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The senior living industry has a voice. You can hear it on Bridge the Gap podcast!

Episode 89: Steve Jackson

“A patient doesn’t experience care in silos. They want a systematic journey that flows seamlessly from one care center to the next,” Steve Jackson, President of NRC Health, shares his thoughts on the importance of inspiring the workforce which generates gorilla moments and love stories. 

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Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. Today we are at the NRC Conference Symposium, actually in Nashville, Tennessee and the thought leadership is incredible. There’s a huge energy this morning and we have an incredible guest, we are here with the president of NRC, Steve. Welcome to the show. 

Steve: Thanks so much. Great to be here. 

Lucas: So you just got off your keynote, your opening address to the audience and I talked to a couple people after they came out and they were inspired by your message. What is your background and passion behind driving a big company like NRC? 

Steve: Yeah, fantastic question. I’ve been in healthcare for about the last 20 years and I really fell into it by mistake. A small boutique consulting company that came to college, put out this opportunity to be part of a mission to change how healthcare was delivered. I was like wow, what an exceptional opportunity and through the years I essentially went from one company to the next, but found my way to NRC because of the common bounds that it had to really a culturally driven organization, one that wants to make a difference every day. So as we come off the stage, we just spent the last hour really talking with organizations about how do you use the voice of your customers to shape and improve how your organization performs? 

Lucas: Yeah, I mean I think that really scales well with our audience and our initiatives is trying to change that perception. And our relationship with you and your staff and employees, I mean we can just see culture is a big topic here at the symposium. This is your national event and there’s over 500 people here. What is the impetus or the origin of the reasons why you want to bring people together at an event like this?

Steve: I think first from a company perspective culture is incredibly important to us, there’s probably nothing more important and it’s really hard to define a culture. But I like to say that a culture essentially is not what’s on the walls, it’s how people act when nobody’s looking. And so at our organization, our culture has really been shaped by having an important why. We’ve taken on a mission statement, ethos if you will, that says human understanding is the ultimate aspiration of every healthcare organization no matter what care setting you’re in should aspire to. Each person feels known, understood and connected on their healthcare journey. So we kind of start there as a grounding point for our organization and I think every day our associates wake up with a rallying cry saying, how do I make the world just a little bit better by bringing human understanding to each of the organization’s we serve? 

Josh: So what has been for NRC kind of your trajectory in the changes just in the time that you’ve been here? Because I know one of the things that from the outside in what we’ve kind of seen is the entry of NRC really into what we call the senior living sector. I think all too often you see what we call the true healthcare sector, really separated from assisted living, memory care, independent living, the things that we all kind of classify as senior living but this is a really interesting event because you’ve  brought them all together. So it’s a very diverse group, but it’s amazing. We’re all talking about the same things. So it’s got a very collaborative feel and I feel like you guys have not only brought this together, but I guess you’ve kind of had an evolution yourselves at NRC, right?

Steve: That’s right, you know we’re a 40-year-old company and like many organizations we fell victim to having a number of silos in our organization, which means that we’ve got a group that serves marketers, a group that serves patient experience executives, a group that serves acute hospitals, a group that serves senior living. And over the last three or four years we’ve worked to tear down those silos and make sure that all of our offerings come together. And the reason for that is if you just look first from the outside in, a patient doesn’t experience care in silos. They want a systematic journey that flows seamlessly from one care center to the next. If our own tools don’t support that, we’re really not working in service of our organization. So symposium for us this year really is the best of that aspiration, bringing together senior living, acute hospitals, marketing, patient experience, clinicians. So we look really as one organization or entity to those we serve.

Josh: That’s really cool. So I put you on the spot a little bit here, some things that have come out and you know I love the information and the data that we have been able to access that you guys produce for healthcare, now for senior living. A lot of the in trade, I guess, organizations that we get to in conferences, they’re even using the data on human perception of our industry and things like that. And one thing I thought was really fascinating and maybe you have some insight on this or just some ideas around this. I was talking with one of your team and it was interesting you guys put out a grid and it was like the trust from the consumer or the general public compared to a lot of different industry silos, but it had kind of way up the spectrum of trust was true health care, physicians and clinicians and things like that and senior living was way down at the bottom. Have you guys talked about that internally of how we could take some of that data that you guys are producing and learn something from that about why that is?

Steve: Yeah, that’s a great question. So just by way of background, we run a program at NRC Health called Market Insights. And if you’re familiar with AC Nielsen, you can think of it as being AC Nielsen for healthcare. We will pull approximately 300,000 U.S. individuals on an annual basis of one in every 350 households in a major market and say, what do you think about health care services in your area? Which brands do you prefer and why? Do you think senior living is a place that you would go to or do you have a desire to live for life in your home? I think over the years Senior Living has had potentially not the best reputation as end-of-life care, it’s a topic that nobody wants to be thinking about. It’s a place that you go to when you don’t feel great when you see your grandma there, so you’ve got your own issues with how care has been delivered in the past. And I think now is an incredible opportunity based upon just the knowledge. If we know that the perception of senior care is not high through the lens of most Americans, what can we do to begin shaping that?  And to shape that really can start from two perspectives, number one is what’s the experience that’s delivered. Most people will choose a brand and the reputation of an organization defined on the experience that’s created. And then how do you share more stories about the positive experiences that people are having with those brands. 

Josh: And I appreciate you saying that because Lucas and I,we talk about this a lot. We’ve talked about it with our guests because another interesting point of the data that you guys put out is while the general public perception of those not receiving care, like not specifically consumers of senior living yet or affiliated, it’s relatively negative. Those that were pulled that had experience or had a loved one, it was very favorable. So I think one of the things that we thought we could glean from that was wow we just don’t do a good job of sharing our stories.

Steve: That’s right. I think it’s an incredible opportunity for organizations to do more to spread the word. So one way in which that’s done today is take experience data that organizations are already collecting and bring it forward to your website. Google loves content that is unique, timely and relevant and reviews are one piece of that. So by having a review on your website of what other residents, or their family members have experienced under your care and sharing that publicly with the world is a great way to shape a stronger reputation. It’s a really neat thing that we’re seeing in senior living is that a number of our organizations are also doing the same thing with employees. So Glassdoor might have a number of reviews about your organization, some positive, often times they can be negative, a little bit slanted by that employee’s experience. But when you’re doing an annual or quarterly poll survey of experience the organization from a staff perspective that information can be shared on the website as part of your jobs and opening this page to share what a great rewarding and enriching experience you’re creating for employees. 

Josh: So now you guys have developed some tools, I think it’s important for our audience to know to help with all that. To not only help with understanding but as I understand if I’m not mistaken even helping to track all that, know how to respond to that, to turn maybe negative reviews into positive reviews and positive service recovery experiences and things like that. Because I think probably for the average senior living operator who maybe doesn’t have a robust marketing strategy, maybe they can’t even afford a robust marketing team, they’re sitting there and they may be you’re hearing us talk about all these things and you’re like well where do I even begin? Like I can’t do all this, but you guys have a lot of partnership tools right?

Steve: Yeah, at our core we’re essentially a data technology and services company that helps organizations build the best possible brands. And when we say brands it’s really companies that represent the best place to receive care and the best place to work, and always producing the highest quality outcomes. And so we do that through a range of ways in which our technology can be leveraged essentially as a managed service. So if you have very little IT infrastructure or a very small marketing department, our solutions are pretty turn key then we can help drive the right results that the organizations are looking to accomplish.

Josh: Cool, well switch gears. I want to digress because this came to my mind when right before we were talking, you had come off your keynote, which I hate our listeners didn’t get to hear that.

Steve: You didn’t miss much. 

Josh: Well not so much because actually, I had someone out here that was stopping you saying how much they loved it, and they used the term gorilla moments. That was one of the things you talked about. Can you kind of explain that to our listeners that weren’t here? Like, what did you mean by that, what is that? 

Steve: Yeah, absolutely. It’s not a term that I coined. So gorilla moment is something I give all credit to Dr. David Pate, he’s the CEO of St. Luke’s health system in Boise, Idaho. And his basic principle was that in healthcare there are stories of good that happen every day, because we are somewhat conditioned to them, don’t look back and reflect on their importance. And the first story he told was an example in his organization, a nurse when a patient was brought in by an ambulance as a result in a fire at his apartment, had lost the shoes on his feet and the clothes had burned on his back and the celebration of a gorilla moment for St. Luke’s was that incident at the end of healing and caring for that patient, the nurse took her shoes off and gave them to the gentleman and said we want you to be on your way home, but with the new pair of shoes. 

So it’s that kind of moment at work. You could just you know have inspiration provided by your staff and celebrate those because they happen every day. At our organization I told the story of we were processing surveys on behalf of an organization and people think surveys are somewhat of a commodity. They’re not really fun to talk about, nobody wants to fill them out but we had a patient who essentially used the survey as a lifeline. She said I’m a victim of domestic abuse and violence at home and I want it known that I need assistance. I can’t speak up about this for fear of retribution and so really credit to our team who combs through hundreds of thousands of comments every week, found a needle in a haystack of a woman needed help and we were right there to support her. So for us the gorilla moments are just those things that stand out as remarkable stories of doing good for others. They don’t always have a great ending, but we know that we’re trying our best, and that’s I think a gorilla moment in a nutshell. 

Josh: And that ties in really well with what we’re talking about, how can we change the perception if you don’t experience those things from a consumer standpoint or from a team standpoint, it’s hard for you to understand that those things even happen if you don’t hear about them. So I think we call those gorillas moments often times the love stories the things that are  just really special moments that I think so many of those things happen on a daily basis, within just the team working together, to the resident and team interaction, to the family having wins and being able to improve their quality of life by helping their loved one and things like that. So as we’re looking to change perception, so appreciate you sharing that because I think we have to be reminded of the great importance of what we do, but the great wins that we have to recognize them and share those stories. Right, Lucas?

Lucas: It is and I think the key behind that, which you guys have really the service and the value proposition that you bring, is Illuminating the metrics behind that, the analytics, the actual data because I think that the challenging part about a love story is that it seems kind of hard to put your fingers, your hands around what that means but you guys have a system that’s able to track the metrics behind the outcomes of what is actually working. Does this love story, do these stories actually scale across an organization to help drive culture? You have a way to track that.

Steve: Yeah I think the best of our world is being both high tech and high touch. If you ask somebody to move the score from 70 to 72, it’s not a great motivator just to move a number. And so to be able to use the gorilla moments in the story that says here’s why we do this work, here’s what’s important. You can think about the resident who’s celebrating their 50-year wedding anniversary and the food services team that puts together a white tablecloth and a white candlelight dinner for a couple. Those are the types of moments that are really going to be remembered but nobody’s going to remember exactly what you did to go from 70 to 72. But we do to track both sides. What are the great stories you should be telling are the stories as you generate them and share them it would help lift your organization the next level performance.

Josh: I love that and you know I think it’s really important Lucas. I don’t think a lot of our audience doesn’t even know what NRC has done to elevate our content to them and the value that we bring to them. You know, our kind of story of starting this podcast over a year ago and really just trying to figure it out and learn how to deliver the best content when NRC approached us about hey, we’re wanting to invest in this, we want to provide more information. This story of your industry of healthcare needs to be told. We need to understand the human nature and see what we can learn from that. By you guys investing in what we’ve done, you’ve really elevated the content for our audience. We so appreciate that. It’s been such a great relationship to where never have we gotten a call from NRC that’s like, hey talk about this the NRC’s doing or talk about this or or sell this or do this. So it’s really been very much a collaboration and I think it’s important for our audience to know the value that you guys are providing to them by investing in the podcast platform, right? 

Lucas: Yeah, clearly. I mean the efforts to try to get out the content around senior living on an annual basis, a daily basis we need good people that align and NRC is definitely one of those.

Steve: So I failed getting into college a couple of times. So what I learned through that process is that you should steal ideas liberally and so I think why we’re so supportive of the podcast is that you guys bring to light the best of ideas from across the country that others can be fast followers of. 

Josh: Well, I’m just glad that maybe a guy at your level as smart as you are tries to say that he had trouble getting into college because I actually did have trouble getting into college, and the listeners can actually believe that. 

Lucas: Well amazingly enough, I didn’t have a hard time getting into college, I had a very hard time getting out clearly. 

Clearly they were not a good judge of character for letting me in but so let’s transition as we round out the show. One of the things, clearly, is our mission is to educate, inform and influence but a byproduct of that is inspiration. You are seasoned in this business, but you’re a young leader at a very high level in a company that has I believe over 450 employees. I can’t miss the opportunity because there’s a lot of people that are listening, they’re trying to find a career track. They’re trying to find what they’re passionate about and you’re leading a big organization. Can you talk to those people that just need that inspiration or a little bit of guidance on mentorship, on finding a career and and maybe how they should look at senior living?

Steve: First and foremost, I just with regards to healthcare, I think there’s no greater profession where you can wake up each and everyday and know that you’re making a difference in the life of somebody else. So if your mission driven, I think healthcare is a fantastic place to start. Whether that’s in senior living, the hospital side, clinic, veterinary care. Wherever that journey might lead you, it’s an incredible opportunity to leave a lasting impact. In terms of getting started, that’s a great question. I’m a huge believer of finding companies that have existing programs if you’re coming out of college that have some familiarity. How do you bring a 21, 22, 23-year-old into the workforce and to do it with camaraderie and collegiality. So my first company I worked for, today my best friend is still there, he started at that company on day one with me and we’ve grown as families and individuals together. 

And then at NRC we try to do the same thing. So the University of Nebraska Lincoln is located roughly a quarter of a mile across the street literally from our office and every year we try and bring in 20 to 30 students, and even as early as interns to get exposure the workforce and build great friendships that translate into a really fulfilling and rewarding career environment. 

So my advice would be to start first with looking for  companies that can bring you up under that model, find a great mentor and leader who’s going to challenge you. And I’ve been the fortunate byproduct of a number of folks who’ve invested in my career and put me into difficult situations where at the least you could have hung me or I could get my way out of it.  But you’ve got to just get out there and try and be perseverant. 

Josh: Well, and I think you guys on the recruitment end of that do such an awesome job. I mean not only do you do a great job at recruiting but you like sharing all your NRC talent, I think we’ve talked a little bit about that, are doing and they’re involved in so many things, even philanthropic activities. To see them doing things, or even doing the Pedal for Alzheimer’s events and they’re out there and they seemed so genuinely excited and very involved not only in what you guys are doing there, but they’re going out and doing good. So I love to see that. 

Steve: Yeah, it’s an incredible culture of individuals are motivated to, I kind of hate to overuse bumper stickers of work hard, play harder, but it just a good group of individuals who everyday don’t take themselves too seriously, but take the work seriously. 

Lucas: Yeah great message out there. So you youngsters, you guys getting out there and in your career, be inspired. Go out and get it. Find a company that you can put your passions behind and clearly we’re biased for senior living but we’re unashamed about it because it’s all a fabric and a part of our stories. Everybody has gotten here in a different way but there’s a common thread and when you dig in and get to know the people of this business, it makes a huge impact. 

Josh: Yeah, absolutely.

Steve: Can I do one quick story?

Lucas: That’s perfect and we can actually post edit it. 

Steve: I do want to give a quick shout out to my my grandmother who is ninety eight, she’ll be 99 coming up in October and I had the good fortune of visiting her. We just got back from a family vacation in Africa and I went to see her just before I came back to Lincoln, Nebraska since she’s out in California. And she’s like, you know at my age I can pretty much say anything I want and she’s like don’t tell anybody this but I just want you to know you’re my favorite grandchild. So I’m going to do the happy dance and I’m going to send this podcast to my sister so she can have a listen. 

Josh: Oh that’s so awesome, that’s so awesome.

Lucas: Well for you not to tell anybody, now everybody knows. Great story, thank you so much Steve for telling us that and then bringing so much value to our listeners.

Josh: I know this is a very busy time for you and your team, what an awesome event you guys have put together. My first one, Lucas’s first one. We’re so impressed with everything you’re done and your team and thank you for being a partner and I know our audience is going to want to connect to you in the show notes.

Lucas: We will, so we’ll we’ll connect with Steve and his organization and his team. Please reach out if you have any questions or want to know more and thank you 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.

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Episode 89: Steve Jackson