LeadingAge Magazine · March/April 2016 • Volume 06 • Number 02

Developing a Talent Management Program

February 25, 2016 | by MaryAnne Adamczyk

This provider overhauled its long-established but informal leadership development approach, creating a new program that is building new leaders and affirming organizational values.

When I joined Presbyterian Senior Living, Dillsburg, PA, in 1989 I was pleased to learn I was working for an organization with a commitment to leadership development. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Bill Swaim, then PSL’s first executive leader, created a course of study that attracted over 1,100 people who were interested in leading organizations dedicated to serving seniors. In later years Albert Schartner, PSL’s second CEO, continued the tradition of developing future leaders by hiring young people with an eye toward the future. Two of the people Schartner hired were PSL’s current CEO, Steve Proctor, and me.

Having benefited from Schartner’s mentorship and vision for our personal and professional growth, it was only natural that we would want to continue this legacy.

Because the organization had grown to 30 locations with more than 2,900 employees, we understood that the informal method that had been so successful in the past was in need of revision. With the enthusiastic support of our board, we set out to develop a structured program to engage the next generation of PSL leadership.

Now entering its fourth year, the Presbyterian Senior Living Talent Management Program is built on the cornerstone of maintaining the uniqueness of our culture while fostering personal and professional growth to prepare the future leaders of the organization. Proctor has expressed the importance of the program: “Talent management is one of the most critical strategic responsibilities of a CEO. The investment of time and resources to ensure the future of the organization is our obligation as leaders and holders of the PSL legacy.”

The journey to develop our talent management program was more complex than anticipated. As we researched alternatives, we found many options—from basic concepts to plans so complex they demand their own infrastructure. Rather than purchase a program that did not fit, we chose to develop our own plan with the assistance of a consultant who knew our organization.

To gather perspectives on leadership and the PSL culture, we first surveyed our board members on what they consider the necessary attributes of current and future leaders. In addition, we conducted employee roundtable discussions throughout our communities. The result of the process was a talent management program with 4 pillars.

The first pillar is a structured curriculum including readings and discussions led by the CEO and senior staff. Our participants are of varying tenure and position, ranging from vice presidents to community executive directors to corporate directors and directors of nursing. We tried to develop a curriculum that applied to all. During these meetings participants are encouraged to explore new ideas and stretch themselves intellectually. In addition, the group members are exposed to things they would not necessarily learn about otherwise, such as the board’s governance practices or how in-depth financial and strategic planning is done.

The second pillar is individualized skill development and professional growth. All participants undergo a series of assessments. Our assessments include a DISC profile to help participants identify their own styles, a leadership development assessment tool from HealthcareSource that assesses critical leadership competencies and an internally developed 360-degree appraisal. These assessments help each participant formulate a personal leadership vision and professional growth goals. Individual professional development plans are tailored to each person and include personal coaching, formal education and experiential assignments.

The third pillar developed from the input from the roundtables. We knew we had many long-tenured employees, and the discussions showed that long-standing personal connections with other members of the PSL family are among the major satisfiers for these employees. These connections have a subtle but powerful influence on retention. We wanted to ensure that our next generation of leaders enjoyed the benefits of such an informal network. To foster group affiliation as well as to provide a growth experience in strategic thinking, each group (we use the term “cohort”) is given a project to complete as a group. These projects ranged from recommending resident technologies to improving the construction development process. Each group is responsible for designing, researching and formulating its recommendation. The final project is presented to the board. For most participants, this is their first time in the boardroom. The results have been not only excellent recommendations, but also a firm network that will extend beyond the participants’ time in the program.

LeadingAge Thrive provides resources to help members better serve seniors and their communities. The 7 major topic areas in Thrive include questions designed to stimulate discussion among your leadership team and board of directors. Thrive also includes resources such as white papers, articles, tools, presentations and business intelligence.


Under the “Workforce and Leadership Development” section of Thrive, see the resources connected to these questions:

  • Do we have a comprehensive orientation program for new employees across all staff levels and settings?
  • Do we provide ongoing state-of-the-art training for administrators, midlevel managers, clinical staff and frontline providers across all departments and settings?
  • Do we conduct employee satisfaction and engagement surveys, provide employee feedback, and use the data to make organizational decisions?
  • Do we use evidence-based management best practices (e.g., supervisory training, open communication, empowerment of frontline staff, self-managed work teams, peer mentoring and support) to set organizational priorities, solve problems, improve the working conditions and the quality of the job and minimize turnover and instability in the workplace?
  • Do we offer competitive compensation and benefits for staff at all levels and across all settings?
  • Do we have specific plans to strengthen our workforce by putting into practice competencies and competency-based training? If so, do you build these competencies into your performance evaluations?
  • Do we provide specific opportunities to develop the leadership skills and core competencies of staff for future success?
  • Do we provide mentoring and peer support initiatives to enhance frontline supervisors’ and workers’ self-image and encourage them to grow in their job?
  • Do we have in place a comprehensive employee orientation program?
  • Do we provide clinical placements and internship opportunities for those who are or may be interested in pursuing a career in aging services?
  • Do we conduct performance evaluations to provide employee feedback and improve performance?

Thrive is a LeadingAge member benefit, and access is limited to members. Use the MyLeadingAge login page to log in or create an account.

Visit the Thrive main page.

The importance of the personal development and the connections made is reflected in comments from first-year participant Yolanda Johnson, executive director of Ware Presbyterian Village, Oxford, PA. “The talent management program has been extremely rewarding. The experience has influenced me to stretch myself beyond my natural gifts in order to grow as a leader. The coaching opportunities have provided a trusted platform for me to be a receiver of feedback for growth rather than traditionally being a giver of feedback. Finally, the program has reinforced the value of enhancing and maintaining collegial relationships with other leaders.”

The fourth pillar is formal mentoring to provide another source of expertise and support. Members from one cohort are assigned as mentors to members in the next cohort based on complementary skills. We designed the mentorship pairings as an opportunity for learning by both parties. For most, this is the first time acting as mentors. Mentor-mentee relationships have grown to allow participants to seek informal guidance on non-talent management issues as well as program discussions.

Dan Davis, vice president of operations for continuing care communities and a member of the first cohort, expressed the positive benefit of his mentoring experience. “One of the things I found most rewarding was the opportunity to be a part of another person’s growth and development. Personally, I learned more about work and pressures [on] a colleague with whom I normally did not have close association. The relationship provided the ability to learn how another person processes information and develops solutions, which was very helpful and allowed me to reformulate some of my own approaches and methods.”

All members of the program not only have been retained, but have evidenced a commitment to remain and grow with PSL. We have seen better performance, improved judgement and a willingness to take risks in their current roles among the participants. The follow-up assessment results have also shown actual change and growth.

As with any new endeavor, the program has evolved. One of the most surprising lessons learned was the value of a small cohort. We initially started with 5 people in the first year, intending to grow the class size in subsequent years. Our results demonstrated, however, that the close connections formed among participants outweighed the potential value of larger numbers, so we will keep future groups at 5 people.

The most important thing we’ve learned, however, is how valuable the program is to the people in it. We envisioned a 1-year program, but our first cohort is now in year 3! This expansion has been fueled by the participants’ positive reaction and results.

As Raelene Gervinski, director of employee services and a member of the second-year cohort puts it, “This program has allowed me to continue to grow as a leader, allowed me to have more exposure and understanding of all of PSL, and allowed me to be more of an objective thinker. I have learned through this process that the most important aspects to a leader are trust, empathy, communication, and, most of all, to be present.”

I think Bill Swaim and Al Schartner would be pleased!