We recently attended The Erickson School’s 5th Annual Memory Care Summit in Orlando, Florida. The Coronado Springs Resort at Disney World proved to be a symbolic venue represented by engaged staff who reminded us in real-time what the ideal customer experience feels like. What better way to explore the facets of Memory Care – and its growing significance for an evolving Senior Living Industry – than with the timeless nature of a Disney “theatre” as backdrop.
SETTING THE STAGE
Best practices proffered by the Walt Disney Company about employee training and brand management almost felt unrealistic. The competitive advantage of being part of a “magical kingdom” seemingly anchors them in a winner’s circle far removed from our own care industry. In the days that followed, it became clear that this apparent advantage just MIGHT be attainable for all. Is it possible that success is as simple as telling stories with lessons that can be shared, recalled and channeled – to inform the moments we create with residents, staff and families? It is our ideal nature to care and to be cared for. If we don’t seize opportunities to create meaningful relationships that extend beyond routine tasks; we are losing more than just a bottom line.
Employee Engagement is the key
The Program launched with a 90 minute presentation by Mark Matheis of the Disney Institute. Sponsored by Integrace and entitled “Disney’s Approach to Employee Engagement,” Mark portrayed Disney’s management excellence while sharing the underpinning of a customer service philosophy where everyone is special and everyone contributes.
Validated by his own 27 year career recall with Disney, his engaging stories exhibited the “real deal” that constitutes and carries the Disney culture. Like our own business, it’s the genuine caring for both employees and customers that fuels success. There is at lease one key attribute required of every Disney employee – you’ve got to be genuinely “nice” to join the team.
Green Side Up
Mark amplified one experience in the opening of Disney World’s Orlando Resort that captured the role storytelling can play in our education, training and engagement activities. Amidst the chaos surrounding opening day, it was the President of Disney who detected that a critical item had been overlooked. The Resort’s Grand Floridian Hotel did not have its grass sod laid – though it was neatly stacked on-site. He immediately dispatched a message to his entire team. All those not engaged in critical business were to report directly to the Floridian for priority assistance required. In the meantime, the President loosened his tie, rolled up his sleeves and began to unload and place squares of sod in front of the building. With beads of sweat emerging, a senior team member approached the President in response to his appeal. With some reservation, the executive, accompanied by others, expressed that he had never done this kind of work and questioned the skill-set required. The President offered a simple response, “It’s easy. Green Side Up.” And so it was that all joined in and the job was done. To this day, every employee knows the mantra of “Green Side Up”. It is a powerful metaphor that informs desired behavior. We work together toward the common goal of delivering a unique customer experience; irrespective of formal titles or job descriptions.
Overmanage for Sustained Results
Mark also relayed that “Disney’s consistent business results are driven by “overmanaging” certain things that most companies undermanage or ignore – and that is a key source of what differentiates us.” In simple terms, they “have learned to be intentional where others are unintentional.”
The example of an intentional act was captured by the deconstruction of a wave from a Disney Princess. The mechanical formulary of “wash the window, wash the window, missed a spot, missed a spot” captures the spirit of how designed experiences that have been broken up into meaningful elemental actions that can be easily shared and sustained as a desired behavior. It is not a huge leap for Animators to dissect micro-motions like this but that is the point of integrative thinking; to seek constantly to reframe problems and opportunities from alternative perspectives that capture every detail. If you do not create a script for your operation, how can you effectively train your team and deliver your brand’s promise?
Our second day began with a presentation from James Hendrix, the Director of Global Science Initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association, where we were reminded of their three-pronged mission to eliminate the disease through (1) the advancement of research; (2) enhanced care support and (3) the reduction of risk for all dementia sufferers through the promotion of “brain health.”
What is the scope of the problem? 5.4 million Americans of ALL ages will have Alzheimer’s in 2016 at total cost of care of $236 Billion according to the CDC! Interestingly, in a supplemental peer-reviewed journal entry, we learned that “…the Association also believes there is sufficiently strong evidence, from a population-based perspective, to conclude: (1) regular physical activity and management of cardiovascular risk factors (diabetes, obesity, smoking, and hypertension) have been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and may reduce the risk of dementia; and (2) a healthy diet and lifelong learning/cognitive training may also reduce the risk of cognitive
What’s the take-away? In spite of the millions of dollars (and human hours) spent yearly, we are not any closer to a meaningful cure BUT we have evolved considerably on the care front through the medium of Culture Change and Person-Centered Care (PCC) language and practice. Perhaps more importantly, a groundswell of professionals actively recognize that the “job” of Memory Care is not to heal or repair the disease; because we can’t (yet). Rather, our role as caregivers and family members is to relate and under-stand behavior so that we can be more supportive of individual needs as they struggle to mitigate the threat of a changing connection to self.
Ann Wyatt, Manager of Palliative and Residential Care at CaringKind relays that “Behavior is communication: it is not the dementia that causes the behavior, it is the dementia which prevents the person from expressing the cause of their distress.”
This change of perspective is transformative. It is conventional to bundle disease with symptoms in a cause and effect fashion but when you separate the two you become empowered to make a difference. In viewing behavior as form of communication, you are invited to listen more contextually and establish communication based on validation and empathy. This relational strategy is summarized by Validation Therapy’s founder Naomi Feil’s in her TEDx Talk at Amsterdam Women:
BRINGING IT HOME
Without question, the most moving part of this year’s program was the concluding morning presentations of day three. This segment is quickly becoming a promised experience delivered by the Erickson School’s Memory Care Summit; to conclude the series with human narratives that highlight the critical nature of the work we are all doing. Here we witnessed highly personal stories of two individuals confronted with life altering memory care circumstances. These interview presentations were moderated by Dr. Peter Rabins who consistently echoed the truism that our professional credentials do not fully prepare any of us to process the weight of memory loss among our peers and loved ones.
First, “Wearing Two Hats: Providing Care at Home and at Work”. This was the story of Teresa Robinson, VP, Clinical Services of Sagepoint Senior Living. Teresa is a caregiver in her organization as well as a caregiver at home as her husband was diagnosed with young onset Alzheimer’s before the age of 50. Second, “I’m Still Carol”. Carol Poole was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) in 2013 and probable Alzheimer’s disease in 2014 at age 65. Remarkably, these two individuals continue to give beyond their personal burdens – sharing their experiences in hopes that it will advance a cause and help others.
To relay these stories further would not do justice to the love, compassion and caring commitment they represent. Suffice to say, these stories were heart wrenching and inspirational
– proving that Emotional Magic can fuel both the purpose and passion for evolving communities of practice around Memory Care. It certainly did for us.
SHARE YOUR STORY
In reflecting upon the Program Experience, the Disney backdrop certainly has relevance to our business models for Memory Care. We too can deliver those magical moments through intentional best management practices that are informed by our own narrative and brand identity. To be successful, we must support and sustain our own business culture that delivers on our promise of Person Centered Care – recognizing that Memory Care is indeed about validation and empathy. Our employees need to be genuinely engaged in a unified and integrated fashion with intentional purpose of enriching lives in the moment. Similarly, our service environments need to deliver the atmosphere and amenities conducive to comfort and care. Above all, our leadership needs to exercise the integrative thinking attributes that ideally empower, align and motivate our collective efforts by sharing stories that bind our thoughts and actions.