Strategies to Help Senior Care Leaders Navigate Change

Change is inherent in the senior care industry, but it’s also a tremendous challenge that leaders must successfully navigate. New programs, transitions in staff, technology implementations, and more can disrupt daily routines and lead to uncertainty in the workplace. Talented leaders must understand not only how to navigate change, but how to help their teams do so, too.

Why Change Is Challenging in Senior Care

Marie Grosh

Marie Grosh, assistant professor, Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University

Marie Grosh, assistant professor, Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University, explains that even simple changes can have significant impacts on the senior care industry. “This is a field where routines and consistency are paramount to providing stable quality care to the residents, so uncertainty is even more uncomfortable,” she says. A changing environment can prompt patients and families to become frustrated, and they may take that frustration out on the staff who are also facing their own struggles. “Adapting to new procedures or environments takes time, patience, energy– all things that people tend to be short on these days.”

Gene Smallwood, vice president of operations at Kisco Senior Living, notes that since change is often paired with adapting to new routines and dealing with uncertainties, it can be particularly challenging for care staff. “Caregivers and staff tend to rely on structure and consistency in daily tasks to best plan for and perform their emotionally and physically demanding roles,” he says. “These changes can lead to things like staff worrying about their ability to maintain the high level of care their roles require.”

The Importance of Leadership Staff During Times of Change

Smallwood notes that leadership staff play a crucial role in helping staff navigate transitions. In fact, the right leader can dictate the success or failure of a major change or project. “It is a well-known and well taught leadership principle that acting as an anchor, offering consistent guidance and reassurance while personifying the changes they wish to implement is a best practice,” he says. “Leading by example and maintaining a culture of approachability is vital in fostering a learning environment and open communication where staff feel supported throughout the transition.”

How Leadership Staff Can Help Successfully Navigate Change

Gene Smallwood

Gene Smallwood, vice president of operations at Kisco Senior Living

Smallwood explains that leadership staff should openly recognize the challenges that transitions bring. Staff must find ways to focus on incremental progress while also celebrating wins. “Providing training and resources, acknowledging and rewarding efforts and adaptations, and promoting a team-oriented environment where staff can rely on each other and feel valued are cornerstone strategies for us,” he says.

Grosh encourages leadership to engage staff from all levels in the planning and visionary processes of a transition, noting that doing so helps to establish staff buy-in, trust, and collaboration. “Expect some feedback to be negative or unreasonable,” she says. “Be proactive and prepare responses that are tolerant and welcoming. Be readily available to address concerns and feedback, and serve as a hands-on guide.”

Communication also plays a key role in successful leadership during times of transition. “Our organization strives for transparency, providing regular updates, encouraging and engaging in the feedback loop, and importantly ensuring that commitments to act and follow up are upheld,” Smallwood explains. “Implementing structured communication practices such as regular meetings, updates, and accessible feedback channels can help reduce misunderstandings or confusion that can lead to inefficiencies, associate morale concerns, and/or really challenge a successful project or transition.”

According to Grosh, staff should focus on simplifying complex messages and tasks when possible to ensure effective communication. It’s also essential to provide regular updates and check-ins, transparently share information, and create open forums where staff can ask questions and voice their concerns. “Communication should be two-way dialogue rather than just top-down directives,” she says.

How Leadership Staff Can Boost Confidence and Morale

To build staff confidence, Smallwood encourages leaders to focus on training and empowering staff with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed. “This could include thorough training on new procedures, mentorship programs, and opportunities for staff to ask questions and provide input on the changes,” he says. “Recognizing and celebrating staff who adapt well to changes can also boost overall confidence and set positive examples.”

Grosh notes that leadership staff should listen to staff experiences, provide encouragement, and maintain a positive outlook during times of transition. She encourages leaders to maintain visibility and engage in hands-on tasks with staff, too.

To build confidence, Grosh recommends that everyone on the leadership team ensure they are sending consistent messaging. “This creates comfort,” she says. “Staff must feel confident that the leaders know what they are doing and are in agreement. Inconsistent messaging or the feeling that the captains of the ship are at odds makes people think that chaos and failure are looming and creates fear.”

To boost staff morale, Smallwood encourages leaders to focus on their team’s well-being. “This can often be overlooked by the pressures of deadlines, or performance targets, or financial expectations – but savvy leaders know that keeping your associates first in line will lead to all those results,” he says. He highlights the importance of also giving staff access to competitive pay, appealing benefits, and other quality employment resources.

Evaluating the Impact of Change on the Quality of Care

Smallwood highlights the fact that, in addition to preparing to navigate times of change, it’s also important for leadership staff to continuously evaluate the impact that the transition has on both staff and the quality of care provided. “Being adaptive and ready to adjust based on staff feedback and the evolving needs of the community is crucial,” he notes. “Additionally, fostering a learning environment where change is viewed as a path to improvement rather than a disruption can fundamentally strengthen the resilience and adaptability of the team. These approaches not only help in managing the immediate challenges of a transition, but also contribute to building a more flexible, collaborative, and resilient organizational culture.”

Topics: Executive Leadership , Featured Articles , Leadership , Operations