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What is your mission?

May 8, 2012
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If you were to guess what motivates employees in top-ranked companies, what would you say? What would you imagine generates sustainable high performance in the workplace? If your first guess is money, your guess is wrong. 

According to research documented in a recent Harvard Business Review article, “What Great Companies Know About Culture,” employees in top-ranked companies find their greatest motivation in “brand mission.” Brand mission is a sense of identity and purpose within an organization. The motivation employees find in aligning themselves with brand mission is only rivaled by the motivation found in career development opportunities.

Given that senior living communities often cannot pay frontline employees much  more than minimum wage, this research is valuable to consider. It is often believed that low pay is a key reason retention rates are historically low in this marketplace. However, workplace culture—which top companies in the above article rank as the most influential aspect (80 percent) of daily operations—can be created and sustained for very little money. (In other words, a little training can go a long way.)

How would you describe the brand mission of your senior living community? Does your organization have a mission that is known to all employees? Is it a mission that motivates people? If your answers to these questions are positive and clear, then good for you! You are in a minority in the senior care industry.

Last month, I provided training in a community for independent senior living, where we could not find a mission statement listed anywhere! This incident was emblematic of an issue I commonly encounter in my trainings. Many of the senior living communities I train in suffer from a lack of cultural focus.

The mission statement is the kernel of workplace culture. It gives direction and meaning to all the daily activities of an organization. There is a great diversity of people interacting daily within a senior care community—employees are diverse in age, in education, in race and ethnicity, in religion—and they are interacting with residents from still other generations and socioeconomic cultures.

How can cohesion and understanding be found in such a scenario? How can we motivate employees who feel marginalized themselves? Consider what the research suggests: brand mission, career development opportunities.

Research from the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI) and the Institute for the Future of Aging Services bears out that direct care employees are critical of the pre-employment training they currently receive, largely because they find it impractical. They find insurmountable gaps between the skills taught in the classroom and what is needed on the job. The same source reports that nursing home administrators found that CNAs needed more training in “interpersonal skills, including communication (and) teamwork…” CNAs in turn report that training failed to cover a number of what they identified as necessary skills, such as “dealing with multicultural staff and working as part of a team.”


Cindy Heilman

CEO, Higher Standards LLC


Cindy Heilman MS, DTR, is CEO of Higher Standards LLC, an Oregon-based training and consulting...