What Does It Take to Create Strong Leaders and Lasting Relationships?: An NHA Stand-Up Leadership Sit-down with Ryan Galea, CEO of Icon
NHA Stand-Up is an email newsletter written by Nursing Home Administrators and senior living operators to share best practices and create a community. The goal of NHA Stand-Up is to elevate each other and the senior living industry. Sign up for the NHA Stand-Up newsletter using this link.
In this edition, the NHA Stand-Up team interviewed Icon’s own CEO Ryan Galea to learn more about the inception of his business, what makes a great leader, and how to improve family relationships and satisfaction.
Tell us about yourself and how you became the CEO of Icon.
I come from the investing world. I did healthcare and technology investing for several years and honestly thought that’s what I would do for the rest of my career.
Just before COVID, my grandmother became very ill. Although she had terminal cancer and her experience in a rehab facility was just horrible, making those last few years much worse than they had to be on the family. And so that experience shook me.
I didn’t want any regrets, so I decided to leave my job.
I’d always wanted to do something more entrepreneurial. Given my background in investing, I decided to go out and raise some capital to build a single business through acquisition and also investment in growth, with a focus on the senior care landscape to try to improve the experience for other grandmothers, grandfathers, and parents that go through the aging process.
And so we made the first acquisition, which is VoiceFriend. It’s a communication platform we use across the entire continuum. We did that in August of 2021.
And then, in June of this year, we acquired Caremerge’s Engagement Business and merged it with the VoiceFriend platform. That business focuses on engagement technology, predominantly in assisted and independent living.
This September, we rebranded the business to Icon, which we felt better resembled the complete product suite with the mission of what we like to say is making the aging experience iconic.
What separates great leaders from good leaders?
I think it’s a matter of focus and recognizing what we’re actually in the business of doing as an industry.
Take senior living as an example. I often see leaders falling into the trap of mismeasuring success.
For example, a for-profit operator might think revenue growth or profit is the success metric, and everything they do intends to influence those metrics. And with that, I think you can be a good leader, but great leaders recognize the business we are in. We exist because a family has decided we can provide a better experience for their loved ones than any other alternative.
Whether you’re a for-profit or a not-for-profit shouldn’t matter; if you are focused on making the aging experience great as your North Star, you’ll nail all those other metrics.
For example, back to the for-profit operator, the leader focused on revenue as a barometer of success will say, “Okay, how do I get my occupancy up? I’m going to spend a bunch of money on marketing.”
And that might work. But the great leader will focus on the aging experience and ensuring their seniors and their families have an incredible experience. They will refer their families and write great reviews about your facilities on review websites. And that’s the most effective marketing of all and a more cost-effective way to grow your business.
And so they’re focusing on the primary value driver of our industry, and I think that is how you win and become great, not getting stuck with those more superficial barometers of success.
Insight: Far too often, operators focus on the lag measures (like occupancy) instead of the lead measures (what leads to a positive resident and family experience). If we put the resident and family experience as the focus, success will come as a result. As Steven Covey would say, “Put first things first.”
Why are transparency and family communication important within the senior living industry?
When I talk about the aging experience, it’s the aging experience holistically. So it’s not only the senior’s aging experience; it’s the family’s aging experience. They see their loved one age, which is challenging for a family, seeing your parents, who once took care of you, need assistance.
Going back to my grandmother’s story, it was really hard seeing those challenges she faced as she aged, compounded by her poor experience in a community.
And so if you consider the family experience, it’s not only the moral thing to do, it’s good reputationally as a business. Adult children are very active online. How do you choose which community to put your parents in? Well, you do a lot of research, look at the reviews, and collect feedback from friends and family. And so, the family experience is just as crucial as the resident experience.
One significant way to influence that experience is by being transparent and actively communicating with them.
Insight: Thousands of positive interactions occur in our communities every single day, yet the families of our residents only see a small lens into those interactions. Because their sample is much smaller, a negative situation means much more. We must take credit for the positive interactions and help share those experiences with families. It builds trust and makes deposits into the “bank account” of the relationship. I fully believe you will spend the time with the families no matter what. It’s up to you whether that time is spent proactively on the front end or cleaning up concerns on the back end.
As an operator, what can I do starting today to improve family satisfaction?
The first step is you need to establish a baseline. And so that means measuring how you’re doing today and collecting feedback. Without that, once you implement initiatives, there’s no way to tell whether you have improved.
Collect feedback on each aspect of your operation and see what’s received well and what isn’t well received. No one size fits all approach works for every community, and this is how you will identify those nuances and consider the unique aspects of your population.
Insight: Don’t wait to begin this journey. Talk to your residents and their families and utilize technology to collect feedback. Put first things first and focus on what’s important to the residents and families in your community.
Start your journey
Begin your journey to becoming a great leader and building trust with the loved ones in your community – it will pay dividends. Icon can help you accomplish those goals. It is Icon’s mission to make the aging experience iconic with the best all-in-one communication and engagement software for organizations that support seniors. If you’re interested in learning more about Icon’s solutions built for senior living, request a demo.