"‘a pin passed through the end of an axle to keep a wheel in position’ ‘a person or thing vital to an enterprise or organization’"
Linchpin - Oxford definition
For many, the origin of this word often conjures up sedate images of country life, but whether it was the romantic notion of the collection of hay on a sunny summer afternoon, or the more frenetic environment of a charioteer in the midst of a battlefield in bygone times, the loss or breakdown of a linchpin was certainly going to spoil your day, or worse. It’s easy to see over time why the word was adopted to describe essential individuals within families or organisations.
We all meet linchpins in daily life, we rarely recognise them of course, or think about it much, it’s also likely that many of us are linchpins ourselves without even realising it.
At Target one of the key linchpins we meet is the care home manager. We make a point of getting to know these individuals, they are central to the success of our investments. You can have the most dynamic management team leading the operator, but the teams’ success will stand or fall on the success of their care home managers.
With our Tenant’s permission we meet with over a hundred managers several times a year, at their care home on a one-to-one basis. During the height of the Pandemic, we were privileged to speak by telephone or virtually to them almost every fortnight. All our meetings are not ‘check-ups’, they are ‘check-ins’, pep talk, a shoulder to lean on. Our Target colleagues who keep in touch with managers have all run care homes; we know, bizarre though it sounds, the loneliness that a manager can encounter, the stress of holding so many lives in your hands, the intricacies of HR, the challenge of what seems endless regulation, and sometimes that particularly challenging family. Even we who have been there, struggled to imagine the added stress of the Pandemic on top of all this.
'The modern manager has a unique skillset'
At Target we don’t tell managers how to run their care homes, because that would be presumptuous of us. They are best placed to understand and serve their clientele, and in many cases, they are more experienced than us anyway; but without breaking confidences we can share what is happening across the wider sector, or simply be someone to bounce ideas off. Likewise with our chosen Operators, we see ourselves as partners, working with them to provide great properties so they easier fulfil their desire to provide great care. No two care homes are alike, Target properties are home to residents with every imaginable infirmity. Over the last decade or two the complexity of care within the home has increased significantly, many are like the cottage hospitals of old, challenging dementia is the speciality of others. Within that, great managers create what normality they can, tender care sits alongside technical nursing. Occasionally there is still a sherry or two where possible, this is still ‘home’ after all!
The modern manager has a unique skillset, the days of simply applying your care or nursing experience alone are fading fast, now you are required to have skills ranging from marketing to understanding accounting, property maintenance to HR. The typical care home will employ as many staff numbers as residents, often many more, and there are regulators to satisfy, commissioners to work with and increasing levels of technology to understand in administration, care planning, auditing, and recording. The best managers can command rewarding salaries, and those who have the added expertise of being able to commission a new care home are highly sought. Modern managers are new overseeing significant businesses. Woe to the operator who overlooks the importance of the managers role.
'Great managers create great teams'
Great managers of course, establish their own linchpins. In the laundry, the kitchen, the maintenance team, administration, activity coordinators, housekeepers, and certainly not least, those involved in the direct care of the residents. No activity within the care home should be taken for granted. Sometimes these individuals are invisible to the those visiting the care home but try running a care home for 48 hrs without your laundry assistant! Managers introduce us to these team members, sometimes with a knowing look and an obvious affinity. Great managers create great teams.
We take our hats off to the managers of our investment properties. We have heard first hand of the horrors of Covid within the care homes, even the stress of waiting for that first positive test was tremendously wearing. Few, if any care homes, escaped an outbreak. We are aware of many managers who went months without days off, let alone being able to take a holiday or a long weekend. Christmases, anniversaries, and birthdays were worked through with little fanfare. Managers were the galvanising spirits of their teams; at the height of Covid many went long periods without physical visits from head office or regional support teams due to infection control concerns; lonely times. Many told us they conducted team pep talks in the care home while later driving home silently in tears. Often, they have felt anger and disappointment at societies seemingly preferential attitude to their NHS counterparts, hopefully that attitude is changing. For some it proved too much, we were sad to note that several chose to retire or move on as the Pandemic eased; but most have grown through the experience and every day continue to demonstrate great leadership of their colleagues and compassionate care for their residents.
We continue to visit ‘our’ managers regularly, with admiration for all they have been through and continually strive to achieve.