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Trilogy Health Services CEO Randy Bufford talks workplace culture

May 4, 2018 Blog 4 min read
Jim Proppe
Randy Bufford, CEO of Trilogy Health Services, explains why treating staff right leads to quality care for customers.

Image of man in wheelchair petting Golden Retriever.

Trilogy Health Services has 109 senior care communities, with more than 10,000 beds throughout the Midwest, and offers everything from assisted living to long-term care to outpatient therapy services and independent living villas. What’s even more incredible? All of this became possible because CEO and Founder Randy Bufford saw a better way and was determined to make it happen.

As assisted living facilities started sprouting up in the mid ‘90s, Randy saw a need for a senior health community that would meet every need of an aging population. As you would expect, Trilogy is committed to the highest quality of patient care, but what’s unique is their corresponding focus on taking care of their staff. Like Randy says “You can’t provide quality service to your customers unless you first provide quality service to your staff.”

That really hit home. In fact, the more I talked with Randy, the more I realized that many of their philosophies and principles resemble the ones at Plante Moran. Take their SHIP acronym, for example. It stands for service, humility, integrity, and perseverance. The idea is everything starts with service, and those who serve must have humility. “No egos are allowed here — we’re all the same,” explains Randy. Next, everyone must have integrity and feel a responsibility to serve people. Finally, Trilogy staff must persevere and keep the cycle going.

SHIP reminds me of how our co-founder Frank Moran described Plante Moran’s Wheel of Progress. Our wheel has five spokes, starting with “good staff.” When you hire good and conscientious people, they’ll reward you with “good work.” Good work will attract “good clients,” and good clients will pay “good fees.” Those revenues allow us to invest in “good wages,” which gives us the ability to hire more “good staff.” And like Trilogy, we persevere, as our wheel just keeps turning.

Randy and I agreed on another point: leaders must be visible and available. Randy says you simply can’t effectively manage a company without interacting with staff and customers. It’s how a leader gets feedback and understands how things are done. Randy visits each of Trilogy’s 109 communities on a 17-month cycle. He spends time at each facility and tries to seek out and speak with every staff member who works there.

A couple of other things stood out from my conversation with Randy and sounded awfully familiar: They don’t hire jerks (although Trilogy uses a slightly more colorful term). And if a “jerk” does slip through the cracks, he says they don’t last long. The culture at Trilogy just doesn’t support it. And finally, they understand the whole person comes to work. Randy says life is full of imperfections, and they get that — to a point.

“When you’re having a moment, we give you the leeway you need,” Randy adds. “If you make a mistake, we understand not everyone is perfect and we work with our people to give them the tools they need to succeed. But when you make mistakes that go up against the heart and soul of our organization — when you go against our values — that puts everything at risk for all of us. And we just can’t tolerate that.”

Sounds to me that Randy has the right idea — and others agree. In fact, for the last 10 years Trilogy has made the list of "Best Places to Work in Kentucky."

More from Randy

Here are two more important points Randy made during our discussion:

On training:

“Training is essential, but it must be tailored appropriately to be effective. At Trilogy, we continue to work on this. Our culture and values are important to us, and we train hard on those, but we’re working to develop more custom trainings by role. For example, while quality service is at the top of our list regardless of the role you play in our company, the training requirements of, let’s say for example, a VP and a dietary aide, are going to be very different. Both roles are very important, but their customer interactions are different. We need to recognize these differences and train to them.”

On investing in your people:

“We care about our people; we not only want them to ask for help when they need it, but we want to make a real difference. That’s why we set up the Trilogy Foundation. By allowing our staff to donate $1 per week out of their paycheck to a foundation (70 percent of our staff do this), along with some fundraising (like asking for vendor support, golf outings, etc.), we created a fund that’s available to not only help employees enduring a crisis, but also with education opportunities. This year we awarded 1,800 educational scholarships and 1,600 assistant grants, giving well over $2 million back to our people. 

Leadership personality profile:

Your leadership approach in one word: Servant

The leadership quality you most admire in others: Humility

Your best piece of business advice: Never stop learning and realize that it is only through the efforts of others that you can have any success.

What you look for when you hire: Values first, talent second.

To be an effective leader, you cannot… order people. Instead, you need to coach and inspire!

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