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 https://progressiveretirement.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/move-ins/ 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”: https://progressiveretirement.wordpress.com/2011/04/08/15-networking-techniques/

[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!

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!

Montage

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: art@progressiveretirement.com.

PEOPLE

Core Group

 

To become a STAR – a Leadership Success – a manager “must surround her/himself with exceptional people”.[i]  Bus - double deckerStanford University Professor Jim Collins[ii] studied 1435 Fortune 500 companies and concluded that getting “the right people on the bus” was key for sustained long-term success. Although the Stanford study focused on larger public companies, the concepts can be applied to organizations at various stages in their evolution.

As a company grows, many levels of organization will be needed with the “5 P’s” (People, Process, Product, Personality & Performance) applied to each segment / department.[iii] This article focuses on emerging growth companies and the formation of a CORE GROUP of key employees who will impact the future direction of the enterprise.

Organizational Evolution 2The greatest risk of failure for any company is the transition from an entrepreneur-centric organization into a professionally managed organization → the emerging growth sector.

Although commonly classified based upon revenue size, the real characterization of an Emerging Growth Company should be measured in its evolution from a strict entrepreneurial culture into an organization that relies on professional managers, systems and structures to guide its progress.[iv]

In the beginning, “Mom & Pop” start-up a business and control everything.   As the initial concept takes hold and revenues grow, many entrepreneurs adopt what Jim Collins has labeled as the “Genius with a Thousand Helpers”[v] management approach based upon their vision and driving force. The people these small business owners put on the bus tend to be:Charge of Light Brigade 2

  • “Just like me” with similar personality traits and strengths;
  • “Good soldiers” who wait for direction from above and then follow orders; and/or
  • Individuals Proficient in differing technical skills to handle specific tasks and responsibilities depending on the nature of the business.

This type of entrepreneurial organization can be successful for a period of time, but eventually the size of the enterprise, complexity of the decision-making process, increased competition and/or changes in the business environment present challenges necessitating changes in the culture and management practices – no matter how brilliant and capable the founder is! Professor Collins states “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”[vi]

Unfortunately, the “right people” to successfully lead the company and support its growth into the Emerging Growth category are frequently NOT the ones who were recruited in the earlRR Tracks Croppedier stages. The organization still needs a visionary CEO to drive the bus, but generalists with a diversified background, knowledge of the business and a wide range of talents (vs a cadre of technicians) will give the business its best chance of success in capturing new opportunities and adapting to changing customer demands, economic factors, etc. Getting these “right people” on the bus provides meaningful executive-level input and gives greater latitude than relying solely on the entrepreneur’s single track vision and management style.

5 Finger TeamAt this threshold, the enlightened CEO / Founder will assess his/her “key” employees and recruit additional talent to create an Inner Circle of 5 people (limited for effective interpersonal management) who can be trusted implicitly for honest assessments, to speak their minds openly with differing opinions and perspectives and then to unequivocally support the ultimate decisions as they are implemented.

To create a GREAT organization, the CEO will surround his/herself with individuals who demonstrate natural leadership and possess the characteristics discussed below. This will cause others to respect and look-up to them for guidance.

The technical specialists will still provide value to the company, but generally are not geared to contribute effectively in the Core Group. Functions – including but not limited to – the Chief Clinician (Quality Assurance), Chief Accountant (Controller), 3rd Party Reimbursement Specialist, Risk Manager, Chief of Information Services, Legal, Tax Accounting and Human Resources tend to focus on the details instead of the BIG PICTURE. The personalities of individuals who gravitate to these positions and do well with these responsibilities generally have a strong detail orientation and place a high priority on compliance. They make “good soldiers”, following the lead of and helping the strong “genius”, but are less likely to contribute insightful, ground-breaking initiatives to impact the direction of the company.

CREATIVE: The Core Group should be comprised of people who consistently Challenge the status quo by asking “Why?” or “Why Not?” and are Comfortable “thinking outside-the-box”. They find a way to get the job done with a “Yes! Attitude”[vii] and positive Can-do approach[viii] to problem solving.

CULTURE CARRIERS: This group molds theon-going culture for the organization but should also value “where we’ve been”Winning is a Habit and carry elements of that culture forward. It is important to create a Winning Culture and celebrate success. Coach Lombardi[ix] stated: “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing.   You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time.” This philosophy is a cornerstone of a GREAT organization.

CUSTOMER CENTRIC: There are many different types of customers Customer Centricwithin an organization. In health care, the ultimate “customer” is the patient, although 3rd Party Payers are another important customer. In Senior Living, that customer is generally called a resident, but the resident’s family should also be considered a customer. It is important that the Core Group understands that this is not just a slogan for sales and marketing, but takes active steps to ensure that everyone in the company embraces the concept.

The same concepts should be applied to internal customers of corporate support departments to avoid the “tail wagging the dog”. At every level, employees should be reminded that their jobs only exist because of their customers and encouraged to maximize customer satisfaction by anticipating their “unrecognized needs”[x] and then delivering more than the customer expects.[xi]

COOPERATIVE: Core Group members should be self-sufficient, but this is not a place for a “lone wolf” or an egomaniac. Small businesses are frequently started by several “partners” and/or investors → often with differing skills and variations of the shared vision. As the venture grows, TEAM PIXone person typically emerges as the dominant leader to drive the business forward as the CEO. It is not uncommon at this stage – transitioning into a mid-size organization – for a “disconnect”[xii] to occur between the original founders. Gaining their collective Cooperation may be a challenge with each having their own group of loyal followers.[xiii] It is OK for the “right people” in the Core Group to be competitive, but they must rally behind and unequivocally support the emerging CEO and his/her vision and objectives. They must respect the opinions and efforts of others and be willing to work in Coordination with them or “GET OFF THE BUS!

Another challenge is related to the saying that “knowledge is power”. The term POWER was not listed as a key to successful leadership in the “5 P’s” presentation[xiv] because it is an anathema to a GREAT organization when employed by individuals. The Core Group must pull together and share information → they must function as a TEAM that the rest of the organization can emulate.

COMMITTED: Individuals shouldn’t be allowed on the Core Group “bus” unless they are committed to “get it right”.   For this group, it’s not a job → it is a calling! In their words and actions, they Communicate that they truly Care about making the organization, its products and services and dedication to the customers the best they can possibly be. They must believe that there is “always room for improvement” and take aggressive steps to foster Continuous process improvement throughout the company.

In earlier stages, staff Commitment might be characterized by personal loyalty to a leader.[xv] However – in “Good to Great” Companies – the Core Group of key personnel, while retaining consistent and unquestionable loyalty to their “boss”, are driven by a Commitment to the organization’s underlying ideals and principles and develop “unwavering faith” that they “can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties”[xvi]. This higher level of informed and shared Commitment creates a business that is stronger and more resilient than any one individual.

Jim Collins found that the “right people will do the right things and deliver the best results they’re capable of …”[xvii] and naturally build the winning culture and work ethic in the “Good-to-Great” companies. With this level of commitment, Collins also found that “the best people don’t need to be managed. Guided, taught, led – yes. But not tightly managed.”[xviii] This leads to a highly efficient organization and a rewarding experience for the members of the Core Group.

Win – Win!

5 Cs - Core Group

 

 

[i] “5 P’s of Leadership Success”: People, Process, Product, Personality, Performance, published on the Progressive Retirement Lifestyles Blog: http://wp.me/pCemc-hx

[ii] “Good to Great”, Jim Collins, 2001.

[iii] This will be discussed in detail in a subsequent segment of the “5 P’s” series.

[iv] I once worked in a $100 million public company that employed the “Genius with a Thousand Helpers” approach and in many ways was still run as a “Mom & Pop” operation when I arrived. That company would have been dissolved and assets sold off by the lenders if we had not been able to implement the systems and structure to allow a professionally managed operation. As Professor Collins discussed, we had to recruit some new people to get on the bus, get some existing people in the right seats and get the wrong people off the bus in this process.

[v] Collins, op. cit., Chapter 3

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Jeffrey Gitomer’s “Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude”, December, 2006.

[viii] Many of these technical specialties are more geared to tell management why they CAN’T do something; spelling out the risks, limiting regulations, etc. that impact a proposed corporate action. The Core Group must MANAGE these risks, but not allow them to exercise a strangle-hold on effective decision-making!

[ix] Coach Vince Lombardi was one of the best & most successful head coaches in the history of the National Football League. He is best known for coaching the Green Bay Packers to three straight and five total Championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

[x] “PEAK, How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow”, Chip Conley, 2007

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Some are less willing to “dedicate their entire life” to the enterprise, become satisfied with the size or earnings level achieved, disagree about local, regional or national growth strategies, taking on new risks with geographical or product line expansion, or desire a quicker and/or more defined “exit strategy”.

[xiii] Blind, personal loyalty to competing leaders with different personalities and agendas is often found in early-stage ventures. This is similar to the loyalty shown to an Omnipotent Leader In the “Genius with a Thousand Helpers” organization.

[xiv] “5 P’s of Leadership Success”, op. cit.

[xv] Collins, op. cit., “Genius with a Thousand Helpers”

[xvi] Collins, op. cit., Chapter 1

[xvii] Collins, op. cit., Chapter 3

[xviii] Ibid.

“The Little Engine That Could” Adaptation

A Senior Living Adaptation

The following adaptation of Watty Piper’s “The Little Engine That Could”[1] was created and first used as an inspirational aid for a marketing meeting in 2007.  Managers and salespeople were encouraged to maintain a positive, “can do” attitude and keep trying in their sales efforts until they achieved 100% occupancy.

ABRIDGED VERSION

Chug, chug, chug.  Puff, puff, puff.  Ding-dong, ding-dong.  The little train rumbled over the tracks.  She was a happy little train for she had such a jolly load to carry.  Her cars were filled full of good things and new residents for the retirement center.

There were activity items – exercise equipment, games, and even a Bingo set.  Then there was putter baseball, shuffleboard, beach balls for volleyball, giant crossword and Sudoku boards, and the cutest race horses you ever saw.  And there were cars full of bibles and hymnals, a pool table, picture puzzles, books and every kind of thing seniors could want . . .

The little train was carrying all these wonderful things to the senior living community on the other side of the mountain.  She puffed along merrily.  Then all of a sudden she stopped with a jerk.  She simply could not go another inch.  She tried and she tried, but her wheels would not turn.

What were all those seniors on the other side of the mountain going to do without the wonderful activity items to keep them occupied and the good food to eat?

“Here comes a shiny new engine,” said one of the retirees who jumped out of the train.  “Let us ask him to help us.”

So all the seniors cried out together: “Please, Shiny New Engine, won’t you please pull our train over the mountain?  Our engine has broken down, and we need to move into our new home and won’t have any place to stay or food to eat unless you help us.”

But the Shiny New Engine snorted:  “I pull you?  I am a Yuppie Engine.  I have just carried a fine big train over the mountain, with more cars than you ever dreamed of.  My train had sleeping cars, with Digital TV; a Five-Star dining-car where waiters bring whatever hungry people want to eat: and parlor cars in which people sit in soft arm-chairs and work on laptop computers.  I pull the likes of you?  Indeed not!” . . .  And off he rumbled to the roundhouse chugging, “I can not.” . . .

But the old gentleman called out, “Here is another engine coming, a little blue engine, a very little one, maybe she will help us.”

The very little engine came chug, chugging merrily along.  When she saw the old gentleman’s flag, she stopped quickly.  “What is the matter, my friends?” she asked kindly.

“Oh, Little Blue Engine,” cried the seniors.  “Will you pull us over the mountain?  Our engine has broken down and we’re tired and hungry and need to take our medications and won’t have a place to sleep or good food to eat, unless you help us.  Please, please, help us, Little Blue Engine.”

“I’m not very big,” said the Little Blue Engine.  “They use me only for switching trains in the yard.  I have never been over the mountain.”

“But we must get over the mountain before its too late,” said all the seniors.

The very little engine looked up and saw the tears in the grandmother’s eyes.  And she thought of the old folks who would not have any place to sleep or good food unless she helped.

Then she said, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”  And she hitched herself to the little train.

She tugged and pulled and pulled and pulled and tugged and slowly, slowly, slowly they started off.

The old gentleman jumped aboard and all the grandmothers and other seniors began to smile and cheer.

Puff, puff, chug, chug, went the Little Blue Engine.  “I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can.”

Up, up, up.  Faster and faster and faster and faster the little engine climbed, until at last they reached the top of the mountain.  Down in the valley lay the retirement center.

“Hurray, hurray,” cried the old gentleman and all the seniors.  Everyone in the retirement center will be happy because you helped us, kind, Little Blue Engine.”

And the Little Blue Engine smile and seemed to say as she puffed steadily down the mountain,

“I thought I could. I thought I could.  I thought I could.

I thought I could.

I thought I could.

I thought I could.”


[1] 1954 edition with illustrations by George and Doris Hauman