While the human spirit indeed can move mountains in the face of a truly dire situation, hours of preparation, practice and training can go a long way, too.
With a massive Category 5 hurricane threatening to destroy a wide swath of south Florida in the fall of 2017, the executive team at Vi was faced with a monumental challenge. It was the company’s 30th anniversary that month, but celebration would have to wait.
Thousands of Vi’s continuing care retirement communities’ senior-age residents had to be transported hundreds of miles north and out of Hurricane Irma’s destructive path. There were, of course, the logistics of moving 1,600 people from four separate living communities. They also faced finding some 800 rooms to accommodate their residents on extremely short notice. And then there was the uncertainty of when they would return and what they would find — or not find — once Irma had passed.
Although no amount of training replaces actions during an actual disaster, Vi’s Corporate Emergency Response Team was up to the task.
“Our preparedness, our ability to execute, our communications to residents and employees, our service, our care and our leadership are all reasons why Vi remains a leader in the senior living industry,” Vi President Randy Richardson later wrote to his 2,700-plus employees scattered across the United States. “I am grateful and proud of our team’s selfless, compassionate responsiveness to this catastrophic event. I also want to assure you that it is, and will always be, Vi’s number one priority to ensure the safety and security of Vi’s residents and employees.”
No doubt that resident safety comes first for Chicago-based Vi. But it’s Vi’s near obsession with corporate culture and employee growth that once again places the company among Chief Learning Officer’s LearningElite’s top 10 organizations.
Richardson even lauded employees’ commitment to their jobs despite the individual struggles brought on by the hurricane.
“Many of our colleagues have made many personal sacrifices, all in the interest of ensuring our residents and employees impacted by Hurricane Irma are well-cared for during this terrible tragedy,” he wrote. Vi also recognized their employees’ dedication through a donation to the American Red Cross to help those employees and their families affected by recent catastrophes inside and outside the United States.
“We deliberately celebrate our employee success stories,” said Judy Whitcomb, Vi’s senior vice president, human resources and learning and organizational development. “We’re dedicated to employee development.”
Whitcomb pointed to Michelle Ormand, who works at the Highlands Ranch community near Denver. She started in 2008 as an hourly employee with no formal skills, Whitcomb recalled.
“She was dedicated,” Whitcomb said, “a real learner.” Ormand enrolled in a management development program, achieved her Advanced Custodial Technician Certification and Certified Hospitality & Housekeeping Executive, and now is director of housekeeping.
“I can give you hundreds of stories like that,” Whitcomb said. “I manage HR and learning, and I can tell you that learning and development is an employment differentiator for us.”
Whitcomb said that Vi polls new hires on several functions, including the hiring and onboarding process.
“Their top choice to work at Vi is employee development,” Whitcomb said. “It came in ahead of pay and benefits.”
It’s a huge plus in their ability to attract candidates to Vi, Whitcomb said.
“Learning is part of our culture,” she said. “Part of the participation in our leadership programs is then going back and teaching others what you learned.”
While commitment to the community may not be in any course curriculum for Vi’s employees, the attitude to take care of each other in tough times is clearly evident in the wake of the hurricane’s $68 billion in damages. Richardson again took time to thank his staff in Florida, though their service is a reflection of the organization as a whole.
“I am very appreciative of everyone involved in supporting and continuing to support our residents and employees during this difficult time,” Richardson said. “You make me proud.”