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4 Strategies to Improve Company Culture


What every seniors housing owner, operator, investor or developer can learn from one of the most admired airlines in the world to drive employee engagement, retention and record profits

Imagine how different the airline business would be if Southwest Airlines had, “rested on its laurels” in good times (and there have been many). At the recent Culture Rally in Tampa, CEO Gary Kelly shared the impact of humility and preparedness to the company’s massive success.

My husband David is a Captain for Southwest Airlines and invited me to attend the Rally with him. I must say that it was more like a rock concert than company culture event and while I didn’t really want to go, once there I transformed into a studious journalist-taking notes, waving my hands in the air and finding myself caught up in the moment!

What most stood out was the incredible commitment to culture. Southwest knows exactly who they are, where they’re going and how they are going to get there; it was impressive. In this blog, I will share the most profound takeaways from the Rally that I feel seniors housing owners, operators, developers and investors can apply to their own organizations to thrive in the new year.


  1. Culture

Hands down, Southwest Airlines is the company it is today because of its culture. Southwest lives and breathes their culture and because employees benefit from that culture firsthand, so do customers. The airline’s vision is to become the world’s most loved, most efficient, and most profitable airline. It’s not to be the biggest; but the best! The culture is a warrior spirit, servant’s heart and fun-luving attitude. As you’ve seen, that red iconic heart is at the center of everything Southwest does and that is why it’s one of the most beloved airlines in the world.

The seniors housing industry is well into its maturity state. While just a decade ago our industry was full of mom and pop operators, those companies have grown up. With operational efficiency being the priority, it’s time to shift our focus because the truth is, we’ve got that down. It’s time to invest in culture and use it to attract and retain employees who experience that culture firsthand and infuse it into everything they do. Imagine the impact of a raving fan employee culture on your own organization. A vibrant culture is the key to Company transformation!

2.    Preparedness

Kelly attributed much of the airlines success to being prepared. Surviving 911, The Great Recession and now the Boeing Max crisis wasn’t just luck, it was purposeful. The airline prides itself on being ready for the unexpected, which seems to happen often. Doing so has allowed it to maintain strong cash flow, low debt and a low-cost operating structure. In fact, the airline has 47 consistent years of profit, which is unheard of in the airline industry.

As an owner, operator, developer or investor in seniors housing, what do you need to do right now to better prepare for what’s ahead? Consider the current and ever-worsening talent shortage-how can you get ahead of that right now? What about the coming surge of baby boomers who will want what we have built but won’t be able to pay for it? Or the incredible investments being made in technology from Companies who seek to take a big bite out of your market share?

You may not have the answers today but the insight gleaned from Kelly is that you have to start thinking about these things now and begin to put steps in place that will ensure you maintain strong cash flow and profitability despite what is ahead. It’s all about being ready for the worst-case scenario.

3.  Consistent

A big factor in Southwest Airlines success is their consistency. Culture has always been and continues to be at the forefront of everything the airline does and a key component of their culture is keeping things simple: From purchasing and flying Boeing 737 aircraft only, to maintaining low cost flights with a single class cabin to an easy boarding system, everything is bare bones simple and consistent. The airline is not interested in copying competitors and instead stays focused on being true to who they are. The result of consistency is a cult like following from both employees and customers with record profits 47 years straight.

The seniors housing industry has worked hard to create consistency in operations the last several years. Where the Bild & Co team sees continuing challenges is in operators ability to maintain consistency across the portfolio. We complete Operator Scorecards for investors to help track and stack operators and in doing so will go into a sampling of communities, perhaps three or five out of a portfolio of twenty. The average score is 132.47 out of a possible 200 and inconsistencies are what cost operators the most points and in turn performance results. While the system or process may be in place at the home office, if the individual communities don’t execute on those systems they are pointless.

As a seniors housing executive, you must ensure communities are held accountable to using the systems invested so heavily in. There need to be systems of accountability in place to generate the consistency you seek. With the incredible growth among operators, this is critical to consistency company-wide and overall operating performance.

4.  Simplicity

I’m a big fan of keeping things simple. If you’ve utilized any of the Bild Sales and Marketing Systems you know we built our brand on working smart, not hard. Southwest Airlines has built its brand on their ability to keep things simple. Everything at Southwest from the boarding process to changing tickets (without fees) is simple. In fact, their process is so simple that crews can unload a flight, clean, restock the plane, and board another flight full of passengers in as little as 20 minutes compared with as much as 90 minutes on a network airline. Airline efficiency experts say that the savings allow each Southwest jet to fly an extra flight per day. Wow!

As you can see I’m a big fan of Southwest Airlines and was long before my husband started flying for them. I’m what you might call a raving fan- I know what I’m getting every time I fly, have a consistent experience, always find myself laughing and love the flexibility of moving or even cancelling a flight without an exorbitant fee. What single step can you take today that will impact your ability to impact organizational culture, further impacting your ability to drive employee and resident engagement, retention and raving fans?

Want to work on driving culture but short on manpower? The Bild & Co team can step in and facilitate an executive retreat, helping you to reinvent a culture that has lasting impact and that differentiates you from your seniors housing competitors. Curious? Email me at revenue@bildandco.com, text me at 813.390.3349 or call 1.800.640.0688 to brainstorm what’s possible in 2020!

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