CARE MANAGERS AS CHALLENGERS: Adapting to a Changing Economic Landscape

by Steven Barlam, MSW, LCSW, CMC

In the last few years, all businesses have felt the sting of the recession. No one has been left untouched. While many care management businesses have maintained and even grown during this period, the general sentiment is that everyone is working a lot harder for their revenue.

Current Situation – So, what has changed?

Have the client’s needs changed? Are people not requiring the kind of services that a care manager provides? NO! In fact, the needs are becoming more complex.

Are clients and family members waiting longer to engage a care manager? YES!
Are families becoming more involved, attempting to self-care manage situations? YES!
Are clients and family members purchasing fewer services, for shorter periods of time? YES! and
Are clients scrutinizing services more, prior to starting services? YES!

Due to these changes that many care managers have experienced, a new approach to one’s business may be indicated. The goal of this article is to explore one specific strategy that will lead to increased business in a challenging economic environment.

A Strategy for Consideration…Reexamining our Role

Looking at the world of sales, much attention has been spent on identifying distinct styles of sales people and their varying degrees of success in this current economic environment. Five styles have been identified:

  1. The relationship builder
  2. The hard worker
  3. The lone wolf
  4. The challenger
  5. The problem solver

As I read about this, I was intrigued, due to the fact that I feel that the same styles are employed in the world of care management… So which of the styles proved to be most successful? Clearly it had to be “the relationship builder.” However, in the sales field, it is “the challenger.” Intuitively this did not make sense, as it went against everything that I believed was true.

So who is the Challenger, and how does this translate into the world of Care Management?

In learning more about the role of the challenger, it started to come together. Let me attempt to lay out the basic premise:

To truly be an effective challenger, you need to build this role upon the basis of a strong relationship with a client. The challenger has a deep understanding of the client’s needs and isn’t afraid to share his/her views even when they may be different from the client’s views. The challenger is assertive in dealing with internal and external stake holders, tending to push people outside of their comfort zones. The challenger does this with grace, presenting the information in a manner that others can take in – based on a trusting relationship, as well as always being driven to do what is genuinely in the client’s best interest.

There are times in which a care manager has a clear idea of what is the right direction to take, and when it differs with the client’s view, the care manager may choose to back off from their initial recommendation based on….

  • the importance of the issue
  • risk of losing the client
  • honoring self determination
  • assessment of the client’s ability to accept differing views
  • desire to avoid conflict
  • desire to strengthen relationship based on perceived alliance or having the same views

For a “relationship builder,” the primary focus is on interventions that enhance the relationship. Sometimes the best interventions are not employed in the name of not wanting to jeopardize the relationship.

In our current economic environment, we need to evolve to the next level of the relationship with our clients/families… building upon the relationship, we need to challenge our clients, helping them to understand why they should take action.

For a “challenger,” the primary focus is to help the clients to understand the value of taking action as well as the impact of their inaction regarding the issue that has been identified. It isn’t always a popular position to take; however, when delivered well, it often strengthens the relationship between care manager and client.

As a “challenger,” the care manager can exert the expert voice to provide value and help introduce solutions that may have never been considered prior.

What are the three essential characteristics of a challenger?

  • Teach
  • Tailor
  • Assert

Challengers teach clients something new and valuable. They compel clients with a unique perspective that differentiates them from the competition. They educate by demonstrating expertise and value. Challengers teach by telling stories that resonate with their clients/families. They use questions wisely to help their clients make connections between identified problems and the value of taking action to resolve them. Lastly, challengers provide innovative ways to address perceived problems, at times demonstrating/modeling alternative approaches.

Challengers tailor their interventions to the specific needs of their clients. Once the challenger truly understands the needs, expectations, and preferences of the client, the interventions chosen are always tied to what is of value to the client and presented in a manner that reinforces the expertise of the care manager. When talking about care management services, the challenger begins with what is important to the client and ties the value of care management specific to these issues, as opposed to speaking about general features of care management.

Challengers assert and maintain an appropriate level of control during the intake process to help guide the client to a place where they understand the value of taking action and engaging the care manager. They are able to stand firm with confidence when clients push back, in a fashion that is not perceived in a negative light. They challenge the client’s ideas in a positive way leading to better outcomes. In face of risk aversion by clients, challengers can move clients outside of their comfort zones in order for them to take action, positively affecting their quality of life. Challengers appropriately assert themselves by asking the right questions; feeling comfortable when tensions arise; having confidence in the solutions they have in mind; and having the skills to set and manage their clients’ expectations.

Expectations and the Challenger: Satisfaction = E (Expectations) -- Satisfaction is a function of expectations

Client satisfaction is often linked to length of stay. The more satisfied a client is with a service, the greater likelihood that the client will stay with that service. So as we look at strategies for strengthening our businesses, we should attend to satisfaction.

There are clients who come to the care manager with very set ideas of what needs to be done, how it should be done, and what is the right course of action. They look to the care manager to be the implementer versus the expert. There are times that their view is clouded, and the care manager may have ideas of alternative options that could result in more positive outcomes.

Often times the care manager strives to develop the trusting relationship and chooses to work within the confines of the expectations that have been laid out by the client/family. After all, we all have learned the adage…you begin where the client is at. But is there another way?

Client Example: An adult daughter calls the care manager for help in finding an appropriate assisted living facility for her father. She has set the expectation of what she is looking for, and in her mind there are really no other options. “Can you – the care manager help me?”

As a relationship builder/implementer the care manager could respond: SURE! And the focus of the interventions would be set.

As a challenger the care manager could respond: “SURE! I’d be glad to help, but as someone who has (credentials and years of experience inserted here) I want to make sure that the A/L option is the right choice for you and your father. I have worked with so many families who have set ideas of the optimal solution, but due to the specifics of their situation, in a plan that they initially had in mind “blows up,” creating more problems for all involved. Therefore I’d like to ask just a handful of questions just to ensure that this won’t happen to you. The last thing I’d want is for you and your dad to have a less-than-positive experience.”

In Summary

Strong relationships do matter, but they are not enough. Sometimes relationship builders will focus too much on the relationship and compromise on the specific recommendations made to avoid perceived tension/conflict. From a client’s perspective, relationship builders might make interactions feel good; however, not always memorable or valuable. Challengers, in general, would prefer to be respected than liked.

High-performing challengers have excellent relationship-building skills. But once the relationship has been formed, they continue to stretch it, and add value by asking questions, challenging the status quo, all within the context of wanting to positively impact the client’s/family’s quality of life, reduce risk, and enhance the care experience.

Challengers create a constructive tension within the confines of the relationship. They offer their clients a unique perspective with passion and precision that draws their clients into the relationship deeply. Client value is more important than client convenience to the challenger.

As we all strive to thrive in the current economic landscape, I challenge you to consider the impact of assuming more of a “Challenger” style in strengthening your relationships with new clients (to achieve higher conversion rates), as well as with existing clients (to achieve higher retention rates).

In May 2015 the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM) changed its name to Aging Life Care Association™ (ALCA). The profession of “Geriatric Care Management,” as defined by this organization, was changed to the Aging Life Care™ profession and its practitioners “Aging Life Care Professionals™. The use of the phrases “Aging Life Care” and “geriatric care management” on these pages share the same meaning.