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CW 51: Cara Silletto

Workforce thought leader, Cara Silletto dives deep into the six areas of your business that need attention to recruit and retain good employees (the M.A.G.N.E.T. framework from April 14 episode). Learn how your managers can be more effective, how to improve employer brand, and more ways to boost your retention. Cara challenges leaders to invest in management training to create bosses that foster a place where people want to work. Turnover is costly, let’s invest in a solution!

Welcome back to Bridge The Gap. It is Contributor Wednesday, and I’m Cara Silletto, your workforce guru. I hope you caught the last bonus session at the end of March, where all four of the contributors this season shared why senior living is such a great profession to work in. And it is a great episode to share if you know anyone thinking about transitioning their career or who is new to senior living and maybe needs that boost of, I made the right decision. So be sure to check out that late March episode that all four contributors did together as we took over the mic that day. And then of course, last month in April, I discussed a general overview of our magnet strategies, M A G N E T, which of course stands for management effectiveness, attraction and recruiting, guidance upon entry, which is our onboarding discussion, new staffing models, where we talked about scheduling and advancement.

Then it goes to empowering retention champions. And the final one is trust through transparency. So if you didn’t catch that overview, be sure to go back and grab that. And then today I want to dive deeper. I want to give you some very specific strategies that are in chapter four of my book, Staying Power: Why Your Employees Leave and How to Keep Them Longer. So make sure to grab a copy of that on Amazon, Kindle, or Audible. It has very specific strategies that I’m going to mention today. Most of these are in the book, some may not be as we’re always continuing to add strategies that we find across the country with our own senior living and senior care clients of what is working and what is not. So we’re going to first start with where you get the absolute most bang for your buck my friends, and that is on management effectiveness.

I’m going back to the M in magnet here. It is about management effectiveness. So you really have to take a serious look at how effective are your managers and supervisors. I’m talking about every level, whether it’s a shift leader, whether it is middle-management, whether it’s department leaders, or the senior leadership team, we’ve got to make sure that we have people who are effective in every one of those roles in every one of those levels because those managers and supervisors have the absolute most influence on whether a person stays or goes. So often we talk about communication being the key and who is it that’s in charge of that communication? It’s the management at all these different levels. So whether it’s management, whether it’s somebody feeling heard, whether they want to be recognized more, whether they aren’t happy with their workload or something specific or there’s issues on the teams that they’re frustrated by any, of that stuff can typically be addressed by a manager supervisor. And we can get past it together instead of just watching that person walk out the door.

All right. So we absolutely have to put as much time and attention into making our managers and supervisors effective in their roles. Now we teach a workforce retention boot camp at Magnet Culture, our company. And I am shocked to realize when we get in front of all these managers and department heads in senior living, I’m shocked at how little they have of even self-awareness. You know, it’s one thing to understand others and be able to flex, you know, that’s maybe an intermediate level of management skills and knowledge, but some managers and supervisors don’t even have the basic level of skills which is being aware of their own style and their own approach to addressing issues. Or are they a person who avoids conflict? Which you can do in a supervisory position! We have to be comfortable and competent going to people, talking about the expectations, addressing when the expectations are missed, and motivating and inspiring people to come back tomorrow and do better and do more.
And all of that, which is of course where we are, that we all have to do more and do better every single day. So we need to make sure that every manager has access to whether it’s assessments or training or coaching, some types of development tools and time to get better. To become more self-aware to also then learn about different styles. So I’m a huge fan of the disc assessment. D I S C is dominance, influence, steadiness, and compliance. Those are four different areas that once you realize where you fall on each one of those spectrums, how dominant are you? Or are you not at all? Your dominant score is super low, which is not a bad thing. There’s no right or wrong, but if you’re going to put somebody into a management position who has a very low D score on the disc, for example, which is their behavioral style, if they’re low in dominance, they are going to be so agreeable that they get walked all over.

So we have to really make sure that folks understand their own style as well as can then identify what different styles are, because guess what one size no longer fits all. As we lead this new workforce, which of course I’ve described in some previous episodes, but this new workforce that has a totally different mindset, a different perspective on the employer-employee relationship, we really have to be able to flex and pick up on the nuances as a manager of how this person likes to be talked to versus not. Some people like public recognition, some do not. It really makes a manager stand above all the others and improve the retention on their team when they are able to adjust and adapt. Okay. So we’ve got to make sure we’re giving the managers that time and those tools, training, coaching assessments, whatnot.

They have to be given that time and tool to get better. So we have found that there is a direct correlation my friends between training your managers, which then reduces turnover because you’ve created it people that your workers want to work for. And you’ve created an environment where people want to work. So if we train those managers, we’re going to reduce turnover, which ultimately improves resident care. That’s our goal ultimate goal here. So we absolutely can see that direct correlation. And in fact, in March, my episode was all about making the case, because if your board or your senior leaders or your owners, your investors, whoever it is that has to release those funds and make it a top priority to focus on retention, go back and listen to that making the case episode so that you can prove to them that we will improve resident care if we train the managers, which will reduce turnover, and of course, all of its associated costs.

So it is not only a human thing to work on this and to really care about our people, but it’s also a financial discussion that we’re spending so much in overtime and tip agencies and things like that, that we really, really, really need to get a handle on this. And I’ll tell you every single client, when we kind of audit those magnet areas of their business, every one of them decides on their own to start with improving management effectiveness at all those levels and really investing in the time and tools to get all of their leaders to the right level, you know, to where they need to be as a supervisor. So really important to start there. If we go into the recruiting discussion again, I wanted to give a couple of quick, very specific tips.

One is, I encourage you, if you haven’t already get the marketing folks involved in writing and reviewing your job descriptions. I just received a job description the other day from a business friend of mine, and she doesn’t happen to be in senior living, but she just sent it to me to look at and also see if I had anybody who might be interested in the job. And I called her and said, you know what? I gotta be honest with you. This job description is so old school. And I just don’t think that it’s going to attract the type of candidate that you really want someone very forward-thinking and more of a team member, not just an assistant, but somebody who works with you, not for you. And so I explained to her the different parts of the job description that were pretty old school.

In fact, it looked kind of like a job description from still the 1990s. So make sure that your job descriptions are up to date and much more focused on the candidate. Another piece of advice I gave her was this looks like it’s a whole list of what are you going to do for me. Like, why should I hire you? Instead of today, we all know from my January episode that we are in an employees market because so many people are hiring. The candidates have choices. So you also have to think of your job description as a sales piece, a marketing piece, to convince them to come and work for your great organization. So make sure to put the what’s in it for me, meaning the candidate, right? What’s in it for the candidate in there. What do you have to offer? A great place to work?

Not just the pay and benefits. Because a lot of times, we can’t even compete with that against the Amazons and Targets of the world, but just focusing more on that mission and the great work that they can do. The career ladder that you’re going to build for them and the support for them to go back to school and those types of things, but just make sure that your job descriptions do not look like they did 10, 15, 20 years ago. Another piece of the recruiting puzzle too is your employer brand. So this is not the marketing brand of how great are you as a campus for people to live on and for folks to choose you for their loved ones to get care. But also you have another brand that is your employer brand. How are you as an employer?

Not just as a senior living community, but as a place to work. That’s a different brand and people on the streets are talking about it. So if somebody sees your logo on somebody’s shirt or some swag that you gave them or whatnot, or they just find out that that person works there and then the other friend or family member says, Oh, I’ve always wondered about that place. Is it a good place to work? Do you like working there? Whatever comes out of their mouth next is your employer brand. All right. So we really have to work on making sure that our employer brand out on the streets is a positive one. Are your current employees and even former employees saying good things about working for you? Do they talk about how great the management is? That’s one of the things that I hear all the time is people complaining about, well, they don’t respect their workers or they have too much overtime there and things like that, that, of course, we’re struggling with, but we can get a handle on as we work to reduce turnover.

So you really want to identify if you haven’t yet try to figure out what is that employer brand out on the streets and then improve and maintain your positive employer brand. There are lots of different ways to do that. You know, encouraging employers, I’m sorry, employees to speak positively to tell their friends and family about those things. But I will be honest with you guys. It has to start internally first. You can’t get them to say positive things if the positive things aren’t how they really feel. So number one way to improve your recruiting efforts is to get retention right on the inside. Does that make sense? We really have to look in the mirror and say, do we have good managers? Do we really have a good workplace? Do we have strong teams that get along? Are we working on that? Those types of things. Do we really care about our people?

Do we listen to them? Do we appreciate them? Do we communicate clearly with our people? You know, those types of cultural things have to happen in order for your employees current and former to go out and say those positive things about you. So it’s kind of a chicken or the egg, I guess, but we can work on both at the same time there. Speaking of team building, I have also found that a lot of organizations just don’t do much team building. Even when a new person comes on the floor, it’s okay, well, there’s Susie and Alex and Shelly, and that’s your team. Let them know if you have any questions and go. That type of thing. So we really have to work a little harder or a lot harder on building the comradery and most importantly, the trust between the team members. When I see a really strong team, they have got each other’s back and you know why?

Because they know each other. They trust each other. So if you’ve got a team that doesn’t really know each other, we have to work extra hard to get them to connect. And I know there’s not a lot of time for that. We have to kind of build that into the daily routine. I’m not saying do an off-site ropes course or whatever. I mean, you could do that if you’re able, but I’m just talking about little two minutes here. Two minutes there. And in fact, we have a vault that I’ve mentioned on all these podcasts of a bunch of free resources. So if you are serious about reducing turnover and in this case, if you’re serious about building your team and building that comradery and trust, we recently made a new document called the Two Minute team building questions. And it’s great for your staff meetings for a quick shift huddle, things like that, that you can just ask this very quick, two-minute question, go round Robin around the group, for example, and let them get to know each other. That will help them talk to each other in the break room.

You know, it kind of is an icebreaker for folks, especially that don’t know each other or are new to the team in general. And it gives them some common ground, some things to talk about and even just the personal side of who they are as a 24 seven-person. So make sure that you’re incorporating some type of team building and trust building into every staff meeting. I know you don’t have much time, but you can do it. Believe it or not in just one or two minutes at every meeting. That adds up right? Week by week, that adds up day by day. Everything. Another great way to reduce turnover is to really listen to your people. And we’re all familiar with exit interviews, which are hard to get let’s face it because that person already has one or both feet out the door by the time we get to schedule an exit interview and you know, some of them are very candid, but others are not as candid and are not going to tell you that they’re really leaving because of Susie, right?

Susie, the supervisor that is not effective in her role, they may or may not tell you that that’s exactly why they’re leaving. And instead, it’s going to sound more like I just got a better opportunity somewhere else, or so-and-so is paying 50 cents more an hour. So I’m going there, right? That’s kind of a cop-out and an easy answer for them to not burn the bridge. They just got a better offer. Right? So instead of relying on the exit interviews, are you currently doing any type of stay interview? Now, these have nothing to do with performance. It’s not talking to a person about what they’re doing right and wrong. Instead, it is exactly the opposite. It is flipped 180 degrees, and it is more so about what is the company doing right or wrong for you as an employee? Are we serving you in the way that we should?

Are we supporting you in the way that we could? And really making sure that they feel heard, they feel like they have a channel to communicate any concerns, any frustrations, and things like that. So also in the vault,, we have a list of stay interview questions that we’ve compiled from all different resources. And some of my favorites are, tell me about a frustrating day, what happened? And you just have them, you know, they’re not just going to immediately explode and like, Oh, start venting. It might take them a little while to warm up and things, but you’re trying to understand what they’re really going through on the floor every single day. So I encourage you to kind of start small. In fact, that document in the vault, it explains how to start slowly with stay interviews. We don’t just go full steam ahead and schedule them with everybody.

But instead, we kind of inch into those conversations again to build trust. Because they might be saying, why are you asking me about a frustrating day? Are you going to fire me if I complain? That kind of thing. And by the way, I should have mentioned too, that you also ask them, tell me about a great day. What did that look like? And the reason that you’re asking those questions of course, is to glean from them, What do they love about the job and what do they love about the job? Because then you can, try to help them get past any of those obstacles and roadblocks, or maybe even shift some of their roles and responsibilities around what they prefer or don’t prefer. Another thing that I encourage most of my clients to implement is more opportunities for advancement.

And we talked briefly about this in the last podcast last month. But if we think about a bank teller, now I give this example because everybody knows what a bank teller is, right? And your mom knew her bank teller and the bank teller knew your mom. That was how it was because back in the day, a bank teller position was a career. People were in that role for a long, long time. Well, I feel the exact same way about many positions within our campus and our communities. So a CNA, for example, a CNA for decades was seen as a career potential for folks. But if we’re honest, do you think that the new CNAs coming in today see that role as a career? No. So we’re looking at it instead as more of a stepping stone. And that means that we’re going to have to build in more stepping stones within the organization, even within individual roles, if we want to keep people longer.

So a lot of my clients have decided to build out, just as one example, a CNA level one, level two, level three. And we identify the basic competencies that a person must know in order to do that job independently. Then we identify the competencies of somebody who can troubleshoot and deal with difficult situations. I call it the Mac daddy, CNA, right? It’s like the level three of skillset, the best of the best. And then of course, somewhere in between, you can build a level two competency list that falls between that level one and level three and, all of a sudden, instead of a CNA, being a CNA who is a CNA, That they’re all the exact same. Now we’ve got various levels of CNAs and do we have to pay them more? I get that question in every workshop.

Do we have to pay them more if they’re a level two or level three? Yes. Because they are more competent in their role and they are more valuable to the organization. So yes, it does typically come with a pay increase as well. And I encourage those levels to not be tenure-based meaning, once you’ve been here a year or you’ve been here two years, then you become the next level. No, it is competency-based. And as soon as they hit those competencies, that’s when they get that advancement or promotion. You can put thresholds on it. Like you have to be here at least six months or something like that, but you want it to go with their ambition. And if they’re moving really quickly, then great, then they’ll advance even quicker. You can also do this with dietary AIDS, maintenance folks, there’s all different roles within our buildings that we could apply that same concept to and think about some new levels of advancement for them.

Then speaking of kind of those promotions and advancement and whatnot, we also want to think about placing carrots for these people. So a big problem that we have is there’s not really any incentive for folks to stay. So when I ask any of our clients and the leadership team, tell me what carrots currently exist. Like, what do you offer people? They’ll typically say, well, on day one, they get this, this and this as far as benefits and pay and paid time off, for example. And then I say, great. When is the next milestone? When is the next carrot on a stick that’s hanging out there dangling as an incentive for them? And almost always, they say, at one year, at 12 months, then they get a little bit extra paid time off or a little bit more money and things like that.

But hello! 12 months is a long time for a low-wage earner. Because there is a lot of job-hopping going on, remember, and everybody’s hiring. And so I have clients who will say to me, Oh man, Cara, we just can’t even keep our people 60 or 90 days. This is crazy. Just this churn, this revolving door. It’s unbelievable. And then when I asked them about the incentives, they say, well, somebody has to wait 12 months before they get something. Okay. So let’s recalibrate this. And I encourage you to take any big carrots that you have, meaning not necessarily that it’s, that it’s large, but that it’s far out. And instead, chop that sucker up into little baby carrots and put it along their career path with you. So if you’re struggling with 30, 60, 90-day turnover, let’s put a decent-sized carrot that is totally worth it to them at the 90 day mark, or maybe the six-month mark.

Because if you think about it, getting somebody who was going to leave at 90 days to stay six months, you have now doubled their tenure with you. You have doubled their length of time on your payroll, which is great because then those residents have more continuity of care and less turnover that we’re dealing with. So we really have to think about those. Now, I’m not saying to chop up a 25 cent pay increase down into nickels but put other things there. Can we put access to paid time off? Access to other things that they want? Whether that’s education support or reimbursement and the other perks or benefits, another uniform that’s provided after so many days? Some company swag, whatever that is. Even some of my clients, they’ll give them like tickets to the zoo for their family if they reach that point, different things like that.

Now I know a lot of folks are doing retention bonuses right now and that can also fit into this. But you can think outside of cash. Even think about access to mentors or can they be a mentor at that point and some different things like that. We can brainstorm for hours about different types of advancement and what that could look like. If you’re unsure of where exactly to put those carrots, don’t forget that a couple episodes back, I talked about why people leave when. There’s a big difference of why people leave in the first few weeks versus why they would leave in the first few months or after their first few years. Okay. So go back and check out that episode. I believe it was in January where we talked about the employment market and why people leave when they do. Also at we have a two-page list of why people leave when they do. Alright. So definitely check out that as well.

So if we think about all this stuff we’ve talked about today, and even on the last episode of really building out that training and coaching plan for your managers, building better job descriptions, improving your employer brand, implementing team building into your staff huddles, also implementing stay interviews throughout their tenure with you, really focusing on advancement levels and what could that look like, and then finally building out some baby carrot stops and milestones along that first year in particular. Of those strategies, which two are you going to implement? Which two of those are you going to make your top priority? That you’re going to go start talking to some other leaders about and get those put into place. I want you to make a commitment to yourself, make a commitment to me, reach out on LinkedIn, and let me know which of these you’re going to implement.

And by when. I’ll be your accountability partner. So reach out and let us know what your plans are, what you think is going to bring you the most bang for your buck. And I really, really want to hear about what those are and how it turns out, right? So a few months from now, reach back out, let me know how it went, any roadblocks that you hit, and I want to hear your success stories like we see with so many of our clients, all right. So on my next Contributor Wednesday episode, next month, I am going to dive into the disconnect that we’re seeing. This increasing disconnect between managers and the frontline and teach you ways to avoid the disconnect. All right? Cause you are better than that. So we’re going to teach some strategies to avoid that increasing disconnect between supervisors, managers, and leaders and their frontline staff.

But if you’re impatient and you want to learn these strategies faster, you want this stuff in your hands right now, don’t forget, you can always grab a copy of my book, Staying Power on again, Amazon, Kindle, or Audible. If you need any support with any of these things, or you just want to talk through some of these strategies I’ve talked about, or you want to hear about our client success stories and senior living to see how other leaders like you have actually gotten results from this stuff, then visit, which is my company Magnet Cultures website And I’m Cara Silletto. Thanks so much for listening to this week’s Bridge The Gap Contributor Wednesday, and don’t forget to also connect at Have a great day!

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CW 51: Cara Silletto