From Executive Director to President of Sodalis Senior Living, Traci Taylor-Roberts shares how being a cheerleader for your team fosters a passionate culture.
I want to grow because I know that we can take broken buildings and make them successful.
Josh Crisp is a senior living executive with more than 15 years of experience in development, construction, and management of senior living communities across the southeast.Learn More ▶
Your best leaders are absolutely thrilled to be a servant.
From Executive Director to President of Sodalis Senior Living, Traci Taylor-Roberts shares how being a cheerleader for your team fosters a passionate culture. Her insight on how to break barriers with staff at the community level is demonstrated through her 2nd Annual Christmas Toy Drive and employee benefits.
Give to the 2nd Annual Christmas Toy Drive
This episode was recorded at the NIC Fall Conference.
Produced by Solinity Marketing.
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Welcome to season six of Bridge The Gap, a podcast dedicated to informing, educating, and influencing the future of housing and services for seniors. Powered by sponsors Accushield, Aline, NIC MAP Vision, ProCare HR, Hamilton CapTel, Service Master, Patriot Angels, The Bridge Group Construction and Solinity. And produced by Solinity Marketing.
Welcome to Bridge The Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas here at a very energetic, exciting NIC Conference here in the fall of 2023 in Chicago. And we have a great friend, an Ambassador, and an absolute success story back on the show. Welcome, Traci Roberts, president at Sodalis. Welcome to the show.
So good to see you again and it's a pleasure to have you back on. It's been a couple of years and you know what, your story has changed a little bit. Some things have happened.
It's been busy, that's for sure.
It has been busy. It has been busy. And there's been some recent articles. You've had some good press talking about the success that you have created at Sodalis. Your portfolio has grown and your teams have grown. And for Josh and I personally, we've been able to become close with you because you're also a Bridge The Gap Ambassador and there's a really special thing that you're doing at your company that's helping drive your success and that's really loving your people. Do you want to tell our audience more about that?
Oh, you know, it's my favorite topic to talk about. I'm just a big proponent on loving people, not just appreciating them. So I always tell people, you know, a couple years ago we were giving out cards for people that were working overtime, they'll give you a gift card and it wasn't working. I actually looked up the word appreciation in the dictionary. I learned it's a business transaction. You do something for me and then I'll give you a gift to tell you thank you. And I thought, that's not where we're at in the world anymore. People need to be loved and some people have never been shown love. So how am I going to ask them to go the extra mile or love a resident if they themselves have not felt that. I had to change my thinking and figure out what that meant. And so when I realized talking to frontline staff, they're working three jobs.
They're not around their children. They can't afford Christmas gifts. So I thought, all right, I'm going to love my employees by loving not just them, but their whole entire family. We buy Christmas gifts for every employee's child, and we don't give just like a gift, like a blanket gift that we send out these little people, fill out a want list, and we go shop individually for every single child. We do Easter baskets and Halloween baskets, we've got backpacks for every employee's child and fill them with all their school supplies. The reason that we do that is because we want to show love, but it also makes our staff members and team members superhero, they get to go home with the best backpacks. All these Christmas gifts. People don't know that the company bought that. They think their mom and dad bought that. That to me is impactful and it's meaningful and those things are important and we started a not-for-profit, so we can help people with rent, car payments those types of things. And the thing is, there is no rule or guideline, like you have to work for us a certain time, or you've got to stay employed a certain time. I mean, my theory is what I do is on my soul when I give a gift that becomes on their soul. So I'm gonna give it. And if you choose not to work here tomorrow, that's okay. It doesn't have anything to do with the fact that I love you, there's no expectation for anything in return. I contribute a lot of that to the success of the company.
Wow. I mean, so that, that is really touching. That's inspirational. The phrase that comes to mind when I hear you say that is love in action. Because I think a lot of times you hear people saying, "Oh, you know, we just need to love people." How do you do that? And one of the things I would love to pick your brain on is as you are growing, obviously you embrace this within you, and I know you kind of at a personal level and I know that's who you are. So you can't be anything but that from a scalability of that. It sounds like this is carried down at the community level and you have a lot of administrators, a growing list of executives. How do you find someone that emulates and shares your heart and your passion at the community level? 'cause Obviously you can't be in every community all the time. So what are some of your secrets that you use to kind of recruit to that?
Well, we don't really recruit people from the outside. We don't hire from the outside. Two of my Regional Directors of Operations right now, my newest ones, one was the Life Engagement Director when we took over their building. And the other one was a brand new Health and Wellness Director that had been with us for two weeks. And so we made them Executive Directors and then we made them Regional Directors of Operation. And they have the heart, the same heart, the compassion, the love, but they're very good operators. But that's one small part. And the other part is they just overflow with love and ethics and morals. And my theory is I like to promote from within. So I keep the culture intact and all I ask of them is to reach behind them and pull up other people like-minded and grow them, because that's how you can grow quickly and keep your integrity is I'm surrounded with like-minded people.
And it's a joy to watch them support each other. You would never know if anybody's in Georgia or Florida or Texas, we don't care. Everybody is extremely close. Brought on 13 buildings that had a very different culture and immediately we immersed them into ours. And so very quickly they're sending text messages and teams messages about, we've never worked for a company like this before. We never had people cheerlead and support us and stuff. I just think the whole world needs that right now. And the bottom line shows that that works. I mean, we're not just culturally solid. Our numbers are solid. These are good operators, but they just have a tremendous amount of love and ethics behind them.
One of the toughest things to do is go into an existing community and try to improve culture, improve results. You're doing that really well. I'm sure there's a lot of natural human tendency for them to think, "Oh my gosh, another management owner that's going to come try to change everything." So how do you show that? How do you do that and transform that culture? What's step one?
I go personally to all the meetings of all the new buildings. This last one, my Regional Director of Operations, her name is Shadia Freeman. She was in an acquisition with us two years ago, sat in the audience and listened just like anybody. And now she's a Regional Director of Operations. I spoke to the staff and to all the residents about who I am and how I operate. Gave them all my cell phone number, my personal cell phone number to everybody. And then Shadia got up and talked from a very personal level about what it's been like the last two years to work for Sodalis. So I think that brings a lot of credibility. It's like I could say anything, but she's actually the proof, the living proof of what it's like to be with Sodalis and grow with Sodalis. And so I think that is the starting point.
Those regional directors of operations, you know, I don't do VPs. I do people that are boots on the ground, they're in those buildings four days a week every week. And we're not there to give people reports or conference calls or waste their time. We're there to work with them, we're there to support them and do what they need us to do. We don't create layers because as someone who was an Executive Director, the most frustrating thing for me was I would need an answer on something and I couldn't get one. 2 or 3 weeks later those people had moved in somewhere else. So we immediately, and I mean immediately respond to people when they need something, maintenance, sales, whatever it might be, there are no barriers. And that's the most important thing as we scale, is that we don't think we're so smart, we want to put in stuff and then slow people down and create barriers. I don't want to do that.
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As you get bigger, that becomes one of the things that you have to be more intentional about. Because the natural easy thing is to do what everyone else does, right?
I don't do anything anybody else does usually. I mean, I'll have people call me and they'll say, "Well, all of your competitors are using this, or all your competitors are doing this." And I said, "Well that's great. I'm not all my competitors. This is what I'm going to do." And I think it helps that I've been an operator, been an Executive Director, and I've done activities and I've been in sales because I'm empathetic, but I'm also very close to the business. And I very much understand exactly what's going on in the communities when people call me. I can empathize, I understand, I can help 'em make good decisions.
Yeah. Well I think that's such a huge point, Lucas, me and you have talked about it. It's not knocking necessarily our industry or anyone, but I do think there's this widening gap as we continue to grow as this industry seeks talent, not only at the community level, but regionals, VPs, C-Suite stakeholders to the industry. Seems like there's this widening gap of people that are entering our industry that have never ever been in a community at any level. I find it kind of difficult for them to understand or be sympathetic, empathetic to something you've never experienced. Do you kind of find that as well?
I do. And I think the other thing, the bigger your organization becomes, the less that you are. Your best leaders are absolutely thrilled to be a servant. A lot of people don't understand that there is nothing glamorous or classy or anything about what I do. I get the opportunity to serve 1500 employees and their children. That's an honor to be a servant. But I'm the absolute least important person at the company. And I always say it, and I believe it to be true. Don't take yourself so seriously. You're not that important. Your cooks, your caregivers, those are the people that are the family members to our residents. They are absolutely the most important human being on the face of the earth. Being a CEO and being effective, you're looking at numbers, you're a coach, you're a cheerleader, you're a guide for people, but you're at the bottom of the pyramid holding everybody else up and that's your job.
So if people want to get into this industry and they want to be a servant and they have the heart of a servant and they're enthused by getting to serve people, this is the industry for them. If they want to get into this industry because they want to be a CEO and they want to have this big portfolio, they're probably not going to do very well. I've been in it long enough that I can tell you that's true. I mean, 30 some years I've been in this industry, I'm very familiar with what makes people successful and when I see people that are probably going down the wrong road.
Well, I think this is a very timely, needed conversation. Our listeners are hearing Lucas, why we're fans of Traci, but we're here at NIC, a very transactional type of event for our industry. We need more of this messaging because obviously we're going to have transactions that drives the business side of our business. But you have to have a perfect marriage when you're dealing with people's lives, with humans, with culture. So thankful how you have eloquently stated that and how you are thoughtfully implementing that. And Lucas, I'm jealous beause you get to work with Traci on a regular basis and I feel like I'm on the island here, so I need Tracy's cell phone too.
Everybody's got it. Public knowledge.
She's easy to get ahold of.
And I've been able to experience walking into a community with Traci and her puppy dog that she brings along with her and seeing the joy of the community staff coming to embrace and get hugs from Traci. I've been on the front row seat of seeing that in action and it's really unique. So before we let you get back to your busy schedule, talk to us about 2024 and what that looks like for Sodalis, if you're able to.
I think we will grow even more. I heard Steven Crittenden, he's my COO and he's got a really great background, very good at building structure and technology and things like that. It's just being extremely thoughtful about keeping the culture intact, removing the red tape, making sure that I'm accessible, and then making sure that everybody knows when they come to work with us that they have a seat at the table. I don't care what race you are, religion, your background, education level, doesn't matter. You have a seat at the table. So just growing is just being extremely thoughtful. And I want to grow because, probably not for the reasons that other people do. I want to grow because I know that we can take broken buildings and we can make then successful, but how we go about it usually is very different. It's exciting to bring people in and then love 'em up and you just see this mass group of people going out and loving other people up and it's like, that's exciting. And I think we do a good job. I'm excited to see what else happens and what transpires and where Sodalis will go.
Well, we are too. And for our listeners out there, Traci, I know they're going to want to connect with you and your team. They may not know that you have a not-for-profit that people are able to donate to to help with some of these Christmas gifts, right?
And we need all the help we can get because we've been so blessed and we've grown. So the need is there. Yeah, you can go on our Sodalis LinkedIn page and you'll see a QR code that you can hit and it's got our EIN number. It's all a tax write off and people can contribute. Sodalis also has a Facebook page. You'll find the same thing there. It sure does make a bunch of little people super, super excited. I mean, anybody who wants to help us will take the help anytime they want to help.
Well, that's very good. And sometimes people underestimate the power of five and $10. When you get a bunch of people that are able to do that, that provides items in a backpack, it provides stuff in an Easter basket, it provides some wrapping paper and stuff like that. Encourage people to participate.
I've teased my team. I said, "I've got like a couple more weeks to get this money raised." I said, "If we don't get this raised, I'm going to have to drive Uber." I was like, I'm going to be an Uber driver of an evening.
Okay, Bridge The Gap nation.
Love them up.
Let's help Traci love 'em up here. And let's make sure that Traci's not driving Ubers on the weeknights and we will put that in the show notes. We'll make sure Sara, our producer, gets that down there for you. Just scroll down on your iTunes player or your podcast player. You'll see the notes right there. There'll be a link to Traci's organization. Traci, thanks for spending time with us today.
Thank you guys for having me. I always love talking to both of you.
We appreciate your friendship and your leadership. For our listeners, you can also go to btgvoice.com, download this episode, and many more. Connect with us on LinkedIn. I would love to hear your comments and your feedback. And thanks for listening to another great episode of Bridge The Gap.
Thanks for listening to Bridge The Gap podcast with Josh and Lucas. Connect with the BTG network team and use your voice to influence the industry by connecting with us at btgvoice.com.