Retirement villages should be a genuine partnership between residents and staff. For residents to take advantage of all the lifestyle opportunities, they need support from a management team that has a “can do culture”. The management team’s focus needs to be on the life of the residents and not on the administration of a housing project or the regulation of care, important as both those issues are. Residents need to like the staff and the staff need to like the residents, which is an obvious thing to say but it doesn’t always happen. Not all residents are reasonable and not all staff are perfect. Mistakes happen. The important thing to remember is that the entire village needs to be “One Big Team”.
Many of the pressures on management are driven by day-to-day administrative and financial issues. The safety and security agendas of regulators focus entirely on tick box procedures and often fail to see the bigger picture. The management team needs to ensure that this doesn’t impact negatively on the service they provide. These are not either / or options, the management challenge is to ensure there is an appropriate balance between the issues.
Because the residents effectively provide all the funds for the village and as a result of their prominent role as volunteers in running the village, they are entitled to a transparent view of all aspects of the village operation. The residents should be provided with all the facts and figures of the operation and there should be an open book approach to the financial accounts. Open and regular two-way communication is an essential part of this process. Where communication breaks down, gossip and the grapevine will fill the void with mis-information. There needs to be a whole variety of ways of achieving a healthy flow of information :-
- Walking the floor – the best of all management techniques providing you listen and act on what you hear, not just on what you are told.
- Suggestions – often under-rated they can be an invaluable supply of new ideas do should be encouraged at every opportunity.
- Small group meetings – either on special subjects or to generally update people.
- Surveys – of bigger issues with the results fed back and discussed openly, and compared with other villages.
Most of all what the village needs is courageous and ambitious leadership. This is not at all easy to do with a community of several hundred residents. Many will have different views on issues and in every community there’s at least one “Barrack Room Lawyer”. The manager’s job is to build bridges between the various interests, but occasionally stand their ground when non-negotiable aspects of the culture are challenged. As far as possible, it is important to maintain a flexible and open approach to everything with as few rules as possible.