The CEO Series: Collette Gray, Integral Senior Living and Solstice Senior Living
For more than a decade Collette Gray has led the charge at Integral Senior Living (ISL).
In 2017, her leadership played a fundamental part in a joint venture between ISL and Northstar Healthcare Income, Inc., resulting in the Solstice Senior Living brand. Together, ISL and Solstice rank among the top 20 largest senior housing providers in the U.S.
Today, Gray’s day-to-day focus is on operations, sales and marketing and resident care. Company culture, too, is also a priority for her. In fact, before “culture” ever became a corporate buzzword, Gray and other leaders at ISL compiled a list of a dozen tenets, intended to identify and reward community teams who live this company ethos. That was in 2012.
In November of last year, ISL was named one of the San Diego Union-Tribune’s 2021 Top Workplaces. Read on to learn more from Gray herself about ISL’s Culture Keepers program and how it drives success for ISL and Solstice Senior Living communities.
Senior Living News: What was the impetus for creating Culture Keepers at ISL?
Collette Gray: We’ve always known that our associates are the most important factor in our success. By implementing our Culture Keepers program, we strive to show them how important they are to us, our residents and our clients. Having happy associates helps create happy residents, which in turn results in happy owners. Our work is hard, but it is also very rewarding. We never want our associates to feel unappreciated, and we want to give them the tools to best manage their communities in the most positive light.
As part of the program, we work hard to identify and reward community teams across the country who, through their dedication, innovation, creativity and hard work, exemplify our Twelve Culture Keepers.
Our Twelve Steps to a great company culture are:
1. Be passionate about what you do every day.
2. Have fun and work hard.
3. Work smarter, not harder.
4. Want to come to work every day.
5. Accountability to walking the walk.
6. If you have a problem, bring a solution with you too.
7. We are a company of common sense; keep it simple.
8. Take your work seriously, but yourself not so seriously.
9. Take something ordinary and make it fun.
10. Be a positive advocate for change.
11. Love communities for everything they are and everything they are not.
12. Never settle for good enough; good is the enemy of great.
SLN: How has the culture at ISL aided in attracting and retaining workers?
CG: It’s helped tremendously, because we have such a great culture that is evident as soon as you walk through the door of a community. I believe one of the biggest ways we retain associates is through our Culture Keeper “Be passionate about what you do every day.” That passion that our employees bring every day has kept us going stronger than ever, despite the uncertainty the pandemic brought. While there have been changes in our associates, we’ve been able to keep a large majority of our leadership due to the culture that’s in place.
SLN: Is there an intersection between ISL Culture Keepers and ISL Inspires?
CG: Absolutely! The premise behind the ISL Inspires program is to give back to our local communities in some way. A great example of this is our Culture Keeper “Be a positive advocate for change.” That advocacy for change can be seen in small things like a new menu item at a community or in a big way like our partnership with 4MOM, a nonprofit based around Alzheimer’s research. Programs like that and so many more in the ISL Inspires history are a result of our culture and commitment to change and continuous improvement.
SLN: As with ISL, company cultures are fostered to strengthen relationships with and among staff. So how do residents of ISL communities experience that same culture?
CG: They experience it every day. Our culture doesn’t just stop at our Support Center. It permeates throughout our communities across the country with values that make it a joy to come to work, and I believe our residents see that. They see that our directors, chefs, support staff and everyone in between are excited to come to work, which makes them know just how much they mean to us. We go above and beyond through our signature programs like Vibrant Life® to help our residents live the lifestyle they’ve always dreamed of. We have a program called “Livin’ the Dream,” which allows residents to have a lifelong dream come true. From piloting a plane or a hot air balloon ride to a long-awaited fishing trip, we do everything we can to make their dream a reality.
SLN: What’s next for the future of ISL’s culture, and how will you continue to keep your culture unique to ISL?
CG: Our culture will continue to be celebrated on a daily basis in our communities and at the Support Center. It is our different and better story and what attracts people to ISL. We celebrate it on a daily basis, whether it is during standup, during an activity, while associates work alongside one another, or even during training and development opportunities. Our culture is part of our interview process and our onboarding experience and is integrated in our day-to-day. Our culture and the way in which we celebrate it is a natural extension of the incredible associates we support and call family.
Kerry Medina is Senior Editor of Senior Living News, parent company of Senior Community Forum. With a journalism degree from NYU, she has more than 20 years of experience as a journalist and content marketing professional, continuously focusing on B2B marketing and communications. In her current role, Kerry covers the senior living sector for SeniorLivingNews.com and SeniorCommunityForum.com and also moderates executive-led panel discussions at industry leading events.