Holiday Retirement: When your opportunity changes

Posted by Tom LarsenNov 24, 2016 Organization 0 Comment

or…Why this blog is called Life Off Balance.

As I wrote in June, Debbie Williams (my wonderful wife, and business partner for most of the past 20 years) and I took a mutual position with Holiday Retirement co-managing an independent living Retirement Community in Santa Rosa, California. We joined another couple who lived there to be half of a management team. In this business model the two pairs of live onsite managers share all the roles of managing a 100+  apartment complex for seniors along with the food service and enrichment programs that the Company works to put on for the residents. It sounded interesting and rewarding.

Holiday Retirement has 300 communities around the U.S. and provides living space and food services for 40,000 seniors in primarily independent living settings. Through the hiring process we were told about all the great changes that were happening within the Company from its new CEO to the growth opportunities in the corporate structure of a billion dollar enterprise. It seemed like a great fit for both of us. We love change.

The wheels came entirely off the bus for us in less than 60 days when the CEO made a shocking announcement: the most unique aspect of the business model, live onsite management couples, was going to be erased. In the sea of Retirement Living providers, the top level marketplace differentiator for Holiday Retirement was the pair of live onsite managers. That was coming to an abrupt end for the benefit of the actual manager’s work/life balance since the role carried a 60% annual turnover rate. Along with huge change, those managers would soon be living off site (in order to rent the apartments for revenue). There was more. The downsizing was the biggest surprise. Of the 4 people managing each community (two couples), one would be promoted to a leadership role (a winner), one would be an assistant (a lateral), one would be given the administrative duties (a demotion), and one would be, well, fired (a loser).

With that decision, 600 couples were being evicted (with reasonable timeframes and a small moving allowance), with 300 people being laid off, 1 per community directly effecting 1 couple per community ensuring virtually all couples will be frustrated if not downright angry. On the personal side as the newest kid on the block, I calculated I would be the loser. I reconsidered my future and resigned at the same time that our Community was getting the news of the new management structure.

What I have learned through this process with Holiday Retirement is priceless. With all of the clients I have worked with who are relatively new to business, none have been as naïve about the second and third level effects of decisions as I have seen in this big corporation. For all of the books that I have read about how big companies are run and organized, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined such a dysfunctional, non-forward thinking, uncompassionate approach to upheaval.

The good news is that the residents who live in Holiday Retirement communities (the Customers) are seeing a transition in management with ongoing service changes as the Company works to figure it all out on the fly. Those residents may or may not experience a deviation from their expectation (except the obvious manager’s don’t live here anymore). What the people who work there see is an ongoing pressure to deliver the same or greater service with less people, less resources and an increasing focus on bottom line performance.

So, it has been back to what I know. I have a broader experience and a wonderful reinforcement of all the principles that I focus on all the time. There is nothing quite like hopping out of the known into the relatively unknown. I now have a new set of awarenesses and personal experiences that help strengthen my perspectives on getting it right the first time with forethought. Thanks to Holiday Retirement future blogs will provide insight to what happens when you disrupt existing structures and how Customers (residents) or Employees respond to those disruptions. I have an assortment of blog topics about aligning brand and company values through its actions. It turns out that when a company can’t walk the talk, it needs to revisit one or the other. And the bigger the company is, the more engrained the walk is than the talk.

I have two wonderful opportunities from Sonoma County that I am co-evolving, both of which are interesting and allow me to work with a broad assortment of really smart and experienced professionals. I have a deep gratitude for all that has transpired. Happy Thanksgiving.

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