The last several years have brought about many changes in the senior living industry, from how operators manage communities to how sales teams are effectively communicating with prospects and residents. Solstice Senior Living’s Chief Operating Officer Steve Flynt and Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Cristy Ballard shared some of their lessons learned throughout the pandemic, as well as trends and opportunities to watch in 2022.
What changes from the last two years do you think are going to continue in 2022?
Steve: As travel declined due to COVID-19, we had to find new ways to communicate with our teams on the ground and onboard new associates. The break in travel gave us the time to develop useful management tools, increase communication through digital platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and create a library of recorded training to ensure associates have access to tools they need to succeed. Teams across our communities developed relationships, saw each other on a regular basis, and witnessed the company culture through virtual town hall meetings, training and specific discipline calls.
What initiatives and programs were developed during the pandemic that made an impact on your sales and marketing efforts?
Cristy: Over the past two years, Solstice learned how to be more strategic and flexible across the board. Leadership has dedicated more time to onboarding and coaching our teams, including monthly webinars, virtual learning and National Sales Days to complement our in-person community visits and events. We also discovered new ways to reach current and prospective residents, from virtual tours to porch visits, to outreach phone calls and text messages.
We also strengthened our strategic vendor partnerships and focused on improving our company culture and reputation with new 5-star review initiatives, including revamped resident and employee referral programs.
How have the last two years affected the company culture at Solstice?
Steve: We made sure to continue to invest in our employees and our culture throughout the pandemic. With our virtual town hall meetings, training and specific discipline calls, our teams have more opportunity, even now that we are returning to some in-person training, to get involved and witness the company culture that is alive and well at Solstice. We have, however, returned to face-to-face new leader orientation as having live time with our new executive directors is important to us and helps us continue to nurture the culture we want for our organization.
Cristy: Many people struggled with mental health during the pandemic. A company’s culture can either support the mental health of its employees or make it worse. You can say that you have a healthy company culture; but if your reactions as a leader don’t support this, then the culture takes on a completely different tone.
At Solstice, we take a holistic approach to the well-being of employees and work together to solve problems and agree on the best solutions. This doesn’t mean we all agree all the time; but one thing stands true – no matter what the situation, we speak clearly and professionally with kindness to our people. Keep in mind that every employee desires to be heard and have a voice. It’s our responsibility as leaders to listen and be comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. We may not always say what someone else wishes to hear, but it’s important to strive for understanding and kindness in every interaction.
Over the last two years, a lot of tough decisions have had to be made across all our communities, at corporate offices, and for our residents and their families, and Solstice made sure that people were OK and working together toward solutions.
What opportunities do you see for the senior living industry in 2022?
Steve: As we are returning to face-to-face new leader orientation and traveling to communities more often, we are discovering the strategies we developed during the pandemic are making our work more efficient and meaningful. Using our new management tools, we arrive at communities with a succinct agenda, which opens more time to socialize and build relationships with residents and staff. Our partnerships with home care, therapy and telehealth services have also made at-home services more convenient for residents.
Cristy: Solstice also added two new job functions to our team – senior living specialists to help us build stronger relationships with prospective residents and divisional sales specialists to provide regional support to our communities.
Now, there are so many ways to reach prospective residents, and they can expect near instantaneous communication from Solstice. Hiring for new roles that aren’t exclusive to one community will help speed up the inquiry-to-contact phase and provide support to community sales teams. We will have the ability to better identify hot leads versus the leads that are still doing research, then pass them along to community sales teams to make prospects get the communication they expect.