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221: Michael Bush

The great resignation…and the great “thank you.” Michael Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work® and keynote speaker at Senior Living 100 Conference, discusses the 9 high-trust leadership behaviors. 

Book: A Great Place to Work For All by Michael Bush

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Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We are at Senior Living 100 in California. We have a great guest, Michael Bush. He’s with A Great Place to Work. Welcome to the show.

Michael Bush

Thank you. Happy to be here.


We are so excited to sit down with you. This has been a long-anticipated conversation. You are the main keynote speaker here at this event and there are workforce retention problems all over the place, and you run an organization that is tailor-made to discuss these types of issues. And we’d love to get some of your backgrounds. What got you into this lane, so to speak and what makes you so passionate about making A Great Place to Work?

Michael Bush 

Yeah I think what got me into this lane was nature, just I’ve always cared about people. That’s kind of number one. And then that nature was nurtured not by my father, but but by my mother, cause my father would always say, “you care too much about people. You better care about yourself.” And my mother would go, “no, that’s okay. You care about people.” And so she nurtured that. And then I loved business from a very young child. I was an oddity in my neighborhood that I would read the business section before the sporting game. And so putting those two things together, a love of business in people, started doing various business things. And I always knew people were the secret weapon. I didn’t have to read anything.

Michael Bush

I knew it. So the way I treated people was natural actually. And then you know, businesses succeeded and I didn’t really connect the two, was lucky, had a lot of success. And then started doing a lot of small company turnarounds, companies that were in trouble. And the way I did those was the people. So usually if you take at a company that’s in trouble, you take out the leader, the people blossom, they blossom. And so people would ask me what was my secret weapon? And they couldn’t believe that. I’d tell them, “oh, financial analysis. We found the thing that’s really driving free cash flow.” It was the people, it was totally the people totally liberating. The people getting behind the people, fueling the people inspiring them. They would take the thing over and over and over again. I was hired to sell great place to work by the founder Robert Levering, and so packaged the company to sell it, got it ready to sell.

Michael Bush 

He ended up not liking the people on the other side of the table, and after in a moment of frustration, he said, “you should buy it.” And I thought about it. And two weeks later, my partner and I bought it in 2015. That’s how I got into it. Great luck fortune. And then I learned through the analytics, why I had been successful in terms of the experience that I created for people. It’s just unbelievable luck is the way, the way that I would describe it. And now having the analytics to help other leaders who are kind of curious about whether it really pays to take care of your people, I can help tip them in a direction. That’s going to just help their business score like crazy.

Josh 03:50

Well, Michael, you gave a great talk to the Senior 100 crowd that’s here today. Lucas, as you know one of the main driving forces behind why we even started Bridge the Gap was to Bridge the Gap of the thought leadership that we are all privileged to be able to hear at these great events, but to be able to share that with people that can’t make it, so that that kind of evens the play and field of the information. So I love the fact that you actually really broke down what you guys do, because I think so many of us in the industry recognize that little badge that we see on places we’re like, “how did they, how did they get that?” What did they do? So you talk a little bit in the beginning of your presentation about the mission of your organization. Could you break that down for our listeners that may not be aware?

Michael Bush 04:38

Yeah, thanks for Bridging the Gap by the way, I love that, just trying to make things more equitable. Not everybody can be here, but they care about what they’re doing, so they need to get the best. So I’m about to give the best I have to those people. It’s kind of to create a great place to work for all, it’s about bridging the gap. It’s about kind of building a bridge that pulls the two pieces of land closer together through technology, which is what we’re doing right now. And so what we’ve done through our research, we survey over 10 million employees a year, over 10,000 companies a year in over a hundred countries in every industry on earth. We know a lot about working people in, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in Bogota, Columbia, or in Toronto, Canada, you actually want to be respected by the person you work for.

Michael Bush 05:28

You actually want to be communicated within an honest way. You actually wanna be treated fairly. So we have questions that measure those things. You want to enjoy the people that you work with. We have questions that measure that you want to have pride, which is beyond the swag. Pride is really caring. Do, do I care for the people I work with and do I feel they care for me? And is there a sense of team and comradery, which introverts and extroverts love? And so it’s very important. We measure those things and that defines trust, which is the ultimate measure and the secret weapon in any organization. And of course, we measure psychological when emotional and physical safety, because there’s no trust if you’re feeling unsafe. Whether it be through physically unsafe, or if you just feel like I, if I ask a certain question, I’m going to be judged.

Michael Bush 06:21

And in my career progression, because I ask that particular question, that’s not a great place to work. So we ask 60 questions and then based on what the employees say, and if you’re less than 5,000 employees, you have to survey every employee, you don’t get to pick and choose. You survey every employee. And then we take that data and if it’s above a certain score, you can be a certified great place to work. And proudly use that badge, which is good for two things. Number one, employees take great pride that they work for a place, it’s a great place to work. And new employees like to see that they’re potentially going to work for a place that actually cares about the people.

Josh 07:03

Well, so that’s also, if I heard you correctly, that’s not something when we see this badge that someone could just pay to get that badge. That’s something that’s really earned right, through that process that you just mentioned. In addition you did something that I thought was really awesome because a lot of time during mission statements, I find that we kind of read the mission statement and we’re like, oh, that sounds nice, but we don’t really understand what it means. I thought you did a wonderful job in explaining even the word, “great.” Yeah. What does that mean? And what value does that represent to your organization?

Michael Bush 07:39

It’s all about being great, and we like to say become great. And what we’re saying is, like A Great Place to Work, we’re a certified great place to work, but we don’t believe we’re great. Great is something you’re always…I believe in Kobe Bryant’s definition of great; you never achieve it. Which is humility. And so you’re always trying to get better. And so we believe that great is trust, respect, credibility and fairness. We believe that great is diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And when we say equity, we mean equity or representation, equity of opportunity, promotions equity in terms of pay, to be doing the same job, getting paid the same and equity and wellbeing. That we care about everybody’s physical health, mental health and their financial health and how they’re doing. So and great means empathy, which for us empathy is an action word. Learning about another person and some things that have gone in their life.

Michael Bush 08:37

And these are new things. And so you feel, “oh, wow. I, that was actually a tough road, maybe a little tougher and different than mine.” If you stop there, it’s not useful, but if you’re like, “I want to do something to help this person.” That’s what we’re talking about. So we turn empathy into an action word, and great means being purpose-driven that your organization is doing so much more than it seems in terms of the way that it can transform people’s lives, make a more balanced, healthy society. And particularly in senior living, we define great in all of ways so that people can – it’s just like when you say to somebody, “Hey, you’re great. That was great. That’s not very helpful” What do you mean by that? Well, we try and break it down so we can describe what we’re all aspiring to and how we can measure it. And, and to know whether we’re making progress based on the ways we’re behaving or not. Yeah.

Josh 09:34

So senior living industry is probably sharing a lot of the challenges that a lot of different verticals are, are experiencing different challenges. It was impressive to hear the number of surveys, the countries, did you say over 140 countries? The millions of people that you guys survey, it is a data-rich field that you’re in, and you’ve mined that out. What can you tell our listeners that are at various capacities within our industry on what you’ve learned, maybe should be our focus? Maybe on some organizations that are, their ears are perked and they’re wanting to do better. They’re wanting to change culture in your organization. What are some just key takeaways, high level that you can give to our listeners that are things that you have learned in your journey and getting this data back from people?

Michael Bush 10:34

I think the thing that I try and do when communicating like I am today is really communicating to supervisors, managers, and leaders, because they define the experience for the working person. They can create a great experience for a person in the toughest circumstances, and they can destroy a person. They have a tremendous amount of power. And so everything I’m focusing on when I’m communicating like I am right now is for those people. And what I’m hoping is to unlock something in them to change and to let them know I’m no better, I’m trying to change. So we’re in the same process of trying to change and trying to transform. And therefore, if somebody listens to this podcast and they do the exact same thing tomorrow, totally failed, I totally failed. I just didn’t, wasn’t able to move the needle.

Michael Bush 11:36

And so I wanted to try harder because this is about somebody getting some information, like what we’re talking about today and changing, because people change only when the leaders change. This takes humility and curiosity, and being vulnerable, and taking risks and saying things that you’re afraid to say all trying to make sure that people know you’re real, you’re committed, and you care, and you’re no better than them. You’re trying to, you’re asking them to change, but you’re, working and trying to change too. We talked today about I know something you believe in this practice as well about leaders doing handwritten notes  to thank people. Being, kind of I can’t think of a better way to, to respond to the great resignation then cuz a lot of left.

Michael Bush 12:34

The people who stayed are freaking remarkable. I mean, they are still here. [That’s right.] And they endured the same pain, suffering, inequities, inconveniences, fear, disrespect that the people who left it, but they stayed. You pretty much have the gold now, that that’s who you have. If you’ve got the gold, you’ve got to let the gold know it. You’ve got to let them know it. And it’s amazing how many people don’t do it to me talking today about handwriting notes to people, and they don’t have to be long. They can be three sentences, but it’s a thank you. And it’s a something specific you did, getting to work on time, keeping the rooms clean. I know you had to stay late. I know we scheduled you 22 outta 22 days. And we said we wouldn’t, but you did it. And I just want to thank you and I’m going to do everything I can to break this cycle.

Michael Bush 13:30

But I’m going to need a few months to do it because of the situation we have today. That’s credibility. That’s transparency. That’s treating a person like a human being because you’re communicating with that honest way which is what people deserve. So that’s it it’s like everybody, not only leaders listening, what are you going to change to be a better teammate? And the meter you’re thinking about is this can communication I’m having are not having is an increasing respect. Is it making me seem more credible or less credible? Does it seem fair and equitable? Well, if you’re communicating with some people and not others that doesn’t seem too fair and equitable. So as leaders, we are always getting judged by our employees. And so I would hope everybody would certainly use the month of March to be the big thank you.

Josh 14:22

Yeah. So talking about a handwritten note, I mean, is it the actual just  that that’s not as convenient and it’s a extra level of intentionality that goes into that, because it’s so much you easier to shoot a text or an email? What have you found that makes that the magic because that’s, I’m sure everybody’s thinking, “oh my gosh, I’ve got to get some stationary. Oh my gosh, I gotta do all this. Like why, handwritten note?


Michael 14:47

Right, right. And, and that’s all true. And let me tell you. If you go to my home right now, I’ve got a little box with these white cards and they say Michael C. Bush at the top, and I’ve got my envelopes, I’ve got my stamps. [You ready?] I’m ready, man. And I’ve got my return address, which is my office, because I don’t want to send my home address all around the world, but I do that. And it’s all like that because if it’s not like that, it won’t happen. That’s why I’m describing it this way. I need the stamps or I won’t write the notes. I don’t, I write the notes and I don’t send them because I don’t have the stamps. I’ve learned, to put tho those things together. And I will admit every time I reach, because it’s time because my great chief of staff, Melanie will send me every month.

Michael 15:35

These are the anniversaries. And these are some highlight things some people did. I get that and I don’t want to do it, because I want to do other things. But this is like calling me. So I try to, okay. It gets usually late at night, I have the stack and I put on some music that I like. And I use that, and then there’s my time. Now it doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’m telling you, it’s a lot of work to get to that point and then to do it. Now when you do it, the response, I still don’t understand it. We heard a gentleman today who talked about doing this and an employee dying and the employee’s family bringing him the card that he sent to the person. [Oh man.] Which he said that I felt it in my heart.

Michael 16:28

Because I know that. I know that. People are so disrespected every day, a random act of kindness of you giving you your most precious gift, which is time, it moves people because of the experience they’ve had. It shouldn’t be like this. It should be like, “a written note? Big deal. What’s that?” People don’t get them. Think about the last time you got one. It’s been a while. It’s been a while. It’s been a and now it’s less and less. It’s hard to find stationary. Everybody listening, wait till you try that. You have to go online to get it because the stationary store is out of business. Right. You know the local one. It’s a lot, but and then I tried to push it today, in the session, I was looking at the room and you know how you’re looking at a room, you’re like, “they aren’t liking this”.

Michael 17:15

So uncomfortable. Yeah. I was like, “okay, this is happening, “you know? And I’m like, “I’m going for it.” You know? I’m like, “hey, if you aren’t going to do this, you need to check yourself.” How could you not give this to people who are giving so much to your business? know people don’t like hearing that, but this is how I feel about it, and what I know is they’re going to get rewarded. Now, some are going to keep doing it the same way. I do know that, everybody’s not on board with equality, equity, fairness, and care as being the secret weapons. It’s not for every leader. I can’t change those leaders. But I think for everybody listening today, who’s at least listening at this moment. You’re connected. You’re in. The transformations begun. That’s why you’re listening.

Josh 18:04

Well as we start to wrap our show we could sit here and talk to you all day. So thank you by the way, for taking a few minutes for us. You talked a little bit about just humanity in general. And that’s understanding what basic humans are seeking, what’s important to them is really important to being able to change the culture in your organization. I think so often you get so busy as business leaders with the actual business aspect and we start thinking, “well, how can I rechange my health benefit package? Like what can I do?” And we just start tweaking with spreadsheets and stuff. Help us understand a little bit again, what’s your learning and dealing with all these organizations and culture change and, and becoming great every day. What is humanity seeking? What are they looking for when they start looking for a great place to work?

Michael Bush 18:59

Yeah. Some leaders are…their life’s pretty good. So the big battle for them is why should they change? Their life’s pretty good. They got a lot of choices in their life and they listen to me and I’m saying, “hey, you should need, you need to change.” Cause looking forward, the world’s getting more complicated. You’re going to need the best people on earth. And but they’re like, “yeah, but I only gotta work five more years.” So there’s that reality of people. Life at the top, ain’t horrible. People say it’s lonely, but people set it up that way. So there’s that, not much I can do for that. But there are people just like today, as I’m looking at in the crowd, people listening who actually they know inside, there’s a different of doing this.

Michael Bush 19:52

They know inside things aren’t fair and equitable. The breakthrough opportunity for me is that in senior living, you’ve got great diversity on the front line, incredible diversity. As you go up, it falls out. And so it’s weird looking to me how it looks, it looks weird. And you’ve got these frontline people who are super committed and have been there 15, 20 years while managers and supervisors come and go. It just seems like the potential is right under their nose terms of who they should be leaning into to develop and grow and promote. And those people, when they get in those roles are going to run the place different. They get the cost, they get the economics. Here I am talking about care, respect. I got an EB to target every quarter. I got a free cash to target every quarter, I got debt to satisfy. 

Michael Bush 20:53

I got all the things everybody has. I’m a real business too. And a serious business person. So what I know is that you gotta do all the hard work around the analytics, managing cost, scheduling, holding down overtime watching how long it takes for you to, to attract new talent benefits and making sure they’re fair and equitable. And the business can’t afford ’em and the people are gonna use ’em all the business analytics, but there are some moments when Excel is useless. There’s nothing on Excel about writing a note. There’s nothing on Excel about a thank you and acknowledging somebody for some work that they did. And the biggest decisions around people, Excel’s not going to help you because you’re just doing the right thing to do. This is where you’re doing, what you would hope for if you were that person.

Michael Bush 21:48

And what you would hope somebody would do for you. There are some people who think somehow that if you lean to people too far or really lean into their experience, you’re not going to do as well financially. I got tons of data and a book called great place to work for all with a chapter on the financial perform of companies who do what I’m talking about in every industry. I know who’s performing well in the room. We were just in and they happen to be people. We know something about, there are people in that room who in  the industry had a 65% average attrition, which meant some companies are 85%, but some are 45% already. And it’s around the things that they’re doing for their people. So just trying to encourage people to, even if it’s just about the money for you really, here’s the way to make it.

Josh 22:41

Wow. So, and you’re right. We actually, when you had the attendees raise their hands, like who’s got the badge? Yeah. that was a pretty good group in there. There’s still some that don’t have the badge, right. And then also you have a top 100 and, I saw at least one hand in that room So that was very encouraging. I  think in summary, and one of the kind of, I think towards the closing we talk about, and we’re hearing this term, right, maybe it’s getting overused, but the great resignation, and much of what you’ve talked about is the answer is the great, thank you, right? Yeah. What a fascinating conversation. Lucas, our listeners are just getting a little bit they’re going to want to connect with Michael and get as personal with him as they can with the organization. Thanks for taking time with us this morning. 

Michael Bush

Sure. Happy to do it.


Michael Bush, A Great Place to Work. We’ll connect with you in the show notes, go to BTG, and access all of our content and connect with us on social. Thanks for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

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221: Michael Bush