By Amy Johnson, founder and president of LifeLoop LLC
I find myself writing this article quite by accident.
Around two years ago I was selling group health insurance policies when my husband and I came to the intersection of family and senior living — a place many people eventually arrive at but never find easy.
We came out of our personal situation asking, “Can we make this better?”
Fast-forward two years through the arduous process of working closely with owners/operators to develop a software product to better serve residents and implementing that new technology.
What Are We Talking About?
Technology is a loaded word. For some people just talking about technology gets them excited and their first impulse is to look at any innovation with awe. They immediately see benefits flowing from the software or gadget or whatever it may be.
For others, the word invokes the exact opposite feeling: skepticism, nostalgia, yearning for a simpler time of handshakes and face-to-face communication. The majority of people fit somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, but most people at least identify with both of those opposing sentiments. The reality is that the majority of people are correct: technology is neither a solution to all life’s ills, nor is it something to be avoided at all costs.
It is a fact of life that remaining competitive in today’s senior living environment requires that you take a hard look at your community. Operators must understand where and how technology improves the care and service they provide to customers, and in turn, ultimately improve the bottom line.
Technical Promise Vs. Genuine Achievement
Running a community of senior citizens who vary drastically in health, abilities and interests is no easy task. It can be tempting to believe that a miracle cure will eliminate all headaches. This is undoubtedly the way that technology products are marketed to you — as solutions.
The truth is that technology is a nothing more or less than a tool. It can be used to leverage the things your community does well, allowing you to do these things even better, or it help guide your staff to improve in areas that your community typically neglects or does poorly.
Technology will not do the job itself. Believing that it will is shooting yourself in the foot before you even start.
Once you and your employees see the product as a tool, and not a solution, you begin to understand that implementing the technology correctly is of the utmost importance. You can have the greatest tool in the world, but if it is not used correctly and by the right people, then it’s worthless.
Where Does Implementation Start?
Successful implementation of a new technology product, as with most things, starts at the top.
The higher up the corporate ladder that buy-in occurs, the greater the chances of the product’s ultimate success. You must create a vision for your organization and find the right technology to help you address problems and obstacles in realizing that vision. Belief in the product must then be consistently communicated to every level of the organization.
The end-user employee will give quality effort to learn and use the new technology if they know that their manager believes in the product’s value, and that manager will encourage use if their boss encourages it, and so on up the line.
Technology is an investment — an investment that is not easily quantified into traditional ROI analysis. If a technology company is touting a specific ROI, they are overhyping their product.
As an investment, adequate resources must be devoted to the technology rollout. Supplying end-users with the right hardware and training is essential.
Like all investments, managers must be patient in seeing a positive organizational impact. Create a cycle-by-cycle framework of milestones to identify progress as well as obstacles to full utilization in order to see the best long-term results.
Most of the time, especially when using new software, the product itself improves over time as changes are made according to input from the community. Do not just buy the product; buy the team behind the product.
Creating a Virtuous Cycle
In order to produce the desired results, employees must use the technology.
Often, the person making the decision to purchase the product will believe that simply because the product is technically superior or provides obvious benefits, the end users will adopt it seamlessly. This is rarely the case, and a manager with that mentality will devote inadequate resources to implementation.
Instead, managers should understand that users may not immediately see the benefits to the organization as a whole.
Incentivizing your employees with positive and immediate feedback or other tangible rewards is absolutely necessary, because in the end they must personally benefit from using the product or they will not use it. Mandates from above are of limited usefulness, especially if they go against a current reward structure.
Only after using the technology for a while will employees see the benefits and begin to consider using the technology as a no-brainer.
Keep Tech Intuitive and Easy to Use
The product itself plays a major part in its own successful implementation.
The product must be simple and intuitive. This guided our development process from day one, because it is an indisputable fact. Being easy to learn and use goes hand-in-hand with personally benefitting the end-user, because intuitive software is more likely to simplify their job duties instead of complicate them.
Many employees will approach the new technology with resistance because they feel like it will add another component to their job without a corresponding increase in pay. If a product is incredibly easy to use, end users will adopt the product if there is even a small personal benefit — whether that benefit is an increase in job satisfaction or simply a “Good job!” from a boss.
But if a product requires a lot of training and effort and disruption, then the personal benefit they see must be substantial in order for them to integrate it into their daily routine.
Find a Champion
Identify a champion of the product and directly and personally tell them that this product is important to improving the community and the organization as a whole.
This champion should ideally be someone who is an opinion leader. An opinion leader is someone with actual authority or someone who is held in high esteem by others in the community. This helps combat the inevitable resistance that some employees will have toward the product.
The opinion of a few leaders will have a huge effect on the speed and extent of the product’s adoption. Usually they are high up in the organization, but not always. You know who these people are.
Create a Sense of Ownership
You must allow managers a degree of flexibility in adopting the technology.
The managers must know how to use the product and understand its benefits to the organization. They will be resistant and skeptical of a product that their employees know how to use but they do not. Ensuring their competence in the product gives them ownership in implementing the product and avoids the threat of undermining their position by giving their employees skills and knowledge that they lack.
Ultimately, the biggest benefit that any technology product can provide to a community is intangible. The best product will renew or sharpen your employees’ enthusiasm and focus by creating a workplace culture dedicated to your community’s mission.
The product should be the touchstone of this culture, but it takes a lot of work to get there. As my Grandma always taught me, nothing worthwhile ever comes easy.
Amy Johnson founded LifeLoop, a resident engagement and lifestyle management software for seniors housing communities, in 2014. The program is designed to connect residents, their families and staff to simplify community operations.