As director of operations at LCS, Jacob Harder understood that people are the greatest assets of any business. So, he created systems to help his team members be more efficient at their jobs and share their opinions about their work conditions in the organization without fear of reprisal.
[1:26] Chad Franzen introduces the guest, Jacob Harder.
[3:22] Jacob talks about his experience working in senior living communities as a teenager.
[3:54] What were Jacob’s primary responsibilities as the director of operations at LCS?
[4:34] Jacob outlines some of the departments that he was in charge of operations for at LCS.
[6:57] What were some of the problems that Jacob resolved, and how did he go about them?
[9:27] Jacob talks about his inspiration to resolve the needs in the communities with technology.
[13:22] Jacob explains how he maintained alignment and consistency among the employees working at different times of the organization’s 24-hour operations.
[15:34] Jacob talks about his framework for documenting procedures.
[17:51] Jacob gives insights into the steps he took to establish a relationship with the residents at LCS.
[20:13] Jacob points out what people might be doing wrong in running senior living communities.
As a leader, Jacob believes that managing situations and expectations should be the management priority when working with a team. For everything else, his role is team leader. He takes pride in being a team leader, not just a manager.
Jacob, who recently started a multifamily consulting firm, helps communities resolve their pain points by leveraging technology.
Speaker 1: Welcome to the Process Breakdown Podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your employees all the information they need to be successful at their jobs. Now, let’s get started with the show.
Chad Franzen: Chad Franzen here, co-host of the Process Breakdown Podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your staff everything they need to be successful at their job. Pass guests include David Allen, of Getting Things Done. And Michael Gerber of the E-Myth, and many more. This episode is brought to you by SweetProcess. Have you had team members ask you the same questions over and over again, and this is the 10th time you’ve spent explaining it? There’s a better way and a solution.
Chad Franzen: SweetProcess is a software that makes it drop dead easy to train an onboard new staff and save time with existing staff, not only do universities, banks, hospitals, and software companies use them, but first responder, government agencies use them in life or death situations to run their operations. Use SweetProcess to document all the repetitive tasks that eat up your precious time, so you can focus on growing your team and empowering them to do their best work.
Chad Franzen: Sign up for a free 14 day trial, no credit card required. Go to sweetprocess.com, that’s sweet like candy, S-W-E-E-T process.com. Jacob Harder is a director of operations and has worked in multifamily property management for 23 years. Most recently he was director of operations for LCS, a national developer of retirement communities. He lives in Seattle and is an athlete and a martial arts enthusiast. Jacob, thank you so much for joining me today, how are you?
Jacob Harder: Thank you for having me, I’m wonderful. It’s a wonderful, foggy Seattle day. Thank you.
Chad Franzen: Good. Tell me a little bit about your most recent venture with LCS and what LCS does.
Jacob Harder: Well, LCS is a developer and manager of senior living communities, they do rentals for-profit, nonprofit. They also do what are called life plan communities, their biggest business is life plan communities. A life plan community is essentially like, a condo association that you buy into, but instead of having a clubhouse in your high rise or your neighborhood it’s skilled nursing center. Where you are paying a standard monthly fee to essentially live in your independent living home, and as you age in place or an injured for any reason, maybe outpatient therapy, you just go to the skilled nursing wing down the hall, or down the street, and you’re still in the same neighborhood. It’s very affordable, it’s a wonderful business plan.
Jacob Harder: Also, as you [inaudible 00:02:49] in place you may need memory care or, assisted living, you can also transition from your independent living home into that area and still be in the same neighborhood, and still be able to have all the activities you normally would. And the wonderful thing is, if you were to ever move out, depending on what the structure is, a large portion of your original buy of your condo, goes back to you or your estate. So it’s a wonderful thing for seniors and I plan on doing it in about 30 years.
Chad Franzen: Perfect. Had you worked on that type of environment before working there?
Jacob Harder: Oh yeah. I actually started out when I was 13, as a landscaper in my father’s business, and they owned several senior living duplexes back in Colorado where I grew up. And I just worked on the weekends for fun money, and then fun money turned into gas money, then gas money turned into college money. And I transitioned from those senior living communities to other communities, senior living and other multi-family buildings or hospitality situations.
Chad Franzen: So what were some of your primary responsibilities as a director of operations at LCS?
Jacob Harder: Essentially what I was in charge of was ensuring that the community was operating properly. All the different departments need to interface appropriately, policies and procedures need to be made, they all need to be understood, and they all need to be aligned with every single department’s goals. Because even though it’s one company or one building, there are 12 on average different departments with their own ideas, their own goals in mind, their own process, their own labor force, and making sure everyone’s on the same page, and knows exactly whose responsibility is what and when the responsibility is needed to be engaged on.
Chad Franzen: Can you give me an example of some of the departments that you were in charge of operations for?
Jacob Harder: So, my primary responsibility was for anything operational. Typically the way that some of these communities are designed is there’s a executive director that oversees everything. There’s a director of healthcare administration, [inaudible 00:04:47] of the health services and regulated areas, and there’s the director of operations which oversees a lot of the operational excellence of the community. So anything that has a lot of moving parts to it, that are physical moving parts, a lot of these communities have restaurants in them. So, the restaurant, food and beverage, banquets, events, the maintenance and facilities department, the housekeeping department, security department, those sort of things. Interfacing and making sure that those are all aligned and working properly.
Chad Franzen: Yeah, that’s a lot of different kinds of departments. So what was your first step that you took in terms of making sure that they were all aligned?
Jacob Harder: Well, I had to meet with them on a regular basis. It takes time to build relationships with people, and understand what their pain points are and really earn their trust so that they can tell you what is really bothering them and what’s really difficult for them, because somethings are hidden underneath all of the nuance of the job and really guarding that trust and allowing them to open up about what’s really difficult for them in their department and figure out how I can help, either with the departments that are underneath my care or with other directors departments as well.
Chad Franzen: So then once you met with maybe one department, what would you do from that point?
Jacob Harder: Well, typically I would just see what it is that their pain points are, and see where my departments that I oversee interact with that and interface, and if it’s not really directly done underneath my belt, then I’ll end up going to another director and trying to figure out, what exactly can we do together to tackle this issue or tackle this problem or meet our goals. It’s a lot of discussion, a lot of standing meetings, I like to have standing meetings, I’m standing right now, I have a standing desk.
Jacob Harder: A lot of quick and to the point meetings, there’s no small talk it’s, this is the problem, what do we need to do, and when you need to have it finished by, and that’s it. And that way you can keep moving forward and keep moving on.
Chad Franzen: Can you give me an example of maybe a problem that you just talked about, where somebody said that there was a problem and, the steps you took to help solve it?
Jacob Harder: Oh yeah, sure. So several problems. One of the things I really love to do is leverage technology and staffing. Is a huge issue, especially in skilled nursing and in hospital settings. And there’s a number of technologies utilized and a lot of our areas were just lacking the staffing to keep up census for our skilled nursing, so we implemented tele setting, which is essentially a video monitoring system, that allows a singular nurse or aid to observe multiple residents beyond the standard ratio of a one to five, or one to eight, one skilled nursing attendant to eight residents or so.
Jacob Harder: It also uses algorithms and AI in order to be able to anticipate falls and injury prone residents so that you can be there when they get up randomly. Also, for security departments who have, again, a lack of staffing, using robots, they’re everywhere now. And there is a company called Knightscope, that has essentially a trash can that’s about five feet tall that weighs about 800 pounds. That acts as a monitoring station and a relay station around your community.
Jacob Harder: Typically that would cost a actual person around $50 an hour to do, this piece of equipment is $7 an hour. And it doesn’t sleep, doesn’t eat, doesn’t take breaks, it doesn’t need health insurance, it doesn’t have a family, and it’s constantly on, always recording, always watching. Facial recognition software, those sort of things.
Jacob Harder: One more thing also is, housekeeping. The number of individuals in housekeeping is staggering, how much it takes to clean a 1.5 million square foot community. And leveraging technologies like essentially a device that’s similar to a Roomba, if you’ve heard of those robotic vacuum machines. There’s a company called SoftBank, which has another small trash can, that essentially will vacuum all your community for you on its own, and [inaudible 00:08:57] free up a lot of your physical staff to do other things. But there’s tons of technologies that we can utilize, I mean, I can go on and on about that.
Chad Franzen: How do you find some of these technologies?
Jacob Harder: Google.
Chad Franzen: Google? Perfect.
Jacob Harder: Yeah.
Chad Franzen: So let’s say for example, the trash can. What made you even think that that would be an option? You started with a concept, and then you got to that point.
Jacob Harder: Yeah. Well, I mean, I essentially thought of first principles. I take a lot of inspiration from Elon Musk, and how he thinks outside the box. And I figured, well, we need security for the community. And well, we have all these different companies that we can outsource security, and various levels of security to just the patrol, to an actual armed guards, and the cost associated with that and the liability and all that associated with that. Well, what exactly does a security person do? Well they observe and report.
Jacob Harder: They can also apprehend, but that’s not something that we actually want to get involved in, we just need someone to observe and report. So I just started looking at just surveillance cameras, and then eventually surveillance cameras evolved into robots and machinery to do all that for you. And then, the more I dove into it the more there are great technologies like this one from Knightscope that they have so much availability to do so many things, that it’s worth the cost of $7 an hour.
Chad Franzen: So there was a lot of costs up front but over the long term you save money. Was that easy to convince the powers that be that, that was what was necessary?
Jacob Harder: Well, sometimes it’s not that easy, but fortunately, I’m very good at PowerPoint and Canva and can create a very articulate and colorful presentation. So, it took a few hours of creating something that could be digested, so that everyone can understand what we’re going to do. And of course, speaking in terms of money, really focusing on how much we’re saving, and how much it actually costs to have a human being on site. I mean, you make to pay a person $17 an hour, but that’s not including all the onboarding and offboarding and labor costs with L&I and all that. I mean, essentially if you pay someone $17 an hour, you’re also paying them extra 30% on that just for their overall use in the community. So, utilizing that and understanding how much things actually cost, really, really helped us to understand it’s actually way better to do it this way.
Chad Franzen: What do you do to keep all of the departments in line? Do you just meet with each department head after your standup meeting and then, that way everybody knows what everybody’s doing?
Jacob Harder: Well, I love to do 360 reviews. So I developed something called the leadership accountability review. Where it’s a series of 10 questions or so that are on a scale rating of one to five, that essentially allow every individual in every single department from, the entry level staff member to the mid-level staff and their supervisors to report on how their department and is doing.
Jacob Harder: It’s all anonymous, there’s nothing to write down. It’s all just circling things and turning it in, I have no idea who turned them in, I just know that I have the appropriate amount of people. And using that I’ve been able to discover, where the difficulties in the department are. Do people feel like they’re overworked? Do they feel like they’re treated like pieces of equipment and not human beings? Does their supervisor value their time and respect their time? Because they too, are here for eight hours.
Jacob Harder: I mean we’re at work, eight plus hours a day, we’re at work more than we are with our own families sometimes. So it’s best if we really want to have a really wonderful cohesive environment and yes, work sucks sometimes, but I mean, we all got to make money. And ensuring that everybody’s content and feels respected and useful, is how I’ve been able to keep people accountable.
Chad Franzen: With a 24 hour operation, the same manager or the same person can’t be there all the time. Was there a way that you guys kept everybody on the same page? If the midnight person was not doing the same thing as the noon person, how do you make sure that those people are aligned?
Jacob Harder: Yeah, sure. So I really believe in having a primary, secondary, and tertiary response to everything. I over prepare, always over prepare. So ensuring that there’s various levels of management, not so much to have your thumb on people just so that you’re observing and making sure everyone’s aware that, you have to be responsible for certain things and really, supporting individuals, and respecting their opinions, really helps them to be more involved in the place that they work, and it lowers the cost for, let’s say discrepancies with certain disgruntled individuals. If you give them value, as much as you give your customers value, it’s a win-win.
Chad Franzen: How did you keep the 360 evaluation process constructive or positive rather than just, constant criticism?
Jacob Harder: Well, it just works. On the surface, people didn’t want to do it at the beginning. They were just, oh, I don’t want to do this, because they thought that they would be singled out. People really sometimes don’t want to stir the pot or rock the boat, they really just want to be in their own little area and just keep their head down low, but that doesn’t solve anything. Being apathetic really actually the problem sometimes, oftentimes actually, in terms of ensuring that you don’t have a toxic work environment.
Jacob Harder: So, really just doing it every quarter, and making sure that they’re individuals who report on their supervisor, and then their supervisor reports on me. I even do it for me so I give it to the people that I supervise, and have them report on me and see how I’m doing as the leader of the group. And it’s very eye opening, it creates a great vulnerability point for myself and my other staff to know that, I’m accountable to the people that I serve, and the people that I serve feel that I’m in charge of ensuring that they’re doing their job. But, if I’m not a good leader and if they don’t respect me and if we don’t respect each other, it’s going to be a difficult place to work.
Chad Franzen: Did you have a framework that you use to document procedures?
Jacob Harder: Yeah. Essentially, I used to have a blank document that has a few points of interest in it. And every time we have an issue, we create a policy, every time. There’s so many policy books that I have and, I don’t want to bog down people with policy. Some people can take a one page document and turn into 20 page documents with, so many different red tapes, ideas, but really it’s just a singular page saying, hey this is the expectation, these are the three things that we expect you to do, these are the fallout plans, and giving people clear, non ambiguous, non ethereal understandings of this is what you need to do, this is when you need to do it and, these are the consequences if you don’t do it. Very, very clear and concise.
Chad Franzen: In terms of operations in an environment like that, you called it kind of a cruise ship on land before we started recording. What would you say is the most important thing or a couple of the most important things in terms of directing operations?
Jacob Harder: Relationships, is the most important thing. Relationships with, in this case the residents who live in the communities that you work. Relationships with, the staff that you supervise, relationships with your fellow directors. Just ensuring that everyone trusts each other to do what they need to do, and that people are called out when they’re doing something they’re not supposed to do, and that it’s brought to the surface. But relationship is the primary thing.
Jacob Harder: Relationship with the vendors. I like to have events with all my vendors once a year. I bring them in to a community, we have a big dinner for them, and I thank them for doing such a wonderful service to us. Yes, we need them to do the things we need them to do for us, for the remodeling and mechanical systems and life safety systems but, really fostering a relationship with them and saying, ‘thank you for working for us and working with us on this project, we really appreciate the time and dedication done, and the quality of work, and we want to continue our relationship in the future.’ So relationships is the number one thing.
Chad Franzen: What steps did you take to establish relationships with residents there? I can see, the other ones they’re just almost built in, and it still takes a lot of work and effort to maintain and establish those relationships. But what about in terms of residents?
Jacob Harder: Conversations. Just meeting them in their own home, and just seeing how they live, just talking about them and their life. Just really understanding where they came from. I always love to ask, so before you decided to move in and live here, what did you do for a living? I mean, have you lived in Washington your entire life? Just kind of trying to figure out friendships essentially. I like to treat everybody like a best friend, and it really helps a lot. So again, relationships.
Chad Franzen: You talked about you’re a big technology guy, do you have a few favorite tools or software that you like?
Jacob Harder: Oh, yeah. I use Smartsheet like crazy.
Chad Franzen: What does that do for you?
Jacob Harder: It helps you organize the day to day operations, and there are so many different variables that I can customize, and create Gantt Charts and reporting. I love to have reports, QAPI, Quality Assurance Performance Improvement is something that skilled nursing units utilize a lot, and ensuring that we have all the data. I love to accumulate data to see what the real issues are. MMS, maintenance software, there’s WorkStyle, ActiveBuilding, [inaudible 00:19:01], leveraging technology like that is great, it’s really wonderful.
Jacob Harder: A lot of people still use pen and paper, which is fine but then it becomes messy and it’s difficult but, keeping everything like in the cloud and real digital and quick and everything reference it, those sort of things.
Chad Franzen: Okay, great. How can people connect with you or find out more information about what you’re up to now?
Jacob Harder: Oh, sure. They can just send me an email. Jacob.M as in Michael .harder@gmail. I actually, about three months ago just started a consulting firm, a very lean consulting firm consisting of one person. And I’ve already successfully made my quarterly earnings for the first quarter and I’m not even started yet. So, it’s great, it’s a very small business, we essentially consult on multi-family, senior living communities and figure out, honestly what they’re doing wrong and it’s wonderful. When you really, let it all out and expose the truth of what’s really going wrong, you can make so many things work right for everybody.
Chad Franzen: Is there like a common thing that an environment like that might be doing wrong, that is easy to overlook?
Jacob Harder: Oh yeah. Individuals in positions of leadership that are resistant to innovate. You need turnover, especially in your management structure. Any business needs turnover in order to be able to survive. And, some of those tenured upper management individuals who been in that business for 15, 20, 30, some of them 40 years, they tend to have a difficulty understanding the emergence of technology and different ways. Because they’ve been in that singular entity, they’ve been in the echo chamber, their own ideas for so long that, any other type of information being fed toward them, it’s really difficult to get through. So, the constant theme is resistance to innovate, really.
Chad Franzen: Okay. Well, hey Jacob it was great to speak with you today. I really appreciate your time and I thank you for all your insights.
Jacob Harder: Wonderful. Thank you so much, thanks for having me.
Chad Franzen: Thank you. So long everybody.
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