Tom gave the following remarks at the 17th Annual Awards Gala in Boston on March 29, 2019.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the remarks I make at these gala events. I have just a few minutes to offer reflections on the past year and take a look at what lies ahead.
Tonight, I want to share my reflections with you on three thoughts.
I’ll begin by looking back at the year we just finished, 2018, and offer my thoughts on why it was such a strong year.
Second, I’ll talk about our transformation to becoming a human connection company – what it means and what it will look like.
And, third, I’d like to offer some brief comments to all our honorees. (pause)
First, here are my thoughts on 2018.
All of us know people who have gone or are going through various struggles -- struggles at school, struggles with addictions, struggles with finances or weight or other things.
We frequently describe those folks as having “lost their way” or “not being themselves” or “needing to get centered again.” We hope they find a way through their struggles and become the people we knew them to be before.
Well, three or four years ago, Benchmark lost its way. We were experiencing poor business performance, which was not something we were accustomed to.
We began acting like victims to the new competitors coming into our market, and, instead of acting as a team, we began looking for people to blame within the company.
Our culture was deteriorating, and people were leaving. We had lost our way.
It finally got to the point where we said, “Enough!” And we began making changes. We started by acknowledging that we weren’t behaving as the Benchmark we had all known, helped build and wanted to be a part of. That just wasn’t us.
We stopped looking to blame one another and acting like victims when a new competitor came into our market and, instead, looked to solve problems and fight back. In fact, we made one of the best “strategic” decisions in our 20-some years: We decided to put the “kick-ass” back in Benchmark! And we did!
After making changes and declaring that “enough was enough,” in very short order our business results started changing. Our culture began taking on its familiar feel. People started saying that the old Benchmark was back.
Instead of people leaving our company, we started attracting back hundreds of former Benchmark associates as well as capable new folks from other companies.
Since then, every part of our business has been on an upward trend! We’ve grown occupancy when occupancy in our market was flat. Resident and associate net promotor scores have increased substantially.
And it happened because we focused again on who we are. We focused on our purpose and values. We reclaimed the essence of what made us special in the first place, and we put the important thing back as the important thing.
We put our culture and our people at the center, knowing the numbers would follow. And they did!
So, the lesson for me was about the importance of our character, our culture, our values, and about having a backbone or spine.
I want to say to each leader in the room – when you see an individual struggling, or a department struggling, or a community struggling, start looking at how to help them focus on what’s most important. Because when what’s most important is getting the most attention, other things fall into place!
We had a great 2018 because we were Benchmark again. And thanks to all of you, we got our mojo back! Doesn’t THAT feel GREAT?
The second point I want to reflect on is what it means to be a human connection company.
I’ve declared for the last couple of years that we are no longer going to be a senior living operating company but, rather, we are transforming ourselves to be a human connection company.
Many people have nodded and said, “That sounds great!” And others have asked, “What does that really mean?” Let me help.
To me, being a senior living operating company is sort of like being a Blockbuster video store in a Netflix world.
I believe that being a senior living operating company is outdated, a dinosaur. However, as a human connection company, we have a unique strength that sets us apart from most in our industry and distinguishes us from virtually every other company.
A human connection company creates life-changing experiences by knowing intimately those it serves.
Who else does that? Schools and teachers? Well, yes, to some degree. But they don’t really get to know the entire family like we do.
Health care providers? Well again, they get to know the health care side of things, but they typically don’t get to know the family like we do.
Hospitality providers – not at all.
Who else gets to form the same, personal, intimate and cherished relationships with residents and families like we do? I can’t think of anybody!
I believe we have a unique, core capability and competence on which to build our future!
The idea of being a human connection company is to take that core competence and look at which relationships we want to apply them to in the future.
For example, we are running pilots in some of our communities now where staff positions are dedicated to deepening family relationships.
While we’ve always had great relationships with our families, we’ve never really had associates assigned to developing programs and ongoing relationships with them.
Imagine if we had a navigator role dedicated to providing education about the aging process to families, and, oh, by the way, it doesn’t stop when their loved ones pass or move out of our communities.
Imagine if there were products and services offered to family members inspired by their personal needs. Right now, we form deep relationships with families but only scratch the surface of what we could offer — and we know that many would like us to provide more!
A second opportunity we’re looking at is determining the experiences we could provide.
For example, we now provide the same experiences for residents that we always have. But what if our experiences were different? What if they were affiliated with affinity groups that people were attached to – like their college, or their culture or their favorite sports team?
Or what if our communities were affiliated with well-known nutrition and wellness lifestyle companies that fundamentally helped people think differently about what we offer?
What if our experiences involved being part of a community of multiple age groups? We could incorporate younger generations as an intentional part of the staffing and program planning, allowing us to offer different experiences from what we provide today. That could appeal to more and different kinds of populations from those we currently serve.
So, we are looking at and asking the question, “ In addition to what we currently offer, which experiences will be of interest to people in the future?”
Another question a human connection company asks is, “In which settings should we be making our human connections?
Currently, of course, we provide our services and experiences only in buildings we own and operate. So, should we consider offering services in other settings? It wouldn’t be out of the question, and we know others in our industry do it already.
Instead of thinking of ourselves as a senior living operating company that does what we’ve always done, it’s time to think of ourselves as a human connection company that creates life-changing experiences by knowing intimately those it serves!
We expect to keep providing services in our senior living communities going forward, don’t worry. But being a human connection company and using our strength opens up exciting possibilities to meet the needs of our market in the future!
Let’s take a minute to review our mission statement, which is “To deeply understand people, meet them where they are, and connect them to what’s meaningful and possible at every stage of life.”
And our vision statement . . . “We see a world in which every person feels meaningfully connected to what and who matters most, throughout their lives.”
These are powerful statements, and they certainly don’t limit us to senior living settings at all!
The closing note on this topic, that I am very excited about, is the introduction of our Benchmark Service Promises that we’ll introduce company-wide this summer.
We’re all familiar with companies that have “service standards.” Like fast-food places promising a free lunch if you don’t get a receipt. “Wow.”
Or companies promising they’ll return your phone call or respond to your email within 24 hours. Seriously?
You know you can expect to receive minimal levels of service when you see standards like those, right?
Our service promises are completely different, and I think they are completely awesome!
Our service promises begin by saying we’re each going to be 100% present.
Next it says we will get to know you so we can be in sync.
Then it says that we know you so well, we’ll anticipate your needs and be one step ahead.
Finally, we’ll be able to raise the bar and totally delight you!
By doing all these things, we’ll provide a differentiated Benchmark experience. Our service promises aren’t about the what we do but rather the how we do it.
I believe that’s what a human connection company ought to focus on and how we ought to think about things. I believe our service promises are game changers and real differentiators for us, and I’m super excited that they are rolling out this year. (pause)
Now, in closing, I have a message for our honorees tonight.
Whether you are a service champion from your community, a compassionate caregiver nominee, or a community being recognized this year or in the past -- let me simply say -- this night is for YOU.
You do the work that matters and brings Benchmark to life for our residents and their families.
It’s a great privilege to recognize those of you who’ve been chosen by your peers or supervisors for having done your jobs especially well this past year.
If you are nominated and don’t win tonight, you are still winners to all of us!
I want to personally thank you for the example you set, the commitment you’ve given, the service you provide, the love and care you put into all you do. I am grateful to be on the same team with each of you.
Thank you for all the ways you distinguish Benchmark with your great work!