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Better Staffing: Retention Is the Key.

Everyone is out to win the war for talent. You have only to listen to the news or watch the trickle of responses to your latest ad to know the candidate pool is shrinking. Dire reports in recent months indicate we haven't seen the worst. (And those are the optimistic ones!) Most of us in the assisted living industry have realized that, in the 21st century, the rarest commodity is not gold or diamonds, but people.

Is there any hope? Yes. The secret is keeping the talent you already have and keeping them happier than anyone else. Focus on retention--closing the back door. This philosophy at Marriott comes directly from our founder, J. Willard Marriott. His maxim for success was, "Take good care of your employees and they'll take good care of your customers, and the customers will come back."

But how does this value translate into action? Given today's labor market, many of us in the assisted living industry have shifted our management focus to recruitment. "How many jobs do we have open?" is the typical question, not, "Why are they open?"

A lesson I learned a long time ago was that if you can't measure it, you can't manage it. At Marriott we can quantify how many people we are hiring. We can quantify how many terminations we have. Additionally, we can numerically report what our employees think of Marriott as a company. However, these answers alone do not staff our communities.

We also need to quantify what is happening across all of the other people-management activities within our communities. To do that, we need answers to 10 questions:

1. How were employees selected?

2. Did we know what departments hired them?

3. How effective was their initial orientation?

4. How were associates trained?

5. How were they assimilated into the company?

6. When did they terminate--30 days, 90 days, six months?

7. Which departments had the highest turnover?

8. Did excellent leadership from the administrator/executive director/general manager make a difference?

9. How was performance assessed and feedback given?

10. What impact did any of these questions have on business results?

Can you answer all of these questions? Congratulations if you said, "Yes." If you said, "No," welcome to the club. I couldn't answer all the questions six months ago either. Managers told me their issues. I certainly had my own perspective. But I didn't have answers.

As an organization, we had relied too heavily on our basic turnover statistics and employee satisfaction scores to determine our human resources issues. We had never assessed the impact of day-to-day human resources actions on business results. For me, that was the proverbial "wake-up" call in turning our founder's philosophy into a battle cry in our war for talent.

In Marriott Senior Living Services, we implemented a more thorough due-diligence process and brought more integrated data to the business table. We used three methods to delve into the top 10 questions and quantify the answers:

* We used existing information in new and different ways. For example, we took our turnover numbers and broke them down by days and months of service, department and job classification.

* We conducted focus group meetings with current associates in all our product lines, including independent living, assisted living, special care and skilled nursing, to determine how they were interviewed, what orientation they received and how their training was conducted.

* We went outside our function and used data from finance (variance to budget) and sales and marketing (occupancy) to determine the impact that human resources had on business.

We uncovered some interesting findings. For example, when a high number of employees consistently completed required training, turnover decreased by 20 percentage points and family (or proxy) satisfaction increased by an average of 30 percentage points. In addition, when turnover went down by 15 percentage points, there was, on average, a 12% decrease in occupancy variance compared to budget. Turnover also correlated directly with employee ratings of their leadership.

In sum, what we discovered was that analysis of human resources key performance indicators compared to business results led to overall better decision making. With this type of data, we had the ability to challenge myths. We had the information to develop our business case to focus on retention.

Our human resources activities across the spectrum are now geared to one outcome: retention. Retention is the best strategy to win the talent war. As new human resources initiatives are brought to the table, the business question we now ask is, "How will it help retention?"

Building the business case and delivering on it, however, are two different things. Once we knew retention was the key to success in a business where ongoing relationships with our residents is critical, we had to reinvent our recruiting, orientation, training and performance management systems.

For example, retention of the right associates begins with the first step in staffing--selection. After analyzing the process, we discovered we could consistently interview for the key skills and attributes found in our most successful long-term associates. We then developed and placed interviewing scripts for each position in all our communities. These interview guides assess specific behaviors that correlate with longer tenure.

Behavioral interviewing enables the manager to quickly obtain critical information from the candidate. If the manager wants to understand an applicant's customer focus, an experienced certified nursing assistant will be asked, "Tell me about a time when you turned around an angry resident or family member." Or, to learn about his or her passion for our industry, "What do you personally think is most challenging/rewarding about working with the elderly?"

We are in the middle of conducting this reinvention for retention. Many other assisted living companies are also trying to define their approach in the war for talent. The Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) addressed this need by forming a new council for human resources executives that recently issued a white paper on recruitment and retention strategies for assisted living providers. The council gives human resources leaders in our companies a forum to identify key issues, share best practices and leverage our combined resources to improve the industry workforce as a whole.

Our industry places a high value on employees' relationship skills and the care they give our customers. Our residents and their families value the long-term associations they form with their caregivers. Our staff members value and are motivated by their relationships with the residents and families.

To be successful, we must take care of our employees through integrated retention strategies. The outcome: Our employees will be highly satisfied and stay, and the residents will be highly satisfied and stay, too.

Sallie R. Larsen is senior vice-president, Human Resources, for Marriott Senior Living Services and leader of ALFA's Human Resources Executive Council.
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Author:LARSEN, SALLIE R.
Publication:Nursing Homes
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
Words:1129
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