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Episode 75: Anthony Ormsbee-Hale

Anthony Ormsbee-Hale shares how to reframe retention efforts in this week’s episode. Don’t miss it!

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Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast with Josh and Lucas. We are the senior living podcast at Argentum ‘19 in San Antonio, and we are in the home state of our guest today, Anthony. He is with Civitas, and he today is going to be talking to us about role in recruiting and engagement, his passion and his origin story and they’re going to be so much great content. Anthony, thank you so much for being here. 

Anthony: Yeah. Thanks for having me guys. It’s a it’s a pleasure to be here. Argentum’s an amazing conference and the work that you guys are doing here really ties in, I think, to a lot about what we’re going to talk about. 

Lucas: Absolutely Josh, you know, you’re an operator in the space and you are uniquely aware that there’s a lot of things that are thrown at operators, even at these types of conferences and it’s like there’s so many great ideas. What is the first step and how do I even start with implementing some of these great practices? 

Josh: Yeah. Well and we were just talking just a little while ago, I can reminisce back to whenever I was an administrator in the communities, I’d get the opportunity to come to an exciting conference like this. I’d get to hear people talk like Anthony and other people and you hear a lot about what you should do. Me and Anthony were talking about that right before the show, and if we’re not careful, we can go back to the community and actually never implement anything. So you’re just a little bit overwhelmed by where do I start? So I’m excited. Hopefully today, Anthony, we can pick your brain a little bit after we hear kind of your upbringing in the industry and your experience, some practical systems and how to get those going at the community level, right? 

Anthony: Yeah. Absolutely, you know, we talked earlier about how do you move people from that excitement to action phase, and you know, I’ve been really lucky to work for two amazing companies in senior living that have really empowered me to to make that move into the action phase. So I started, I worked for Retired Center Management. Mostly Texas-based company. I was a sales director for 3 years and then finally they got tired of me complaining about operations. So they said, “You know what? Why don’t you give it a shot, and here are the keys to the castle and you know, good luck,” and they were great. 

So I was an executive director for 2 years and then introduced to Civitas senior living and moved into a role of regional sales director role with them for about six months until we as a company were really starting to have the conversation. We know that work force is a big issue for us. It’s human capital and how do you get those people to move forward in the business, and how do you find people and how do you develop people, and we said we don’t really have anyone dedicating, you know time to that within our office, you know. It’s everybody’s interested in it, but it’s not a full-time position within our organization. 

So I was hired or promoted to Vice President of Learning and Development, and I think on day one I was talking with Misty Powell. She is one of our co-founders and Chief People Officer. And she said, “Okay you’re going to do this. You’re going to do employee training and that’s really great. But we also need some help with recruiting. We need some help with performance management,” and I read this really great book Work Rules by Laszlo Bock. He was the Senior VP of People Operations for Google and you know really famous for their culture, and as a little bit of a culture nerd, I was obsessed with how Google managed people and how they grew their organization. So I looked at Misty and I said, “That’s amazing. I can’t wait to do that. But we’re going to change my title. I’m going to become Vice President of People Operations,” and she’s like, “That’s great. Now get to work.” 

So it was a lot of fun. Great to have those people who are mentors in the organization and in the industry who weren’t afraid to say, you know what, this is a great idea. We don’t know if it’s going to work but let’s give it a shot. 

Josh: I love that and you mentioned something that I can’t just stumble over because it’s a word that I think is very important when you’re talking about people, and that’s empowerment, and it sounds like you’ve been really blessed to work in a couple of at least great organizations that empowered you. So let’s just before we get into some of these systems, let’s talk about how important that is, and you’ve been blessed to be part of that. But I think that is something that’s often lacking in our industry. What’s your perspective on that? 

Anthony: Yeah. So you know, it’s interesting. I think you can pull up almost any operator and they talk about having a high-trust culture, empowering their workforce, but I’ll use the example of if you have a sales director in your community and their laptop breaks, how many chains of approval does that need to go through before they get any laptop? How many missed calls or how many missed emails did we just lose as an organization because our regional director or VP needed to approve that when at the end of the day I can order it on Amazon Prime, get it here in 2 hours, and my IT team can help set that up. 

So we talk a lot about that as an empowering thing. You know, when do we give people the room and the resources to make decisions? It’s one thing for me as a VP in our company to tell someone to go out and do that. But if I give them a tool kit and if I give them a budget to do it, it makes it a lot more, a lot easier to accomplish that.

Josh: Sure, and I think that’s got to be buying from the top down ‘cause you got to evaluate that and be intentional about empowering your people. 

So again, I didn’t want to derail our conversation. But when you said that, I thought lightbulb, you know, that’s a big key to all of this because you know, as we start talking about systems  implementation and all of that, whether you’re at the community level or regional level, whatever level you’re at. If you’re in a leadership position, talking to the leaders out there, and you don’t empower your people in very strategic and thoughtful ways to execute on these systems, it’s just like fighting a losing battle. It can be very frustrating for the people downstream.

Lucas: Well, and that’s a great parlay into our next topic which is recruiting. I love what Civitas is doing on social media. You guys have doubled down on video content and photos and engagement, and that’s got to have a strategic impact on recruiting. Talk to us about that.

Anthony: So, you guys have the perfect phrase, “Love stories of senior living,” and I just took that back to the office and I said, “You know what? I’m totally stealing this phrase from these awesome people,” and we have a lot of amazing people not just in our organization, but senior living as a whole, and here at Argentum were talking about one of our focus areas as an industry needs to be redefining our narrative. What’s the story that were telling to the world? Is it the stories of abuse and neglect that, you know, get hyped up a lot of times by the media? And we still need to have this conversations, but we have amazing people who are doing incredible work whether that’s as a caregiver, as a nurse, health care administrators. I mean, I’ve known some pretty awesome maintenance guys who’ve helped, you know fix down AC systems in the middle of a Texas summer, and for me that qualifies you as sainthood. 

So, you know, we were fortunate to be able to have the resources to, we hired a videographer director. He’s been amazing at capturing the stories of our employees and that ties in a lot to our passion program of empowering our employees to be able to have an impact on the resident, and I was in a session yesterday where someone talked about the Ritz-Carlton and their philosophy of empowering their employees through I think each employee has a $2,000 budget to make you know, any guests happy to overcome, to do that service recovery, and we haven’t quite gotten there yet. You know, that’s a lot to process operationally, but I think it’s giving people, you know, an opportunity to say do the right thing, you know, if it ties into our mission into our core values, then that should be the solution.

Josh: Absolutely. If you can produce a love story, absolutely do it, and do what is needed. I love, I’ve heard that Ritz-Carlton thing before and like anything else, when you want to implement something when you actually start looking at how you operationalize that, it can become a little bit challenging. I want to move into while we’re talking about recruiting like what are some of the recruiting things that you guys are doing and you say you know what, regardless of whether you’re listening to this podcast and you’re a community. This is a single community. That’s just struggling to make it every day. You don’t have a whole lot of support systems in place or you’re a big regional platform. What are some tangible things on the recruitment side that people can be doing?

Anthony: I’ll give away one of my new secrets here. So we’ve recently started what we call talent communities. So we’re developing 22 communities over the next two years, and part of that is cultivating a workforce that excited to be part of our organization. And so what we’ve done is we’ve opened up this talent community. So when the pipes go up and the building starts happening people start calling and they say, you know, “When can I interview? What jobs are you hiring for?” We put them in our applicant tracking system. And then we’re able to engage with them. We encourage them to follow us on social media. We send them our employee newsletters. So we have this group of people who are following us, and that could be for six months. It could be for a year-and-a-half depending on the building, and they’re excited to work for us. They don’t even have the job yet, but they know that it’s convenient to my home. I’ve heard good things about the community. I’ve checked them out on Glass Door, and I want to be part of that organization. 

And so when we achieved our great place to work status, we shared that with all these people, and I got an email back from people who aren’t even part of our company that said, “I can’t wait to be part of your team,” and I just thought how cool is that and so for us it’s very digital process. We have a great applicant tracking system that we’ve used. If you don’t have that and you’re on the paper process, have your startup salesperson put a file in the office and it’s as simple as you know, doing a quarterly mail out or something like that, but I think it’s a great way to engage with people so that way when you open your doors or you get ready to staff up, you’ve got hundreds of people that are already looking to work in your community and how exciting is it for them to tell those stories and you have your founding group of residents of your founding group of employees, and I can’t wait from five years now to celebrate that with our new founders. 

Josh: Wow. So let’s dumb this down a little bit for Josh, because so basically you’ve got an applicant tracking system. But some people, you’re tracking applicants whether it’s a digital process or not. It may be hard copy. So you’re taking that treasure trove of network, basically creating a network out of your applicants and you’re keeping them engaged with everything like you would normally keep your resident consumer side engaged on from the time you I guess break ground and make those initial announcements all the way through opening. 

Anthony: Yep! Absolutely. We have people who… I have a couple of folks that I’ve connected with that are looking to relocate out-of-state. Their family lives in a community close to where we’re building. These are business office managers, they’re nurses, a couple of executive directors. So, you know, they’re making that move and they’re going to find us but we know that we’re not quite ready to hire them yet, so why not keep them involved in that conversation, and some folks… We actually had one where we hired… we have department specialists within our organization and so they were able to travel quite a bit. And then once that community’s open, we know that we have an executive director who already knows our systems, already knows our process, and we call it being Civitized. So they are already fully immersed in the passion that we have. 

Josh: I love that. So you guys are a big operation. Can do a lot of exciting things. Do you guys have proprietary tracking systems? Is this something kind of off the shelf that people can adapt or what?

Anthony: No, I vetted out over 14 different applicant tracking systems. We decided on Greenhouse, which is a company. I think they’re based out of California. Reasonably affordable. I don’t think you know that it’s certainly not cheap, but for us, for me to be able to have the information and for our executive directors, our community managers to have a system that’s user-friendly to manage candidates, because that’s where we were really struggling was, you know, we’re running all of this overtime hundreds of hours. That position was open for weeks and nobody knew why. I didn’t have any information and I’m not a particularly detailed oriented kind of person, but I’ve trained myself to look at the data and at least figure out what’s the cause of this issue, and I had no idea before we had an applicant tracking system. So as much as I don’t like the details and the nitty-gritty part of that process, we had to bunker down and really put a system in place for us to manage that, and for any Civitas folks listening to this, I take pride in saying it is the most widely adopted platform out of all of our software systems. 

Josh: That is fascinating. So what I’m hearing, there is regardless of whether you can afford the fancy bells and whistles and technology digital platforms, engage that applicant pool and make them ambassadors for you from day one. I love that. So, you know, we know, also, so recruitment’s a big thing, and we see and talk about it seems like endless sessions, seminars that, you know, in that transition phase between that recruitment/onboarding phase it seems like so much gets lost in those early months, and we just see this churn and burn and like a real retention. Like how do we close the back door? Not just for the resident side, but for our people, and so what’s some systems that you guys have put in place?

Anthony: A great question, and you know, two things really quick before I say there is a system called Smartsheets. It’s a project management tool. I think you can get it for like… It’s a monthly fee. Maybe 10 bucks or something, right? They have an internal ATS, an applicant tracking system, that you can build into that so anyone listening to this can get an applicant tracking system for $10 a month, but then one thing that I’m particularly interested in, and we don’t have a solution for this yet, but we’re working on it, is from the time that I make you an offer to join our team to say you’re an executive director and it’s 30 days that you’ve got to give your notice and work that out. There’s really no touch points from us to you at that point. It’s you know, maybe, “Hey we need to do a background check or hey we need to do a drug test,” and those aren’t particularly warm and fuzzy ways…

Josh: Not the best conversation over coffee, right?

Anthony: Yeah it so we don’t want that to be the only time that they hear from us in that process and that I think it’s a big reason why we get ghosted a lot. Why people don’t show up on day 1. So we’re trying to find a solution to how do we automate or how do we build that candidate experience before they even show up on day one? So we’ll see. We’ll see how that works out, but going back to your original question of the onboarding platform. 

So we spend a lot of time really piloting are onboarding platforms. Right now, it’s a paper process. I’m not particularly proud of that. But we haven’t quite found the right partner, and I think that’s really important to find a vendor and to find a product that really fits your needs. 1 to have a higher adoption rate amongst your managers, but 2, you know, it’s a significant investment in capital resources for us. So we have depending on the position depending on the person’s experience, but then we also have a really great system where we take your personality profile and some other information that we collect during that and we will tailor your onboarding experience based on that. So if you’re a particularly detailed-focused person you’re going to get actually an extended orientation period with us just because we know that you’re going to ask why a lot and for someone like me it’s going to drive me crazy, but we know that you need that information to be successful in our organization. So it’s a significant investment and a trainer’s time, but for that new executive director, new wellness director, even a new med-tech, I mean one day to learn and EHR and EMR system terrifies me. So, you know, I work in a week. 

We as an industry have to move beyond saying, what? We just met the state requirements. You know, that’s great and we need those standards, but we need to make sure that that person feels absolutely confident in every tool before we put our residents in their hands. 

Josh: Yeah so fascinating. So, let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about I mean, it’s kind of daunting if you look at the aging population, the number of people that we need to recruit into our industry as a whole. 

Anthony: Like a million? 

Josh: Yeah, like thank you for reminding us. So it is very daunting to think about that. I mean, what is your strategy to cope with that? Because when you think of that big number, you know, whatever whether you’re one community or a hundred community type company, you have to, your part of that big number where you’ve got to fill positions and there’s only so many workers that are out there working right now. So, you know, we were talking a little bit offline. How do you attract new workers that maybe aren’t in the industry. Do you guys have any thoughts around that? 

Anthony: Yeah. It’s so I’m a big believer in career and technical organizations and education. As a younger person, I came from a family life that wasn’t necessarily the best, and I will say that my career and technical organizations advisor, I really credit her with almost saving my life to be really honest. She taught me everything from writing thank you notes after job interviews, to how to shake hands, which fork to use at dinner if there are three forks on the table, you know, things like that…

Josh: I can get that one too. Yeah send that one to me.

Anthony: Absolutely. So and it’s hard because you know, we talked a lot about Millennials or the Gen Zs and it’s they’re not professional enough or all these things. And I think that those organizations add a lot of value and they teach younger people. You know, I don’t want to say kids. I’m 26, but I think have the skills that we as an industry need. We are so focused on we got to capture these hospitality skills, and these organizations have that, so reaching out to your local high school on whether it’s at FFA or the organization I was a part of is Family, Career and Community Leaders of America and they have interior design programs, culinary programs. So where we’re at conversations with them right now to you know, how do we get volunteers from your program into our communities and how do we funnel those people into internship programs. Argentum’s got a big focus on apprenticeship programs. So I really believe you start talking about it in middle school and high school and you get those students who have no idea what’s senior living is but they know that they want a career that impacts people and they want a career that adds a lot of value, but at the end of the day to we also as an industry have to make sure that you know, we’re paying them decent wages that there is a clear path to success whatever that looks like, and whether that person wants to be a rockstar caregiver for 25 years or you know, we have one guy in our office and he jokes lot with our president and CEO because he’s like, I may need you guys to pack up your office. It’s my turn to run the company now, and we love that ambition, and I’d say, “Okay. Well you got a little bit of a couple of things to learn first, but we’re going to get you there.” 

Josh: That’s so fascinating. Well, you know, we constantly talk about recruitment outside of our industry. I think that’s a couple of very practical ways. You gave our listeners some things to do but you know again if you’re listening getting outside of the walls and getting outside of the norms and networking, you know, a lot of what we talk about on this show regardless of what topic it is collaboration. Right, Lucas? Collaboration is key, and it’s no different in the recruitment process and there’s all these audiences out there just like you were mentioning we found even the universities are a huge opportunity. I am shocked and I don’t know why I continue to be shocked, but how many places that we get to go and talk with junior and senior level students that are super smart, intelligent. They’re looking to apply what they’re learning and their passion to something, and I think I don’t know about you Anthony and Lucas, but I mean, we, I think we have a real value proposition because of the mission aspect of our industry to where almost any skill set can be applied, right? 

Lucas: Yeah, exactly. And I mean a big recruiting topic is that millennial workforce, and Anthony, I’d love to get your thoughts on this 1.7 million, are those I think it’s going to be a little bit of everybody but I would imagine that the millennial piece of that is going to be crucial. And so how do we adapt a recruiting to that?

Anthony: We talk a lot about texting candidates, and I think there is some HR and legal concerns that you have to talk through as an organization to focus on that. You know millennials are a huge part of that job market, but I also think that there are non-traditional candidates that we as an industry don’t really consider, and I’m talking about recently retired people who can pick up those part-time positions in your organization or maybe even full-time if they absolutely need to. They bring a lot of value. You know, this may be somebody who is a manager or mid-level executive in their company, and they can be a really great coach for the people within your organization. 

So we see a lot of really great on people come out of different generations. Obviously we’re heavily focused on Millennials. That’s just a numbers game, but I remember going to do a Lead Wellness Training that we were hosting in one of our region’s and one of the lead caregivers, she’s brand new with our company, she was 76. She was amazing. Absolutely, you know. Amazing ideas, very process-oriented person, and just really brought a lot of life back to the community that she was there, really kind of became the pack mom of the younger caregivers that we had, and it was this relationship that I really think is going to help us with a lot of our employee retention issues. 

Josh: I love that so thinking outside of the box a little bit. I think you’re the second person in just recent conversations that has told us, “Hey, yeah, we need to a strategy for the Millennials but let’s not overlook the older adults.” And as a matter fact, we just had a guest on our show that was talking about, “Hey, we’re finding that a lot of the more active senior adults that are moving into communities, they’re looking for stuff to do,” and so obviously there’s a lot of conversations you got to have around them being sensitive to things, but also real quickly, I heard somebody just a little while ago here at the Argentum conference talking about looking to like immigrant populations overseas, populations that recruiting overseas to come to work in the US. Have you heard anything about that any thoughts around that? 

Anthony: Yeah. So, you know obviously, immigration is a hot topic right now professionally and personally. I think that you know, we really need to be in the conversation about having a skills-based immigration system for us to attract the best people, not only from a college perspective. You know, I think universities are really struggling with student visas right now. We have amazing students are coming over there claiming top spots in our universities, and they’re really contributing a lot to the research and to the life of our economy. But once that visa’s done, there’s not an easy way for them to remain productive members of our society, and I think we as an industry really need to fight for that talent. And we need to say that there is a place here and there’s an impact that those people can have on our industry, and I for one I think you know, it’s very exciting when you think about the work, the medical research that happens. So being part, whether that is your organization advocating for state or federal legislation, but really focusing on a skills-based immigration system I think it is really beneficial.

Josh: Cool. One more question I have, Lucas, on retention for Anthony. Are you seeing any correlation between career… companies that are really focused on career pathways and helping people develop skill sets that will advance them should they want to advance and give them the opportunity to grow within a company and retention? Are you seeing a correlation? 

Anthony: That’s an interesting question for me, because I have probably an unpopular opinion on this. I would love to, obviously, we would love to keep people, you know, as long as possible. I think you have to be realistic about just the numbers that you have. Say in a community you may have 15 wait staff, one sous chef, one chef manager. Realistically 13 of them can’t be promoted to that position. Why can’t we focus on being companies that are great places to have worked at, and to send people into other companies and so, you know, I learned a lot from my other organization doesn’t mean I’m not excited to be here, but there are things that we can, I can contribute because of the skills that I learned here. 

So I think that there’s a lot of success at the HR Executive Roundtable here in Argentum. We talked a lot about the career pathways and the career ladders and I think that that is really beneficial and it’s helpful, but you know, unfortunately, we just can’t promote everyone. Not everyone can be the CEO or the CFO or the executive director. So I think that there’s some opportunities there. I’m really excited about the apprenticeship practices that are happening now, because it said, you know, whether you extended out over a year there are measurable impacts that can be made in that can be tied to performance or wages or things like that, but it gives people achievable measures to hit in a 1 year time frame.

Josh: I love it, so we could sit in here to talk with you all day probably. So many things. This is very impactful for our audience. I’m sure a lot of great takeaways. Thanks for taking your time away from the Argentum Conference and spending it with us. This has been awesome. 

Lucas: Yeah, we see Anthony you but you’re definitely an established leader but a young leader, you know, there’s… this conversation I think is going to help a lot of people even outside of the business get an understanding and a feel of the culture that’s taken place at Civitas and what you guys are trying to accomplish. 

On a closing remark, let’s talk to that Millennial. Let’s talk to that young person that is trying to figure out that you know… They’re watching Instagram videos and social media videos. That’s like “Follow Your Passion” “Just go after it.” But you know when I was 21, I knew I had passion, I just didn’t know what I was passionate about. And so maybe just some parting words to encourage that person about maybe obviously reasons why they should look at senior living but it was just some sort of a direction. 

Anthony: We all talk about Senior Living as being an industry that is hungry for talent. And you know, we really need that to I don’t want to say re-establish the industry, but we need people who bring I think new ways of thinking to how we operate, and there are a lot of really great trail blazers within the industry that make room for people at the table. So I think the advice to give to Millennial listeners here is to really advocate for yourself and for your talents. It’s not necessarily about what you know, but it’s about who knows what you know. I think is really important. So making sure that you know, I could take a position as a sales assistant or maintenance assistant or a housekeeper at a community but knowing or advocating and say, “Okay, I can do this. I do this really well, but hear some other passions that I have.” 

We were talking about we contracted in, hired a nurse who loved videography and did it on the side, and they came in and helped film our annual conference and at the end of it, he said, “This is amazing. I’ve never been in an organization, you know just surrounded by just the joy of being a collective group,” and I said, “Look, we don’t have a nursing position but we’re looking for a videographer. Do you want to do that?” And he’s like, “Done.” So he is a PRN nurse on the side and you know really pursued his passion, and I think it’s amazing to say just because you have one set or maybe one degree that doesn’t necessarily define or limit you, so just share your talents, and it’s not boasting if you do it in the right way, I think. You want to be humble about it, but make sure that people know what you can contribute to the organization.

Lucas: Very well said, and I think that’s our listeners are going to really appreciate that, and to our listeners, we’re going to connect to Anthony and our show notes. I know that he is also very active on LinkedIn. You definitely want to go to connect to him there and follow his content and everything that Civitas is doing there in a Fort Worth, Texas, and thank you once again for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap. 

Thank you to our supporting partners NHI, RCare, NRC Health, TSOLife, ERDMAN, TIS, and Sherpa.

Episode 75: Anthony Ormsbee-Hale