Most organizations view their Resident Council meetings as a monthly obligation for the Administrator or Activities Director to stand in front of a firing squad fielding a barrage of complaints. Some corporations make facility leaders feed residents questions directly from the Federal Surveyor guide, priming residents with answers to the questions they may be asked during the survey process. Whether you have a formal group with an elected "President" or an informal group that meets because the event is the most interesting item on the Activities calendar, you can make so much more of this meeting.
I suggest using any or all of the following suggestions to enhance the Resident Council experience. One important point that is easy to overlook is that it is the residents that determine the council agenda. Consider yourself an invited guest, and only assume a leadership role in the meeting if it is welcomed.
1. Meet with individual residents prior to the group meeting. You know who your key residents are, and you often know exactly what they will bring up in the meeting. Why not give these residents ten minutes of your time so they can have a voice without jeopardizing valuable group time in the meeting? Now you have avoided potential group dissent and shown your genuine interest to a concerned resident.
2. Run a transparent organization. Open the meeting with facility information including changes in staff, upcoming events, physical plant news, etc. Don't be afraid to tell your residents that a key leadership role is vacant or that you are having trouble with plumbing, kitchen equipment, etc. It's their home, and they have a right to know. Better they hear it from you than someone else (because they will).
3. Hold a separate food council meeting. If your meetings are anything like mine have been in the past, the Resident Council meeting can easily turn into a complaint session about individual food preferences and certain meals. By hosting a food meeting the week before resident council, you can preface the council agenda by stating that all food concerns will be addressed at the food meeting. Be sure that your Director of Dining Services heads up the food council meeting. Also, encourage the manager to visit individual residents prior to the food council meeting.
4. Ask for positive feedback. I begin meetings asking for positive stories about staff. As we discuss each department, I again ask specifically about those staff members who have made a positive impact. I then write thank you letters to these staff members to tell them they were brought up in the group meeting. This is a great morale booster and it keeps the council meeting headed in a positive direction.
5. Don't be afraid of the negativity. If you think the goal of these tips is a rose-colored meeting then think again. I want our Resident Council meeting to be honest and open. If the residents are really torqued about something, let them go down that path. Remind residents that this is their forum to speak their mind, but there will be no conclusions until everyone involved can have input.
6. For goodness sake, follow up. If there was one thing I used to hear from residents, it was that they felt that the meetings were worthless because nobody ever followed up. If your council meetings have low attendance, it may be due to this past precedent. Do more than assuming department directors will address issues. Visit your key residents 48 hours after the meeting to gauge progress on their issues.
Show your residents that you care by following these tips. The key is to make the residents part of the organization. It is their home, not yours.