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Are You on a Mission? 

Caring for older adults certainly fits the definition of a mission—an important goal or purpose that involves a strong conviction, calling or vocation. That’s why a mission statement that clearly defines an organization’s goals can be so crucial to a community’s culture and success. The mission statement is often the foundation of the organization’s culture, driving everyday operations and decisions. Mission statements answer the questions: Why are we here? What’s our purpose? A mission statement can be a useful management tool, too. The mission can motivate and inspire staffers who gain a sense of pride working for an organization that stands for something. Employees are united by a common sense of purpose.

The mission statement also communicates to residents and their families what drives the organization. What can, and should, they expect?

Mission statements, however, aren’t meant to be filed away in a drawer. With that in mind, what follows are five practical ways to put a mission statement to work.

1. Showcase the mission statement.

Spread the word. Display the mission statement on plaques and bulletin boards throughout the building, and in collateral materials. It serves as a reminder of the organization’s purpose to staff, residents and outside visitors.

The Gardens at Eastside, an assisted living and memory care community in Greenville, South Carolina, has the mission statement nicely framed and hung by the elevator. “Everyone can see it,” said Jane Ford, executive director at The Gardens at Eastside, which is operated by The Arbor Company. The first line of its six-sentence mission statement reads: “As a community of caregivers we are here for one purpose: to engage and enrich the health and spirit of our residents.”  The last line concludes: “We listen. We respond. We care.”

Each year, employees recommit to the Arbor ideal by signing the mat that frames the mission statement. “It is a constant reminder to us,” said Ford.

At Brook Gardens Place, an assisted living community in Lake Mills, Wisconsin, the mission statement is the first thing people see framed on the wall when they enter the building. The community is operated by Enlivant, whose mission is: “To enrich life through meaningful relationships and vibrant communities.”

Enlivant communities display the company’s mission, along with its core values and vision prominently throughout its properties. The creation of these guiding principles has been an important part of the company’s rebranding effort.

At Helena Place, an Enlivant community in Port Royal, South Carolina, the company’s principles are displayed in the break room, medication room, on doors and in the lounge area. “It’s important that we integrate the mission, vision and values of our company into the care and services we provide our residents every day,” said Eric Fennell, executive director.

2. Communicate the mission to employees.

Mission Wordle imageRepeat frequently: The mission statement can’t be voiced or heard often enough, executive directors said.

At Helena Place, Fennell starts each day with a 20-minute stand-up meeting for the entire staff. The purpose of the meeting is for staffers to share building events for the day and to discuss any issues that need to be addressed.

Fennell also reviews one of Enlivant’s five core values: compassion, humility, integrity, excellence and fun—easy to remember using the acronym CHIEF.  “It kicks off the tone for the day,” he said.

Vince Beckel holds a town hall meeting with his staff once a month and reminds them of the organization’s mission. “What we do is not easy,” said Beckel, executive director at New Perspective of Waconia, a senior living community in the Minneapolis area. “We remind them why we are here.”

The community is operated by New Perspective Senior Living which has a simple mission statement: “Residents first in everything we do.”  The town hall meetings give Beckel a chance to reinforce the message. He also asks staff members to write down something they did to put the resident first.

Freda Meyer, executive director at Arbor Terrace at Crabapple, in Alpharetta, Georgia, recently focused on teamwork, an Arbor standard. Teamwork was discussed at meetings, bulletin boards displayed messages about teamwork, and employees filled out cards citing examples of teamwork which were then read aloud. “One of my most important duties is to make sure the staff understands what we do,” said Meyer.

Employees perform skits at monthly meetings at the Gardens at Eastside. For example, staff members might act out their interpretation of good communication vs. bad communication in a situation where an employee is on the phone and a resident is waiting for help. What’s the right way to act in accordance with the mission?  What’s the wrong way? “It’s fun,” said Ford. “They get involved. It’s not just us saying this is what we want you to do.”

3. Include the mission in training and recruitment materials.

New employees should be taught what the mission is and how it is to be implemented, with examples. That process usually starts during training or on-boarding sessions.

At Brandywine Living at Toms River, an assisted living community in Toms River, New Jersey, orientation includes an in-depth review of the organization’s mission and core values.  New team members meet with Brenda Bacon, president and chief executive officer of Brandywine Living, which operates 27 assisted living communities. “Hearing the mission from the chief executive sets a huge tone,” said Frank Evegan, executive director at the Toms River property. He added that new employees learn by watching the example set by the chief executive and other managers which in turn helps to reduce turnover.

New employees attend Brandywine University, a training course that emphasizes the core mission of the organization—to provide residents with the highest quality care in the most appropriate setting based on an individual’s needs while respecting their individuality, independence and dignity.

Mentors work with new Brandywine employees. For example, a new nurse spends four days with the nurse on duty receiving intense on-the-job training. Monthly in-service training sessions reinforce the mission. A recent topic covered how to respond to the behavioral symptoms of residents with memory problems.

“The mission statement is like an umbrella over the building,” said Holly Minnis, executive director at Brandywine Living at Princeton in Princeton, New Jersey. “It’s a goal to work toward together.”

Another tip: Communicate the mission during the hiring process. Prospective employees should understand the organization’s expectations. The mission statement can also act as a screening tool.

At the Gardens at Eastside, applicants undergo interviews with three different department heads who discuss the organization’s mission and standards. “We reiterate who we are,” said Ford. That also means finding out if the applicant is the right fit for the job. Ford asks applicants to recall a positive experience they’ve had in caring for someone, as well as something they consider less than positive in order to gauge their suitability for the work.

A lesson Ford passes on to applicants is that while the mission is to make a difference in residents’ lives, the residents really end up making a difference in the employees’ lives. “That’s what happens,” she said.

4. Link the mission to staff recognition programs.

Employee recognition and rewards help to reinforce the corporate mission, executive directors said.

At the Gardens of Eastside, a staff member is recognized quarterly for outstanding work as an “Arbor Star.” The staff votes for “stars” and the finalists are selected by department heads. The winner’s names are posted on the wall outside of the executive director’s office. A star of the year is selected from among the quarterly stars, and all the stars attend a dinner in their honor.

The community also has a “wall of fame.” Staff members who have worked at the community for at least two years have their photos posted on the wall. “It gives them a sense of appreciation,” said Ford, emphasizing that a motivated staff creates deep connections with residents which is part of the Arbor mission.

At Brook Gardens Place, core value cards are posted just outside the employee break room. Each card states an Enlivant core value. Staff members, family, visitors and vendors can fill out a core value card and post it on the board.

Each quarter the cards are taken down and entered into a drawing for a gift card. For example, a hospice provider noticed an employee holding the hand of a resident at the end of life. The hospice provider filled out a compassion card about the employee noting how she went above and beyond to soothe the resident, demonstrating a core value of the organization.  “The employees understand how serious we are about the mission,” said Sadi Buzdum, executive director at Brook Gardens Place.

5. Bring the mission to life for residents and their families.

Of course, the bottom line of mission statements is to serve the resident.  In fact, research shows that a customer-focused mission statement has a positive impact on employee performance and customer satisfaction.

Enlivant’s mission includes building meaningful relationships with residents. At Enlivant’s Helena Place, a resident ambassador greets new residents when they move into the community. It gives new residents a chance to interact with another resident who has already experienced the transition themselves. 

A personalized gift awaits new residents in their apartments. It could be a gift basket with a theme around their college alma mater, or a favorite sports team. The community’s life enrichment coordinator works with new residents to gather information about their hobbies, interest and life events. The information is then used to develop a monthly activity calendar based on what all the residents like to do which helps to create a vibrant environment. “We want to create a sense of community for each of our residents from the start,” said Fennell, executive director. 

Brandywine Living at Princeton offers an activity program, “Escapades for Life,” Minnis noted. “One of our core values is that we want people to continue to grow and learn.”

Drone Academy at Brandywine Living
Brandywine Living residents attending a drone academy in the Escapades for Life program.

The Escapades program includes activities such as glass blowing classes, a senior prom, outings, staging plays, and, yes, Bingo. “People still love the game,” said Minnis.  Residents recently attended a drone academy for five weeks, learning all about drones. They built their own drones which were launched at the end of the class. One of the Brandywine drone makers was 104 years old.

Last year, residents made a YouTube video to the song “Sugar” by the band Maroon 5. Residents choreographed the number and designed their own costumes. The video was featured on the local news and has received more than 7,000 views online.

“We always know the main reason we are here is for the residents,” said Minnis. “This is their home.”

Read more from The Culture Issue of Senior Living Executive magazine

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