In this Priorities, Plans & Perspectives interview, Skilled Nursing News sits down with April Diaz, VP of Clinical Services at Marquis Companies, to learn how she stays nimble and flexible to help her team navigate uncertainty in a constantly changing industry. Read on to discover how Diaz’s perspective has changed over the course of her career, and why she believes aligning individual goals with organizational goals can help employees become more effective leaders.
Skilled Nursing News: What was your first job title in health care or health care technology, and how has your perspective changed since your first day in the industry?
April Diaz: Twenty-six years ago, my first job in health care was as a charge nurse in a nursing facility. I had initially planned to be a labor and delivery nurse, but after taking a job in that nursing facility, I never looked back. I am very passionate about geriatrics and have worked with both skilled and memory care — it just ended up being the perfect career choice from that point on.
As far as my perspective, one thing I’ve learned since my beginnings is how to challenge the status quo. Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it is the best approach today, and there’s always a better way to do it.
SNN: Who has made the greatest influence on your perspective?
Diaz: When I look back through my career, there hasn’t really been any one person who I can call my greatest influence. I think a series of interactions over the years have helped format who I am as a nurse, my perspective, and my values and vision. With respect to my passion points and my focus on geriatric care, however, that has to be the residents.
The residents I care for helped me realize my responsibility as a nurse to speak up and provide the best care I can no matter what. The staff I worked with and the things that drive them have also been influential in my direction as a nurse. I’ve learned that my job is to help them do their jobs well by providing motivation to keep them at the top of their game.
There are also a couple of key individuals in my life that’ve really shaped it. In the late ’90s, I had the opportunity to work with Joanne Rader. She is the foundation for a lot of what we do for dementia care in the pioneer network. I worked with her on a nationally recognized project called Bathing Without a Battle. That experience reinforced my views on challenging the norm. She was a huge motivator and a passionate person, and always has been.
Then in my current role, I’ve been with Marquis for 17 years and there’s a reason why I stayed with this company. A lot of it has to do with our CEO, Phil Fogg. He’s an amazing leader who’s very innovative and passionate about senior care and our residents. For me, it’s always been very vital to align my passions and goals with the company I work for.
SNN: How do you define and execute your professional priorities currently?
Diaz: When you look at yourself as a leader, you need to make sure your professional goals, your priorities and your passion points are aligned with the company you’re organized with. I know who I want to be as a professional, and I’m making sure my organization is on the same page.
That allows myself and leaders in the facility to grow and execute on their priorities. I want it to be at the top of my game, not for myself, but for those that I work with. Am I able to teach? Am I able to lead? Do I bring value? My No.1 professional priority is to always bring value to my staff, the residents and the facilities so they can do what they do best.
SNN: Can you name three of those priorities?
Diaz: Again, my top priority has always been to bring the most value I can to my team. Are we continuing to grow? Are we doing what’s best for our residents? Are we staying in tune with the most current evidence-based practice? Are we continuing to evolve our systems to improve workflow for our teams, but also to adopt and innovate so our patients are receiving the best care? I think everything else follows suit if that is your ultimate goal.
Then, you need to understand that you have a voice, both inside your organization and out. I think as a person grows in their leadership capacity, knowing that you can be an advocate at the state level and the national level is key, especially when the regulatory climate is always changing.
I hope that as a leader, I am not only able to influence my current organization, but also I can influence the larger long-term care community. Then the third area is continuing to grow and be innovative. Especially when we’re looking at new ways for technology to enhance what we’re doing. How do I find that information, and how do I tap into others within our organization that also have that information so we can pull it together?
SNN: How do you look at planning when a large degree of uncertainty is involved?
Diaz: I think the answer to this question pre-COVID and post-COVID is a bit different. In the last 18 months in particular, every day has been filled with uncertainty. But it taught us how to work through it. When we’re in a position of leadership, we set the temperament, the mood and the expectations for our teams. When there’s uncertainty, it’s our job to help set the direction, even if we don’t know what tomorrow looks like. We’ve got to focus on what we know and be really clear with our team members about what we don’t know. I think it’s okay to be transparent. People just need to know what you want them to do today.
SNN: How do you keep track of your professional plans and progress?
Diaz: A lot of people have a very structured process to manage their personal plans, but I’ve always been a little bit more nimble. As an organization, we’ve updated our strategic planning. I’ve always sat back and said, “OK, are my goals aligned with the company’s strategic plan?” If not, what needs to change, and / or do I need to change? What do I need to do as a professional to grow, facilitate, and promote that strategic goal of the company? We all know there are humans underneath everything, but I think sometimes leaders get too rigid. I have always tried to be very adaptable and flexible because understanding that goals may have to be adjusted or altered is a reality.
SNN: What do you do when something does not go according to plan?
Diaz: I only think of that as an opportunity. If something doesn’t work, we need to sit back and learn why. Maybe it was a timing issue. It was a poor plan and not enough voices were involved in the plan initially. Maybe in that plan, most of the plan worked, but one thing needs to be altered. When something doesn’t go as planned, it’s best to look at it as an opportunity. Have open and honest feedback from those who are involved with the plan, and take that feedback and do something with it. Because what’s worse is if you ask for feedback on why it didn’t work, and then you did nothing with that feedback and changed nothing.
Then just, in general, knowing that every plan will have a bump. I don’t think we’ve ever executed a plan exactly the way it was planned. It’s OK, then you fix it and you change it, and you change your direction, but that is what’s innovation. Nothing changes without learning, and learning has to happen from something going wrong.
Interviewer: What do you listen to, read and watch to gain perspective?
Diaz: I watch and I listen to other leaders to learn how they interact and they engage others.
I learn a lot from listening to others and watching others, as well as being involved in state and federal committees. I have learned a lot from the perspectives that are brought to the table, whether that be long term care leaders or other individuals who are not part of long term care. Understanding and learning from them based on their opinions and their information that they bring forward is critical. It’s a wide-open door and, of course, there’s always staying in tune with your journals and being involved with the American Health Care Association. That’s a huge thing, both on the quality cabinet and the survey regulatory committee, not only seeing the process and learning about the process of rule writing and adoption, but also how those inner workings work.
Then I put all those pieces together and stay in tune. You could spend all day reading everything under the sun, but you have to balance and realize where the most value lies so you can continue to grow. If I don’t grow personally or professionally, then I can’t help those that I’m responsible for.