The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

Plus, four words that could change the world.

Most of us probably haven’t read A Tale of Two Cities in a long time, but the words from that story have been on my mind lately. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

senior housing story imageFor us personally, as an industry, and globally, 2020 truly is the best and worst of times: a time of self-reliance and a time of collaboration; a time of isolation and a time of connection; a time of technology and a time of humanity. And without question, it is a time of real, human loss.

All of us have stories about this year. Dr. Dan Gottlieb, a popular radio host and psychologist here in Philadelphia, said that there are four words that can change the world. Those four words are: tell me your story.

Dr. Gottlieb says that listening to each other’s stories makes us more empathetic, calmer, and more open. It connects us and changes our biology for the better, and I believe it makes us wiser.

As I look back on this unforgettable year, the stories of good that have come from it bring me hope for our industry and our world. While I don’t have a crystal ball, here are some of the stories I’ve heard and seen across the industry, and the wisdom about what this means for us moving forward in 2021 and beyond.

A Time of Self-Reliance and a Time of Collaboration

Just like we learned to cut our own hair and do our own home repairs, this year operators took it upon themselves to make previously unthinkable changes to their organizations to protect residents and staff. They did it themselves, literally overnight, without precedent (and often before official guidance).

And yet, making those self-directed changes required tremendous cooperation and collaboration, throughout organizations and across the industry. I saw our industry come together as a community to share information, strategy, and stories. As one participant in a webinar said, “none of us had classes in how to market in a pandemic.”

The wisdom: I often say that when you make a plan, plan with a belt, suspenders, and safety pins. This year we needed all of those and then some.

Good planning now will make you more self-reliant and self-sustaining later. Self-reliance in an organization comes from being flexible enough in your planning to roll with changes and to act without delay, while at the same time holding fast to a singular purpose and mission, so that everyone works together.

We are all in this together, with a common mission to keep residents, staff, and the whole industry safe and thriving. The resources are there, but you must be ready to take action and do it yourselfpersonally or as an organization. Break down knowledge silos, and balance strong, purposeful leadership at the top with individual empowerment. Encourage innovation.

A Time of Isolation and a Time of Connection

As we all hunkered down in our homes this year, we came to realize anew the value of our connections, and that we must make real efforts to keep them. So, too, did communities that found new and creative ways for residents to interact with families and friends.

Interacting with prospects presented sales and marketing staff with a particular challenge: if their goal is to get people through the door, how do they meet their goals when the doors are closed? Sales staff are tasked with using all the technology available to stay connected with their prospects, and encourage their prospects to feel connected to the community. The focus has changed from “how can we get you through the door?” to “how can we get through this together?”

The wisdom: Take a long view of sales right now. Change the definition of sales success from a signed contract to a deeper relationship. Whether personal or professional, virtual connections are bittersweet – they always carry the promise of connecting face-to-face in the future. Right now, it is about the relationship and making people feel special, so that they’ll be ready to walk through the door next year. Listen to their stories.

When the doors reopen, we will refocus on hard numbers, with a whole new set of relationship building tools and stronger skills for meeting sales goals.

A Time of Technology and a Time of Humanity

Does technology distance us or bring us closer together? Social distancing and virtual meetings ironically have brought us into each other’s homes: we see each other’s pets, knickknacks, and favorite coffee mugs. (A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say.) Many sales staff have even found that prospects disclose more from the comfort of their own living rooms than they do in person.

Technology definitely helps us connect, to a point. This year, never-grow-old Boomers experienced the limits of the technology on which they rely and got a real sense of what isolation is like for elders. Those experiences likely will be what motivates them to move fully into the marketplace and embrace communal living.

The wisdom: Dr. Gottlieb posits that biologically there is a straight line from connecting through storytelling to feelings of safety. Isolation is primal, human fear; we need to connect with others to survive. It is part of our humanity. Technology helps but has its limits. So, use technology for connecting in the most powerful way that you can right now: as a vehicle for sharing stories.

In physical isolation, people need to connect. Shift from spin to storytelling, and from overcoming objections to transparency. Focus on press releases and publicity for feel-good human-interest stories. Not only is this useful in building the association between your community and feeling good, it is also what the world needs right now.

Whether personal or global, a crisis changes you. No doubt, we’ve all experienced growth professionally and personally as we work to balance the demands of living and working through a pandemic. 2020 brought us the best and worst, and our industry will never be the same.

A wise person once said that the difference between illness and wellness is the difference between I and We. If nothing else, after the immediate crisis settles, “health care” will no longer be defined as fixing an immediate problem, but about wellness and wellbeing: living life fully, with connection and community.

My wish for all of you is to take the best with you into 2021 and beyond, for a bright, safe, and connected future.