The Importance of a Culture of Trust In Professional Caregiving
Wilson Aihara is the President and CFO of Green Light Home Care, a home health company based in Coral Springs, FL., which recently celebrated its grand opening. He discusses the importance of trust in the professional caregiving industry.
Many of us have had personal experience with someone close to us who has required caregiving due to an illness, an accident or some form of disability. If you’ve ever been in that kind of situation, you know that few segments in our economy depend more on customer trust than the business of caregiving and home health care. Professional caregiving help usually involves allowing a stranger to be alone with your loved one at his or her own home for hours or even days at a time. That requires a lot of trust!
So when I started Green Light Home Care, I knew that trust needed to be front and center. After looking into the topic (including watching some videos at The Trust Project), I became familiar with research on the three dimensions of trust: compassion, integrity and competence. These became the three pillars from which we are building our company culture. We treat our clients with the same level of respect and dignity that we would expect others to treat us, we are transparent in our communications and actions, and we are an organization of trained professionals who provide the best possible care.
We’ve only just started at Green Light Home Care so, in a few months, I hope to be able to report how things are going. But I’ve already seen how a culture based on trust can make a difference. Before launching Green Light Home Care, I worked at UnitedHealth Group, where integrity and compassion are central elements of the corporate culture. For instance, thanks to the strong corporate culture there, we could go into meetings with what we called the “assumption of positive intent.” That meant we always began with the belief that everyone in the room was sincerely trying to solve the problem. This assumption of trust made meetings a lot more productive, even when there was disagreement. And I think it often opened the door to more creative solutions.
I’ve also seen how a culture based on distrust can be corrosive. I had a brief experience at a healthcare firm where integrity and competence could not be assumed from the start. As you probably know, when you seek medical assistance from a provider such as a hospital, they expect to be paid by the insurance plan for services they provide. At the same time, the people administering the plan want to be sure that the service you had was medically required, and that it was actually provided to you. Because the plan will sometimes decide not to reimburse, you have to trust that the people administering the plan have a fair system for making their determinations. This is why most insurance companies try to be as transparent as possible about the rules they follow to arrive at their decisions. But at this particular firm, decisions were made much more subjectively, sometimes in a way that benefited the company and its executives more than the patient or the healthcare provider. And I saw first-hand how quickly this approach turned patients or healthcare providers into adversaries rather than into partners.
I’ve also seen how entire industries can get a bad reputation for violating trust. It is no secret that South Florida has had more than its fair share of scandals in Medicare and elder care services in general. You would think that, in an environment where quite a few firms are not trustworthy, it would be easy for a honest company to stand out. But actually, I think it’s harder to succeed when there’s low trust in the market. First, you have to break through the skepticism. Rather than starting with an assumption of positive intent, many consumers assume that most or all firms lack integrity, compassion, and competence, no matter what the company’s mission statement might say.
We recognize that we’ll have to earn that trust one client at a time. A professional caregiver once described to me how, in the absence of a family member, she was able to convince a difficult patient to leave home for a doctor’s appointment by using old family pictures to break the ice and build trust. By taking the time to listen to what the patient had to say about the pictures and sharing her own life experiences, the caregiver was able to establish a base for a trusting relationship. Research indicates that one’s ability to demonstrate compassion more so than competence, is a critical element of building trust. We believe that, in the home health care market, the only way to really demonstrate compassion is to build trust as personally and as locally as possible. But that level of personal attention and authentic community involvement takes time to build. It’s not as simple as sending an email blast to a list of likely prospects or setting up a Facebook account and asking people to “like us.”
So yes, building a trustworthy culture and bonds of trust with employees and customers is hard work. But we believe that, over time, a strong focus on compassion, honesty and competence will give us a competitive advantage that will allow us to differentiate ourselves in a way that will be hard to replicate.
Photo courtesy of Wilson Aihara. Individuals cutting the ceremonial ribbon (L to R): Cindy Brief, President/CEO of Coral Springs Chamber of Commerce; Lou Cimaglia, City Commissioner of Coral Springs; Wilson Aihara, President/CFO of Green Light Home Care.