By Nikki Beckman, Director of Research, Life3A
At various aged care industry events and discussions, when presenting ideas about how we might approach the future of the aged care industry, it has always surprised me when people have made a point to comment about my positivity, creativity, energy, and hope towards our sector. It recently got me thinking. In an industry crying out for ways to inspire its current and future cohort, to address skills and workforce shortages, and to re-imagine new models of care and services to meet the needs of an increasingly savvy and diverse consumer; why does leading with optimism and saying, ‘why not’ stand out?
All too often, leaders and industry heavyweights – privileged to be afforded opportunities to regularly present and comment on the industry – make a point of laying out all the challenges and difficulties which engulf the industry, and in some instances, paralyse innovation and growth. Their messaging is clear; change is difficult, progress will be slow, innovation can only be incremental, we already have all the answers we just need a bit more of x, y or z. While the challenges identified are indeed important to understand, surely also is the responsibility – and power – industry leaders inherently carry, to inspire and shape the sector’s future. Why are we continuing to lead with a ‘too hard’ mindset? Why aren’t we instead leaning into these challenges and leading with enthusiasm, creativity and courage to see what could be possible?
For starters, why don’t we take the time to first understand why something is a ‘good idea’. Identifying its value and worth to our sector; and then prioritise and protect the ‘goodness’ it offers – even potentially so – when facing the inevitable criticism for all the reasons it many not immediately comply with or conform to. This isn’t to suggest criticism isn’t welcomed. Far from it. Good ideas must be robust, evolve and adapt to market realities, and withstand a myriad of tests as they mature – operational and regulatory to name just a few. But along the way, through all the inevitable iterations and evolutions, good ideas must never be allowed to lose their fundamental ‘goodness’; the very qualities which made them stand out from the pack.
Take for example the challenge of filling a skills and workforce shortage in the aged care sector; why aren’t employers exploring the idea of how to inspire and attract, into the aged care industry, many of the young services industry staff (hospitality, tourism and retail) currently unemployed or in need of additional work as a result of COVID-19? These are young people, many desperate for work, who by enlarge, possess wonderful customer service and communication skills. Given the opportunity and with the right on-site training and support, these young people could prove invaluable and long-term, game changing, additions to advancing consumer centricity in the aged care sector.
In a design sense, why isn’t the sector taking more seriously ideas on how to co-create and co-design our communities – hand in hand – with local elders, eager to contribute their knowledge. And by extension, exploring ways in which residents can be empowered to conceive and run (entirely or shared) components or business enterprises within the community themselves. These are residents more than capable, who have developed a lifetime of skills throughout their working lives – running their own businesses, chairing boardroom meetings, and writing business cases – who have strong desires to create opportunities as they age to continue to learn, to feel purposeful, remain connected and valued contributors to their local community.
Furthermore, finding ways to balance the risk of socially isolated older persons, and the overwhelming consumer preference to remain at home and in local community for as long as possible, is an enormous challenge facing the aged care sector. In addition to looking inwards at our industry for answers and solutions, given the magnitude of the challenge, why wouldn’t we also look laterally; to other programs and services who are far more advanced on their journey to meeting a similar need. For example, mitigating the risk of social isolation and supporting the wellbeing of new mums. To this point, why isn’t the aged care industry leaning on and examining the council run maternity health and childcare services network? Investing research and resources necessary to understand how new mums and their babies, are so well supported by – and from within – their local communities. And by extension, examine if a similar framework could be tailored and then adopted to support older persons at risk of social isolation to remain in their local communities for as long as possible.
Similarly, why isn’t the sector more willing to learn from other industries with much to offer? The hospitality and hotel industry for example, and not just from a design or architectural sense. Think about the lessons to be gained by examining hotel operations – the separation of clean and dirty work flows – or customer service experiences. How a facility is maintained over its lifetime, or what determinants are used to ensure a successful mix of amenities or co-location services are offered.
And then, when good ideas do come along, why aren’t we meeting them with an overwhelming willingness (and urgency) to ensure they can fly? Condemning an idea from the outset, only for the reasons that it doesn’t conform or comply with current thinking, tells us to ignore – or devalue all the ‘good’ an idea may offer – simply for being different. It also squashes any opportunities for further ‘good’ it might have inspired down the line, not to mention creating a culture of discouragement to any meaningful or significant contribution to industry change.
The laws of attraction suggest positive leadership will attract others with an equally positive mindset; the perfect environment in which courage, creativity and innovation thrive. This is a mindset in which an inclusive, supported, and inspired culture can develop; and a place where good ideas are conceived, supported and given a chance to flourish.
Thankfully, I am not alone. Alongside the innovative thinkers here at Life3A, there is a groundswell of similarly minded young leaders across the aged care sector – with incredible ideas and initiatives – passionately optimistic about its future. Together, we are determined to grow the sector in all the right places in a collegial culture of entrepreneurship, inclusion, diversity, purpose and care to meet the needs of current and future older persons. These are nurses, carers, financiers, allied health professions, property developers, architects, researchers, therapists, technology developers, communications and marketing professionals, lawyers, and lifestyle managers. They represent the complex and vast ecosystem that makes up the aged care system that needs to be collectively engaged, consulted and inspired to make purposeful change.
These are the inspired leaders and organisations Life3A are committed to learn from and to partner with. Together, we have an opportunity to shape the future of our sector. To bring new ideas and concepts to the table, and to challenge the status quo and the ways things have always been done. If we do things the way we have always done them, we will invariably limit ourselves to the same outcomes. Current thinking and approaches just aren’t going to cut it. We must be prepared to be brave, to embrace – and enthusiastically so – new ideas and new ways of thinking.
I am committed to bringing these ideas to the table. To this forum. To highlight important initiatives and research impacting the aged care sector and examining new ways to thinking about age old problems. Join me in the coming weeks as I shine a light on ideas worth serious consideration. As always, please reach out Nikki Beckman to connect and chat further.