The Caring Support Blog

Managing a Retirement Residence: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

June 7, 2023

We had the privilege of sitting down with the esteemed Miri Hadas Koller, an industry expert who understands the ins and outs of creating a harmonious and fulfilling environment for retirees.

Whether you're an aspiring retirement residence manager, a dedicated team member, or simply curious about the dynamics of these thriving communities, this conversation with Miri Hadas Koller promises to be a captivating journey. So, let's delve into the world of retirement residence management and explore how teamwork makes the dream work.

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Miri, Miri Hadas Koller, and I'm a wife, a mother, a daughter, and a sister. I'm an immigrant to Canada from Israel, and I love people and working together as a team. I've been in the senior housing sector for the past 17 years on the retirement home side of the industry. And like most of my friends and colleagues from the sector, I love it and find it meaningful and fulfilling to be part of the sector. And when I joined the industry 17 years ago, it was as part of a two-and-a-half-people group that started Greenwood Retirement Communities. And when I left there after 14 years, we had eight operating retirement homes. I was the company's president, and I loved my team and the culture we built together. Three years ago, I became the CEO of Yee Hong Seniors Living. It was a subsidiary of the Yee Hong charity, and we were tasked with creating a retirement home, branded sorry, a Yee Hong branded retirement home. The economic situation meant that the project was put on hold. And so a month ago, after leaving Yee Hong, I started my own company. It's called Clear Path, and I am not an employee for the first time in my life. I'm a business owner. Clear Path is a management and consulting company in the retirement home sector. We help owners and developers plan and manage their retirement home operations. To explain what that means for a minute, there are a lot of people who want to come into the sector, they want to build a retirement home either because they're a developer. They've always built houses and want to create a retirement home, or they're part of a specific ethnic group or immigrant country. They want to make a retirement home clear to their community, and they're not from the sector. And that's where we can step in and teach them and get them started so that they can go ahead and build their own retirement home. That's the vision for Clear Path.

You immigrated to Canada from Israel seventeen years ago, can you tell us what that experience was like and give some advice/tips for people in the process of immigrating to Canada?

Immigration is hard. Even for people like my husband and me, we didn't face any hardship. I arrived here at the age of 40 with a career, education, English proficiency, and savings. Yet, it felt like being a teenager all over again. Our job experience and education meant nothing here. We had to pass the driving tests to get a driver's license, and we had to handle banking alone, without our parents. It was a completely new way of doing things. Renting our first condo was challenging due to the lack of credit history and rental experience. Interestingly, my husband, who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry, would write our names as "Dr. Avi Koller" to appear more legitimate. It was tough. That's why I always advise people that if they aren't a strong couple or good friends with their spouse, they shouldn't undertake this journey together. Teamwork is crucial, and having someone to rely on is essential. I couldn't have managed without the love and support of my husband.

As for a tip, during our initial years, I constantly listened to CBC. As a newcomer, I felt disconnected from the context, culture, and history of Canada. Having CBC in the background helped me learn so much about the country, its culture, the people, and even the slang. It made me feel more at home, as I could understand what people were talking about. So, my two tips for those coming here are to find a reliable partner and listen to the radio, preferably CBC.

Did you plan to work in senior care when you immigrated to Canada?

The answer is no. My experience when I came to Canada and in Israel was in real estate development. I worked in a real estate development company. And so that was my background. And when I came here, I was hired into this Israeli family real estate investment company. We were two and a half people. And the idea was to be investors in buying real estate, shopping plazas, and industrial buildings. But when I joined, as I said, I was the third person in the company, and they already were invested in one retirement home, and they were a 30% partner in the second retirement home. But they were, we were, investors. We weren't involved in the day-to-day. But as we continued to look for investments in Canada, we liked the retirement home sector. And the more we invested in the industry, we felt the need to manage our own. And that's when we went from being two and a half people just being landlords. We formed Greenwood, and I was the CEO. We hired the whole team under us, and that's how I found myself in the senior housing sector. I did not have any background in it, but like many people in this sector, once you get in, you fall in love. It's such a meaningful kind of work that you just fall in love with it.

How have you worked with retirement homes to promote teamwork and better work environments?

Well, teamwork comes naturally to me. That's how I like to work. I love to work with people, and I love to have conversations. I like going places together. I do not enjoy working alone. And so, for me, this was a given; when you work in a retirement home, you have to work as a team. You know, if you don't, things will break down. If one team member is not doing their job, others must pick up the slack. All the residents need to get their meals on time, all the suites need to be cleaned, all the systems need to work, and you know, you can only afford to have people, the team, working together, or else things will break down. And it's not only inside your team. It's also between departments, the dietary, health care, and housekeeping teams. They all need to work together, or else, and again, things break down. The dietary team must know the people's food sensitivities from the wellness team. What can they eat? What can't they eat? The recreation needs the support of the diet in planning events, the marketing needs everyone to work together, and so yeah, teamwork is essential. And seeing the person in your team is how to build good teamwork when you believe in your team. When someone is not performing, it's usually not because they want to cause damage. It's not because they're lazy; something's wrong. They either have a problem or need help understanding the assignment, or something must be corrected. So if you see people as people, that's the immediate assumption. Something's wrong; let's see how we can support them. And that's how you create teamwork. And I tend to make very strong personal connections with people on my team. So when you have a personal connection with your team members, you want to support them. You want to help them when you know it's, teamwork happens.

And I like to tell this story about a colleague I had in Israel who was a colleague, and I did not like him. I always thought he was making life hard for me. You know, instead of just approving stuff, he would stop them. I didn't like him. I thought he was trying to make my life hard for me. I didn't like the way he was making decisions. And then we had a company event to which all the families were invited, and suddenly I met him and his wife and his kids not in a work environment, but in a personal environment. And he was so nice and had an amazing wife and many beautiful, smart, well-behaved kids. And all of a sudden, it completely changed my outlook on him. I stopped looking at him as someone trying to cause any trouble, and he became someone trying to do his job the way he sees it. Seeing people as people and not as employees helps teamwork.

Being a 'Manager' and a 'Leader' are two totally different things that affect workplaces across the world. Why is it important to make that distinction between being a manager and a leader, and how can employers at retirement homes ensure they are leading their teams instead of "managing" or "bossing" them?

Yes, that's an important topic to unpack. And so you know, when you say manager, I'm thinking someone who tells you what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, leaving you no room for creativity or taking the initiative. When I say leader, I'm thinking of someone who points the direction we want to go and then convinces people to work together and follow them there. That's the real distinction between the two and when I worked with leaders who were like that, giving us freedom, I thrived, developed, and was happy. So I'm a firm believer in the golden rules. You do unto others what you want them to do unto you. So be the kind of boss you want to have. If this is the environment that you thrive in, that's the environment your team will thrive in. So 100%. It's being the boss you want to have, and that's also a Simon Sinek thing.

And listen, today, we're in an era where there are way more job openings than people looking for employment, so it's harder to hire, and if you want to hire good people and keep them, you have to earn their trust. You want them to follow you and to stay with you. So we're past managers, and we're into the leaders' era. And in terms of how to go about doing that, my approach was always that, you know, how I worked with my team and how I encouraged them to do this with their team is, you know, I surrounded myself with people who had experience, who knew what they were doing. And I just saw my job not as telling them what to do, but rather to be someone who helps, supports, and removes obstacles. And when I hire people into my team, that's what I told them. I would tell them we are not the bosses. We are here to serve. We are a resource. I modelled this behaviour, and it became the company culture. And I sincerely believe that it's true in every department, the cooks don't need a boss to tell them how to cook. They know how to cook, they have the technical abilities. They need someone to ensure that they have the right tools in order to to make the food. They need somebody to help them identify when things are not working and work with them to find a solution. And again, the nursing team, they know way better what's going on in the retirement home than the head office. They know where the problems are, and they sometimes even know how to fix them. And all you have to do is talk to them, work with them, and, you know, some people say, well, they don't see the big picture. Well, talk to them about the big picture. You know, bring them in, tell them, here's what we're concerned about. How does that play into your thought? So I'm all in favour of leading, of bringing people in on making this a team sport.

What advice would you offer to people who want to be great leaders of their teams?

I never get tired of telling stories about my old best boss ever in Israel. And what was amazing about him is that he gave us a lot of room and freedom to do our job. And this was a completely new experience for me. He trusted us. He delegated stuff to us. He gave us large projects and responsibilities. And he was there. He supported us if we needed help. But if we didn't, he just let us run with stuff. And I learned so much from this man, and until he came along, we were selling condos. So every condo that was sold, I would review the contract. I would run the economic analysis; I would run, write down a summary, give it to my boss, and he would sign the contract. When this new boss came along, he said, "You read it, you analyzed it, you wrote a summary, sign it, you know it better than me." I was like, "Why am I the one signing it?" And it was just like, "Oh, wow, this was mine." It was mine from start to finish. And it just only caused me to be more careful because now it was my responsibility. And this is a role model. This is how we should all work. He was the conductor of the orchestra. He didn't need to play all the instruments. He needed to make sure that everything worked together. And I think that's the way to do it.

Is there anything else you would like to talk about today?

I'm always happy to support and help people. I want people listening to this recording or watching us to know that I grew in my career through curiosity and asking questions. It's sharing knowledge. And when you're starting, don't be afraid to ask questions because people love sharing. People love helping and giving people the opportunity to help you. And I always wanted to learn, which is what paved the road for me. And if you're following me on LinkedIn, you will see that I constantly say, "If I can help you with anything, reach out to me." And it's surprising how many people take me up on this, and I get a direct message from this person and that person saying, "I have a question" or "Can I just chat with you for a bit?" And yeah, sure, you can! Now that I started ClearPath, I'm supposed to be more careful with my time and make sure that I charge for my services. But if you want 30 minutes of my time to ask me a question, or if you're starting your career and want someone to talk to, reach out to me.

About Miri Hadas Koller

Miri has devoted half of her over 30 years career to the seniors housing sector. She currently leads ClearPath Senior Living, a management and consulting company which supports owners and developers of retirement residences.

Prior to that, as the President of Greenwood Retirement Communities, she helped build the company to a portfolio of 8 homes and a team of close to 500 employees.  

Miri has a passion for people and a strong faith in their good intentions and enjoys helping people achieve their goals. She loves discussing leadership and teamwork, and ways to do those right. 

Miri has been living in Toronto with her family since immigrating to Canada in 2005.

About The Author
Denson Natividad
Sales & Marketing Assistant

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