Birthday, Bible and Bingo – simply won’t cut it anymore!
  • Our programs respect and foster the desires of many residents to continue “contributing” in some way – by helping others within the community, by volunteering and/or by providing service to others “less fortunate”.


  1. “Worry” is a natural part of living and most mature adults don’t want to be treated as though they can’t “act” or “think” for themselves. They don’t expect to just “sit back” and be treated like children with every minute of their day planned for them.
    • The PRL concept has proven successful by offering multiple daily lifestyle options, while allowing the residents to make their own independent choices.


  1. The only specific “activity” highlighted in the flyer was a “Chef Showcase: Waffle Bar”, which is more “demonstration cooking” than a true resident activity.
    • At best, this is a passive event with residents and other spectators being entertained by the Chef.   Although entertainment is an important ingredient, PRL emphasizes interactive lifestyles with active participation by the residents in activity programs.
    • Unless the “waffle bar” is available every week, there is a risk that current residents will complain that the activity is just a marketing ploy and NOT a lifestyle feature.
    • PRL is a combined operations and marketing approach that enhances operations first and THEN invites prospects to participate in on-going programs.

The PRL program was developed to adapt to the evolving market and promote additional demand by respecting the prior life achievements and recognizing the on-going capabilities of newer generations of seniors. PRL creates positive differentiation from the competition by providing and marketing a more robust lifestyle with a greater quality, quantity and variety of stimulating age-appropriate activities than was frequently the case in the past.

I am Art Carr, the creator of the unique Progressive Retirement Lifestyles program and welcome your comments. PLEASE POST YOUR OPINION about whether you agree or disagree with these observations and share this article with those who might appreciate it.

Please contact me at 615-414-5217 or via email at to learn more about the exciting Progressive Retirement Lifestyles program and its potential to enhance operations and serve as the foundation for improved occupancy.


[i] This approach enabled me to build a regional census 6 points higher than the national average and lead the fill-up of several new buildings, as well as stimulating turnarounds of other under-performing communities.


[iii] See “Successful Aging” by John Rowe, M.D. and Robert Kahn, Ph.D, published by Masterpiece Alliance Foundation, Inc., 1998

[iv] With a thank you to Sara Elizabeth Hamm who first “coined” this phrase.

Rewards for “Participation”

Trophy - Participation DownsizedNFL and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison recently sparked a lot of controversy when he publicly returned participation “trophies” that had been given to his two young sons. Mr. Harrison stated on Instagram that trophies should be earned, and not awarded for simply showing up.

I admit to having a number of conflicting thoughts regarding this issue and Mr. Harrison’s actions, including:

  • IGNORE IT – this is just about kids and has nothing to do with management and/or providing care/services for aging adults.
  • It’s easy for a “jock” to take that attitude. He was probably always a “star” at every level from Pee Wee Football through college and into the pros. HE was one of the guys who always got the glory → trophies, awards and recognition. He has never had to “walk a mile” in the shoes of a bench-warmer who maybe tried just as hard (or harder) but wasn’t blessed with the God given talents of the trophy winners.
  • On the other hand, as one of those with lesser physical skills, I can’t recall ever resenting the fact that some of my teammates received prestigious awards. In fact, I was proud when they received scholarships to major colleges.
  • I do agree with Mr. Harrison that our society is gravitating towards too much “entitlement” instead of earning “it” the old-fashioned way by working hard. To that extent, I applaud his parental stance.
  • I have always been more driven by TEAM awards than individual accomplishments. With this focus, there is a place for recognition of the players who show up for every practice and make silent contributions to the TEAM’s success. If you doubt this, watch the movie “Rudy”.

This carries over into my CORPORATE LEADERSHIP philosophies in which I place the greatest emphasis on TEAM (i.e. Corporate, Region …) achievements.

  • Maybe the focus should be on the method – or in this case the use of a TROPHY – instead of the concept of rewarding participation. Maybe trophies should be reserved for accomplishments whletterman jacket War Jrile other means are used to recognize participation?
  • Haven’t we always had some form of participation rewards? Wasn’t the letterman’s sweater or jacket always a recognition of some level of participation?
  • Just having the chance to put on the team uniform – wear the colors – always gave me a sense of pride AND recognition amongst school classmates and the community. Are we just over-doing it?
  • That said, I believe there is still room for individual awards that recognize – when appropriate – unusual contributions such as “Best Teammate”, “Hardest Worker” and maybe even “100% Attendance”. It’s easy when you are the STAR to show up for practice every day and get most of the attention. It takes a special person (again I refer you to the movies “Rudy” or “Invincible”) to show up every day just because you love the game and want to participate. Any coach who doesn’t recognize the value of these participants, isn’t a very good Coach.

Then, I decided to take this a step further and question whether these same issues should be concerns in my professional life and senior living leadership approach. After all, one Company President anointed me as the “Master of Employee Recognition”.

I earned this title by being a little “wild & crazy” when the President attended our 100% occupancy celebration after we set the company record with a 71-day fill-up for a new building. Consistent with my TEAM philosophy, my entire region attended and then participated in a regional meeting the following day. To start the meeting, I arranged for the President to stand at the front of the room and then had my “starting team” march in as I announced them individually and bragged about their highlights and positive accomplishments while they shook the President’s hand. This process gave each manager recognition amongst their peers as well as an unparalleled introduction to upper management of the Company.

Manager Team w Pres croppedSome might dismiss this as “hokey” and I would probably agree if it was attempted out-of-character to the normal management style. It worked for me – and provided a lot of EGO satisfaction for my managers – because I had spent several years in building a regional TEAM and implementing my unique coaching management style.

One of my responsibilities as a COACH was to promote the capabilities of my TEAM members. By doing this – and letting the TEAM know that I’m doing it – I minimized the frequent disruptive competitiveness that occurs when the individuals feel the need to fight for the attention of senior management. Because some people are naturally more aggressive in self-promotion than others, a natural friction develops. Conversely, my TEAM emphasis and public recognition of each person’s traits made the “pre-game introductions” seem like a natural process.

I should also point out that every one of the managers in the region – plus regional support staff – was introduced so this was an example of an informal participation award – BUT without a trophy!

On the other hand, I did recognize the superior performance of the crew that set the fill-up record.  The Company gave a substantial financial reward, but I chose Slugger Bob“wacky” awards instead of trophies. For our lead salesman, I presented a customized Louisville Slugger baseball bat inscribed with “Slugger Bob” to recognize his ability to hit home runs with his closing rates. [This was also something he could take to his next new community assignment.] The local managers chose a “Gone with the Wind” theme for the 100% celebration in suburban Atlanta. To recognize the achievement of our female managers and sales team, I ordered Vermont Teddy Bears custom-dressed as Scarlett O’Hara.

LG Presentation

Probably the closest we get to the Harrison situation in Senior Living is periodic Occupancy Contests where targets are set and recognition and rewards granted as incentive for achievement. Frequently, this includes financial rewards but tends to cause dissension for those who improve but don’t make their goal and/or fall behind early in the process and then lose all motivation. So, do we reward participation or only superior achievement?

I faced this situation with a not-for-profit whose culture didn’t support performance bonuses (except for limited commissions paid to the sales staff). I took over a number of occupancy-challenged buildings with census as low as 50% for the past five years.

Obviously, setting targets at acceptable levels (even 85% or higher) wasn’t going to work. In fact, the staff was so beat-down by not meeting company expectations, it was questionable if any target could be motivational.

I recognized that I would first have to build some self-confidence and get the local management and sales staff to think outside of the narrow box they had built for themselves. I also decided that I had to “reward participation” because ANY MOVE-IN was a positive step forward.

Plus 1 PinIn this situation, I devised the “+1” Occupancy Challenge and constructed a high-energy training program to kick-off the program. I stimulated teamwork within each community by including the Chef and Activities Coordinator with the Executive Director and Sales & Marketing Staff. I challenged each community to add just one net move-in (i.e. +1 move-in over any move-outs) each week and asked the other departments to add 1 additional feature (e.g. new activity program or special dessert) to improve the resident experience and marketability of the community.

I also introduced the concept of “Participation Participation BucksBucks” where trainees were awarded for their participation in the training session. At the end of the session, they had the opportunity to convert their “Bucks” into prizes for their facility.

The communities then earned “funny money” over the next quarter for each “+1” weekly goal attained with bonus “Bucks” for exceeding the target. There were additional awards for achieving cumulative goals. Even if a building missed their goal for one week, they would still earn an award whenever they increased the census by 1 over the prior week.

Big Board ChartI had “Big Boards” printed for each community with their “+1” weekly targets. These charts were updated weekly with the actual performance and then prominently displayed in the Executive Director’s office and during their daily department head meetings.

I also maintained a chart for the group as a whole and shared the results with the region during a weekly conference call I initiated. We applauded and celebrated every community’s “+1” success on these calls while treating challenges the others faced as learning opportunities.

This was a highly successful program that generated turnarounds in a short period of time. The most outstanding performance was at a 154 unit independent living property that had hovered around the 50% mark for over 5 years. As shown by this chart, the “+1” Challenge Courtenay IL Census Growth Worksheetconcept drove a 33% improvement in 6 months of concentrated “brick-by-brick” progress. The key was in getting the first positive step and then building on it.

At the next regional meeting, I obtained a number of items that would not normally be purchased by the communities, but would be beneficial in the on-going operations and marketing of the communities. This also gave me an easy way to introduce certain new concepts, activity programs, etc. to the communities. Each building was allowed to bid in an auction based upon their accumulated “Bucks” with the strongest performers having the best chance of securing their desired prize(s). BUT, everyone was allowed to “win” something!


I believe these were far more meaningful awards with long-lasting benefits than trophies. They did reward participation but also recognized superior performance.

DO THESE IDEAS INTRIGUE YOU?   WOULD YOU LIKE TO LEARN HOW we utilize a “PAY FOR PARTICIPATION” concept as a key tenet of the Progressive Retirement Lifestyles program for residents?

PLEASE LEAVE YOUR COMMENT IF YOU WOULD LIKE FOR ME TO WRITE MORE ABOUT RECOGNITION AND REWARDS and/or CALL ME at 615-414-5217 for an in-person conversation about how these concepts might be applied to your organization. You may also schedule a time for a discussion via email:

The Four Horsemen

What comes to mind when you hear this phrase?

4 horsemen of Notre DameFall football practice is starting around the country and fans of a certain age (e.g. many residents in today’s senior living communities), may be reminded of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame[1]. The 1920’s are frequently called the Golden Age of Sports with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Lou Gehrig in baseball, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagan in golf and Coach Knute Rockne in college football. Legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice[2] coined The Four Horsemen phrase for Rockne’s 1924 backfield and it has become college football lore.

The riders symbolized Pestilence, Famine, War and Death as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the Bible[3].

Noted satirist and blogger Seth Godin introduced a new concept: “The four horsemen of mediocrity”.[4] He suggests that a business culture based on Deniability, Helplessness, Contempt and Fear will lead to a mediocre organization.   It is not difficult to extrapolate a history of mediocrity into the demise of the organization.

Do these traits apply to your Senior Living or Healthcare organization?

  • Did your occupancy and operating margin slide during/after the recession?

4 Horsemen 4

  • Are your managers accountable for their performance OR do they respond with “It’s not my fault!”? {DENIABILITY}
    • “Someone else (i.e. they) made the decision.”
    • “I didn’t do the budget.”
    • “Corporate raised all my prices.”
  • Do you hear “I wanted to do ______, but my boss wouldn’t let me”?

{HE4 Horsemen 3LPLESSNESS}

  • “We don’t have any money to fix (or improve) it.”
  • “We’re not allowed to do that per the State regs.”
  • “The IT department won’t allow us access …”
  • Nobody will like it if we change it.”
  • Management emphasizes Control more than Innovation.
    • Are you more Reactive than Proactive? More resources are allocated to solve a problem (e.g. legal issue, survey deficiencies) than in prevention.
    • Do you have more conference calls about Worker’s Compensation than about occupancy growth?
    • Corporate HR is viewed as the “personnel police”.
    • Does corporate govern wages with restrictions on starting salaries, increases and incentive payments? Have wages been frozen?
    • Managers are held accountable for individual line items regardless of overall performance. For example, management focuses on rental concessions – no matter how much occupancy has increased!

4 Horsemen 2

  • {CONTEMPT} You don’t believe you need to make changes because …
    • Customers will automatically choose you since you are a not-for-profit .
    • You wouldn’t be an industry leader unless you were doing it right.
    • Nothing has value unless you developed it (“not invented here” mentality[5] ).
    • “We’ve always done it this way” – worked in the past and should work now.
    • You’re doing enough to get by and the customers won’t pay for more.


  • Do you employ Leaders or just good Administrators?
    • Is your organization “slow to change” and proud of it?4 Horsemen Flying
    • Are new employees counseled to not “rock the boat”?
    • Is conformity to established practices valued more than originality?
    • How hard is it to get new ideas accepted?
    • Does all change occur
  • {FEAR} Your business decisions are driven by risk aversion (different than risk management).
    • “What if …?” concerns prevent the implementation of new initiatives.
    • Did you respond to the economic downturn by cutting costs, focusing on “need” admissions and stockpiling cash reserves?
    • Are there more repercussions for failure than rewards for success?
    • Do you require credit and criminal background checks for prospective residents?
    • IT uses the threat of scams, computer viruses, and HIPAA confidentiality to gain a stranglehold over new technology endeavors?
    • Do you track resident falls, complaints and incidents because of possible lawsuits?
    • Are you so afraid of criticism from charitable contributors that you avoid paying performance bonuses or investing in new technology?

Although these factors are included – to some degree – in an efficient, well-run company, too great of an emphasis on any of them can lead to mediocrity, loss of market share or even the ultimate failure of the business.

To counter these trends and effect positive cultural change, introduce the FOUR HORSEMEN OF EXCELLENCE to your organization.

RRecruitment. The first element of success is getting the “right people on the bus”[6] and then taking steps to Recognize, Reward and Retain those individuals who will become leaders in moving the organization forward. At the same time, naysayers and employees with habitual negative attitudes and approaches to change must be moved out of key positions in the company.


Innovation. A business should consistently move forwardIor risk sliding backwards. Implement a “WHY”[7] culture on the basis that there is always room for Improvement. The goal should be a process of “continuous improvement”, utilizing appropriate technology to enhance every aspect of the business. Changes should never be made just for “change’s sake”, but should be incorporated into an overall corporate vision (Insight). For instance, the company must try something new (e.g. different pricing models) to produce different results if occupancy or other metrics have declined.


Customer-centric. At its core, the business should be focused on “what’s best” for C-1the customer. In a PEAK[8] environment, that means anticipating the desires, as well as the identified needs of senior living residents. Companies with this characteristic tend to have a strong “YES! Attitude”[9] and “can-do” approach to their interaction with customers (the residents and their family). This culture must be inbred at every level of the organization and practiced on a daily basis; not just empty corporate platitudes. Ideally, a real caring relationship (Culture of Caring) will exist between the employees and the residents.


Empowerment. The 4th horseman arrives when the organization gives line managers the authority and resources to make their own E-Reverseddecisions and the home office focus shifts to support instead of control. Leaders inspire committed employees at all levels to “do their best” à not because of fear, but because that is what they want to do!   Local managers are empowered to make changes on a test basis in a controlled environment for what they believe is best for their local market. Senior management recognizes that those local managers (where the rubber hits the road) are frequently in the best position to determine changes in their target customers and their demands. They also understand that the company doesn’t have to always make broad, top-down, sweeping changes across the entire organization to be effective.

4 Horsemen of Excellence


NOTE:  This article was originally published as a Guest Article for Medical Blue,, but is no longer available at that site. Therefore, it is being re-published here.

[1]; Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley, and Elmer Layden


[3] Chapter 6 of the Book of Revelations:


[5] “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?”, page 206, Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.

[6] “Good to Great”, Chapter 3, Jim Collins

[7] “Start with WHY”, Simon Sinek

[8] “PEAK”, Chip Conley

[9] “Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude”, Jeffrey Gitomer

Independence Day

Independence Day.

Published in: on July 4, 2015 at 11:13 am  Leave a Comment  

Independence Day



for the Seniors we Serve!

American Flag on pole - Waving

Happy 4th of July. We celebrate the courage of the patriots who fought for our independence over 200 years ago.   But, Please take a moment this long holiday weekend to appreciate all of the seniors in our US society who have contributed in some way to our freedoms and way of life today. Show them the respect they deserve and the right to maintain their highest possible level of independence — regardless of their current situation!