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

Gifts and Growth: A New Way to Connect With Staff

March 03, 2016 | by Jill Vitale-Aussem

This organization scrapped its unsatisfying performance appraisal system and found a new way to help staff flourish—while finding new leaders within.

“I love performance appraisals,” said no one … ever. The traditional ratings-based, once-a-year autopsy of the prior year’s performance is clunky, backward-looking and often uncomfortable for everyone involved. And many organizations admit that performance appraisals don’t bring much benefit anyway. A 2014 Deloitte Consulting study, for example, found that only 8% of companies believe their performance management process drives high levels of value. More than half report that it is an ineffective use of time.

So, why do we do them?

Jan Roth, executive director of human resources for Christian Living Ventures (CLV), Greenwood Village, CO, says that organizations may just continue doing what they’ve always done without questioning the process.

Roth and CLV, the Denver-based parent company of Christian Living Communities and Christian Living Services, which provides management and consulting services, used to do just that. They stuck with what they knew and only made minor tweaks to the system. But 6 years ago they changed all that.

“I remember sitting in a meeting where we were discussing a complicated iteration of our performance scoring system,” says Roth. “It suddenly hit me that our process in no way reflected the culture we were trying to create or what we were trying to accomplish.”

That epiphany resonated with the rest of the leadership team. “We trashed our old process and started looking for something new and innovative,” says Roth. The first new tool the organization implemented was called a “stay interview” and included questions such as “What would make an associate want to leave the organization?” While it was an improvement over the old system, CLV leaders quickly realized that they didn’t simply want team members to stay put. They wanted them to grow. And flourish.

Each year, the process was tweaked to focus more on growth and eventually led to what the organization now calls “gifts and growth” conversations. These conversations celebrate each associate’s gifts and focus on their individual growth.

The conversations are not tied to compensation as performance appraisals were. Instead, annual percentage increases are awarded equally to all associates in good standing. High-performing associates are rewarded through bonuses, educational opportunities and scholarships.

While the new system may sound like a departure from accountability, Roth explains, “It’s not about lowering standards. If anything we are more focused on excellence.” Performance is managed, and documented, through ongoing, timely discussions and coaching.

A gifts and growth conversation led Kayleen Gibson, an administrative assistant, to discuss her dream of managing a community. With her manager’s support, she spent the next 2 years learning the necessary skills and is now a community director. Says Gibson, “I don’t think I would have felt comfortable sharing that dream if I worked in an organization that was only focused on keeping me in my job.”

Other team members echo Gibson’s sentiments. As Nicole Pollard, sales and marketing director at Clermont Park Retirement Community, explains, “People are typically afraid to tell their manager about their future goals. This process opened the door for me to talk with my manager about my future, discuss where I needed to grow, and create next steps together.”

And managers seem to like it as well. “I was surprised to spend a very short amount of time filling out the actual paperwork and the majority of my time having actual conversations with my team members,” says Someren Glen Community Life Director Anna Marie Connor.

Roth credits the focus on team member growth, and ongoing performance conversations, as playing a major role in several key improvements, including a 22% reduction in management turnover, a 75% reduction in employment legal claims, and the complete elimination of complaints made through the organization’s hot-line reporting system. As an added benefit, residents have become so excited about the growth of team members that they’ve doubled their donations to the organization’s scholarship fund.

This fanatical focus on growth does have its challenges, however. “When you are constantly asking people how they would like to grow, they sometimes realize that their future lies outside of your organization,” says CLV President & CEO Russ DenBraber. “But if someone leaves our organization as a more confident, fulfilled person than when they joined us, that’s not just OK. It’s a success.”

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 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 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?

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Visit the Thrive main page.