Elaine Wood, Delmanor
On innovation, dealing with challenges, and the importance of hiring passionate people
In our Inspiring Leaders Series, we interview visionaries driven by a passion for excellence that’s manifest in Canada’s most innovative retirement communities.
Thought Leadership in action at Delmanor
"One of the things that inspires me is... seeing someone that may have started as a frontline team member ... aspiring to be a general manager, seeing those leadership qualities. Seeing their level of enjoyment in working for Delmanor and helping our residents... I've been witness to that [a number of times] over 10 years."
In our interview with Elaine Wood, Vice President of Operations at Delmanor Senior Living, she discussed the importance of her calling. She also shared the company's views on innovation, dealing with challenges, and the importance of hiring passionate people who create a culture that values respect, compassion, commitment, integrity and accountability.
What makes for a good leader in the retirement industry? [0:44]
Being a general manager, you have to, first of all, care deeply, you have to be passionate about the work that you're doing. This is not a job. It is a calling. The compassion, the empathy has to be built right into your DNA. You are helping people that, quite frankly, may not be able to help themselves in some respects. And they're coming to us for those services.
Being a general manager is truly about leading a great team of dedicated people. Certainly, we at Delmanor are very particular on who we hire because, you know, in order to be one of the leaders in the industry, you have to have the best people delivering on those promises to our residents, who have come to expect great things.
How does company culture impact daily resident life? [1:40]
We have an expression that we use over and over again: “the Delmanor Experience.” So, for our team, when they join, people will say, well, what is this Delmanor Experience that you're talking about? And it really is about anticipating our residents’ needs before they even have to ask, or their wants. To me, delivering on a service promise, when you move in, you expect that day-in and day-out, and our team delivers — and they deliver well.
So the Delmanor experience is driven from a very strong culture, and our culture rests on our core values. Our five core values are respect, compassion, commitment, integrity and accountability. And to me, our team lives and breathes those core values each and every day. It's evident by our high levels of resident satisfaction. They're happy! They're not moving out. They could choose to go to any retirement community if they weren't happy. But we certainly don't see that. And we work hard to keep our residents and our families engaged each and every day.
What role does technology play in senior living? [3:10]
We are actually looking at two or three different ways that we can have residents communicate with us. It's still in the planning stages, but [our new mobile app] will allow residents to sign up for trips and events... They can do that from the comfort of their suite, using technology, not having to manually request going out on a trip or something like that.
So, the technology obviously is something that is very, very important to us at Delmanor. And we continue to engage with vendors that can help make life a lot easier for our residents. I remember years ago people would call down to the concierge to say that they were going to be out for lunch or they wanted to have guests for lunch. Now, of course, they can email and they can text. And soon, they will be able to just put in that request through a mobile device, and it magically gets to us.
Many of our residents are using Alexa and other devices that can get them any information they want, obviously, through voice prompts. And many of our older adults are really tech savvy.
One of the things that inspires me is... seeing someone that may have started as a frontline team member ... aspiring to be a general manager, seeing those leadership qualities. Seeing their level of enjoyment in working for Delmanor and helping our residents... I've been witness to that [a number of times] over 10 years.
How do you overcome challenges? [4:40]
Every day we have Eureka moments. Every day, through great collaboration, we look at how can Delmanor push the envelope further and further and further, to making sure that we remain that leader in the retirement industry. I think one of the Eureka moments for me, personally, is seeing how quickly our teams can respond during crisis, and change the way that they operate. And then change again the next day or the next week because of additional restrictions that the government may have had to put in as a result of this pandemic.
Our LivingWell teams got together very, very quickly through a conference call and then video calls to say, what can we do, now that we don't have the ability to hold small or large group programs? We weren't, at that point, even doing programs with five people. So, we said we're going to bring the fun, we're going to bring all of what we can, up to our resident hallways. And that actually is a lot more work than it sounds [like], to be able to facilitate the same programs you would do in a large group format, to [adjust conditions to still offer] an exercise class. So, basically every resident [was] standing outside their doorway and, you know, you just make it fun. We had Margarita carts going around and all sorts of different-themed programs running. We're so fortunate to have such a creative LivingWell team, that in some respects we heard residents were looking forward to, when are they coming back up in the hallway? And that was going on all through the day and the evening, in addition to our our culinary teams coming up to deliver meals. Our teams have such personality.
What drives innovation at Delmanor? [6:40]
A lot of our innovation is driven from listening to our customers, listening to our residents in our buildings, and also people that are thinking about making a move to retirement living. Everything that we glean or we change is based on that input. It's based on that feedback. And we [use] a phrase at Delmanor, which is, we work in your home, you don't live in our building.
[For us], it's always remembering that we wouldn't be here without our customer, without our residents. And so, we have to continue to bend their ear, and be open to what they're telling us, to what they want. Often it might be around the way that meals are served or the actual cuisine that we're serving. We're fortunate we have a corporate chef who works really hard with all our executive chefs to keep the food innovative and inspiring.
That's when to go back to our tagline, “Inspired Retirement Living.” We want to inspire people. Life is short, and the life that we have–and we call it the golden age for a reason–because it really can be very golden for a lot of people, to look back at what you've achieved in your lifetime, and look forward to what you really want to enjoy. So, it could be anything from a LivingWell program that we've yet to think of, to a give-back program where our residents truly want to give back to the community where they live. So, we have our own Delmanor Gives Back program, and we have really a lot of innovative things [happening] around just community supports and community resources.
In terms of the building and how we innovate there, I think we look at, if there's a desire to bring in an aquatics program, for example, bringing in a swimming pool in our future buildings, that's certainly something that we hear is important to many people. Exercise classes: that has really grown tremendously over the last five years, where every single day, there's a fitness class or two running. Having larger fitness studios, with state-of-the-art equipment [is also important]. People want to remain healthy and fit. That has made our LivingWell programs even more robust.
What will become a priority for the industry in the next few years? [9:24]
I think we need to be very cognizant of the fact that people are living longer, which is very good news. However, with longevity comes illness at times. So, we do have a dedicated MemoryPlus neighborhood in our Richmond Hill location that has been very successful. And we are planning to build more MemoryPlus neighborhoods. Certainly we see the need for having a dedicated dementia care neighborhood. Many operators would certainly speak to that in the same lens.
I think it's important to have many different types of service levels. So, if we’re offering, for example, apartment living design for residents that are just now maybe downsizing from a large home and still wanting some independence along the way with regard to cooking and other things that they'd like to do, then that option will exist within a Delmanor community. And others are doing a similar model.
The Delmanor Experience is really about anticipating our residents’ needs before they even have to ask... And to me, delivering on a service promise, when you move in, you expect that day in and day out and our team delivers — and they deliver well.
When we look at, what can retirement operators offer older adults living in a retirement setting, it’s about being able to age successfully and being able to support them to the best of our ability. By offering independent living and assisted living and in some cases, memory care, [this] is definitely a responsibility that we take seriously.
What inspires you? [11:11]
One of the things that inspires me is seeing growth within our organization. So, seeing someone that may have started as a frontline team member, a server, for example, in our dining room and aspiring to be a general manager, seeing those leadership qualities. Seeing their level of enjoyment in working for Delmanor and helping our residents, that inspires me for the long term. I've been witness to that for over 10 years, to see many of those success stories take place. So, really growing our own great people to be future leaders. That holds your culture so near and dear, and it safeguards your culture, actually.
What is the future of retirement living? [12:08]
I believe a lot of it has started to certainly see more of an influence [from] the baby boomers. I'm at the tail end of the baby boomers [myself]. It’s [about] really listening not only to our great wise elders, but also our adult children, who are influencers. Certainly I've been hearing over the past 10 years, innovate, innovate, be creative, don't do the same old thing
I think it'll boil down to offering as much choice as we can for people that are looking at retirement communities in the future and always bearing that in mind. Certainly, our leadership team is always looking for innovative ways to operate. That, really, is at the forefront of where I see the future going.
I don't think you can ever just rest on [what] was successful today. How are you going to be successful tomorrow without looking and thinking very forward?
[13:24] I want to acknowledge the dedication and the commitment of our great teams, and really everyone that is working in senior living. We couldn't be here without our frontline teams. Our residents tell me and have told me over the years that we have an incredible group. I think the reason that we do have an incredible group is because they're just so special.
More about Delmanor
Delmanor Senior Living retirement homes, located across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), offer “Inspired Retirement Living.” This living, breathing ideal is manifest in every Delmanor community. Learn more about Delmanor Senior Living.