A Career in Senior Living Checked All the Boxes for Dan Williams, President & COO, Seasons Living
Recently, MedBest had the opportunity to interview Dan Williams, President and COO of Seasons Living, Lake Oswego, Oregon. He shared why a career in Senior Living checked all the boxes, what “Culture Keys” are core to Seasons Living, and how their forward-thinking approach is meeting industry trends, challenges, and talent needs.
Dan, please tell us about the start of your career in Senior Living.
I began my career in Senior Living as an Assistant Manager of an Independent Living Community. As a young person, this gave me great insight as to how to care for residents as well as run a business. It also came with a lot of responsibility. If there was an absenteeism, I had to fill-in and do the job myself. I definitely gained a new respect for employees at every level as well as what it takes to run a successful building. Currently, I serve in a leadership role as the COO and President of Seasons Living.
What attracted you to a career in Senior Living?
Truthfully, I never thought I would work in the Senior Living industry. I was actually working in the education industry when the company I was working for was sold and then, broke apart. Subsequently, my wife at that time, urged me to try working in Senior Living and while I was hesitant at first, I decided to give it a shot since it looked like a good career move. After only one week, I decided it’s really what I wanted to do. I love the social and spiritual aspect of helping people plus it had the business aspect I was looking for. I knew I could achieve my professional goals. It checked all the boxes and I’ve never looked back.
Did you have a mentor or an “influencer” that had great impact on you and your career?
I’m very grateful to Aaron Koelsch, CEO and Founder of Koelsch Communities, for hiring me as a COO for his growing organization. He taught me a great deal of leadership traits that I didn’t possess before I started working with him. He gave me a unique perspective on how to motivate others, how to treat others, and how to be successful in a leadership role. I also think of my first Regional Manager at Holiday Retirement, Russell Davis, as a mentor. Russell used to say, “You never go wrong, doing the right thing.” That core foundation stays with me everyday.
Today, I have admiration for my current CEO, Eric Jacobsen. He is a guy who has rolled his sleeves up and made a name for himself in the industry. He wasn’t handed anything. He fought and scrapped his way to the top. He made his own way and made tremendous sacrifices in his life to build Seasons. He did it with integrity intact. That’s rare!
On the Seasons Living website, it states that “Culture is What Sets Us Apart.” Can you tell us about the importance of culture and how it sets Seasons Living apart?
Our culture starts with how we treat each other as colleagues since this makes a huge impact on how the residents get served. Plus, we try to be a culture that attracts and retains employees. We strive to make it a culture that people want to be a part of and that’s bigger than themselves. It’s so important to feel like you’re part of a mission and part of a greater purpose. However, I would like to emphasize that we recognize each person here as an individual and not just another employee.
Our culture is defined by what we call, Culture Keys. Through these keys, we strive to show our people just how important they are to us, to our residents and to our clients:
Service: If I am not serving a resident, then I will serve someone who is!
Dream: Think big, Have FUN!
Expertise: Do-it, Try-it, Fix-it – Repeat!
Simplify: Master the fundamentals!
Accountability: If it is to be, it’s up to me!
At Seasons Living, our values and culture keys are not marketing buzzwords…we live these everyday.
What trends do you see in senior housing for 2020 and beyond?
Technology is the biggest trend. We’re exploring and installing systems in our building that are care predictive. For example, we’re using AI to predict care to help us intervene before a fall happens plus AI allows us to give more personalized one-on-one care to our residents. In addition, our Social Technology has allowed our residents to stay close in contact with their families. Our residents can use a bedside TV screen to enjoy a chat with their family or watch a soccer game of a grandchild or loved one in real time. Keeping families connected is a top priority.
What is the biggest challenge on your plate right now?
Staffing is the biggest challenge right now. It’s difficult to find qualified caregivers. This has led us to look for employees or candidates that can be trained to be caregivers. We’re especially feeling the worker shortage when it comes to nurses. To give you an idea of the talent gap, when looking at our statistics and comparing them to 5 years ago, our overtime has doubled. That can lead to staff burn-out which possibly could affect resident care, reputation of our community, how the state looks at the community, how the public views the community, etc. It can really have negative consequences. The talent shortage is an industry-wide concern.
What is Seasons Living doing to attract and retain top performers?
We’ve tried to be creative when it comes to benefits and perks. Our goal is to be in the top one-fourth of the industry when it comes to our wages. Just last week, we rolled out an app for TeleDoc services (videoconferencing with physicians) to every employee for free medical care. We now offer advance pay before paychecks are scheduled if employees need to pay bills or need cash. We also we have a very attractive health insurance package where we pay a good portion of the premium and offer a 401k with an employer contribution.
However, we need to do more to attract the Millennials and are looking into the work/life balance they seek. We would accommodate up to a reasonable point but there has to be boundaries. When it comes delivering resident care, it’s a 24/7 operation.
I think it’s not only about benefits and perks. When it comes down to it, people want to work for people they like. They don’t want to be treated like a number or just an end to a means or not a real person. If you do that, you’ll lose them. My philosophy is that If a valued employee leaves here to go to a competitor, then shame on me. I obviously didn’t create an environment where they wanted to stay. I’m accountable and it’s on me. As long as I have that view, I will work to make it an environment where they want to stay and thrive.
What do you believe are the qualities and traits of a successful leader in Senior Living?
I think what makes an excellent leader today is:
Empathy…understanding people and their feelings
Service…having that servant leadership style and attitude
Passion…love for people and the industry
Compassion…concern for others
Plus, you have to be Likeable. In general, if people like you, they’ll work hard for you.
At Seasons Living, we’re growing and doubled in size in the last year and will continue to grow. It’s exciting and we’re including everybody at our company in that growth. Our expansion creates new career opportunities for our employees. We’ll always try to fill positions and promote from within before hiring from outside. Our first look is always at our own people. I want to keep our team together.
What advice do you have for an up and comer in the senior living industry or more specifically, senior housing, especially if their sights are on a C-Level position?
Nothing will be handed to you. You have to earn it. Start by setting a goal and write that goal down. In fact, I still have my original goals on paper that I wrote over 10 years ago. Also, never give up even if you’re passed over for a promotion. Persistence is key. Plus, find a mentor and surround yourself with people who do things better than you and learn from them. You have to be fearless as well and take career risks. Without risk, there is no reward.
About Seasons Living
Find the compassionate senior care you’ve been searching for with Seasons Living. Based in Lake Oswego Oregon, we own and/or operate over a dozen communities across the United States. We are dedicated to providing excellent service to our residents, their families, owners, and investors. Offering exceptional Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care, and Short-Term Care services, we’re here to help you live better in your retirement. Each of our senior living communities is designed to be more than simple bricks and mortar. They are a home that you or your loved one will call home for years to come. www.seasonsliving.com
“There’s a lot of choices out there when it comes to search firms, but I’ve always gone back to Julie and MedBest. I like that Julie came right out of the industry and understands the day-to-day operations. That’s why she’s able to find the right fit for both the C-level and Mid-Level management positions. I also like that she doesn’t use the shotgun approach. In other words, she doesn’t source on Indeed for resumes. With Julie’s in-depth knowledge and network, she’s able to locate those hard to find candidates and that’s worth gold!”
Dan Williams, COO & Principal, Seasons Living
MedBest is a national Executive Search Firm exclusive to the Senior Living Industry established in 2001. We recruit and acquire quality executive talent for all types of Senior Living Organizations and Communities across the US including Assisted Living, Continuing Care Retirement Communities, Independent Living, Memory Care, and Skilled Nursing Facilities.
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