Episode 149: From Hustler To CEO: Making The Great Transition From Integrator To Visionary With Isabelle Guarino
That transition from entrepreneur to CEO is where most seven-figure businesses get stuck. When you’ve been boots on the ground for too long, you start to believe that nobody is better than you in doing the things you ought to let go of. But when you really make a great hire, you might be surprised at what they’re capable of. We discuss this key inflection point from integrator to visionary with Isabelle Guarino, CEO of a company called Residential Assisted Living Academy and host of Young Boss Podcast.
What the podcast will teach you:
- How strategic hiring helps with the transition from integrator to visionary.
- Using the Predictive Index to make great hires.
- Hiring for a good culture fit.
- Getting your team set up culturally.
- Why the hustler has to die for the CEO to live.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
I am excited to be with all of you. Every week, I have an opportunity to interview amazing guests. This is no exception. My guest is Isabelle Guarino. Isabelle is the CEO of a company called Residential Assisted Living Academy, RAL Academy. In the name, it talks about the assisted living work that they do. Isabelle is a fantastic business owner and business leader. She spent some time as a flight attendant. She knows customer success and service.
She spent time at Walt Disney World as an intern and has been leading RAL Academy for the past couple of years, keeping everyone in line and on task. She’s been featured in many magazine articles on the topic of senior housing. She was given the title of one of the Top Influencers in Senior Housing. Isabelle also won Aging Media’s Future Leaders of Assisted Living Award in 2020, being 2 of their 100 Under 30 to make the list, which is awesome. Isabelle, thank you so much for joining us. Welcome to our show.
Thanks for having me. I am happy to be here.
Tell us a little bit about RAL and what you guys do there. We can tell a little bit from the name, but I’d love to hear about your company, where you’re located, and the growth that you’ve had. We’ll then get into your lessons learned as a leader.
We teach and train real estate investors, entrepreneurs, and maybe even medical professionals, too, whoever wants to get involved in the niche real estate investing space of assisted living. They’re not commercial facilities. They’re single-family residential homes being used to house 6 to 16 seniors who need 24/7 care help with medication management and all the different things that seniors need help with by the time they need assisted living. We own and operate three of those homes. I teach and train people how to start their own all across the country. We’re based here in Phoenix, Arizona, but we teach nationally and have a whole lot of fun doing it.
Thank you for that context. I must admit. I thought you were more on the actual service side of assisted living, but if I had paid more attention to the name, Residential Assisted Living Academy, the academy is probably one of the most important words there. You’re teaching others how to set these up.
We’re on both sides because and operate three, and then I also teach. I’m on both sides of the coin.
We’re thrilled to have you here, not just because it’s super interesting what you do, but because every business, regardless of the industry, as you go through those growing stages, which is what we’ll call them instead of growing pains, there are some things that you learn. We’d love to extract some of those personal experiences you’ve had as a leader in learning how to go from doing everything in the business to building a team and scaling your business. I don’t know if you remember some of the painful moments of feeling like, “I’m the bottleneck. I can’t do everything myself. I got to figure out how to scale this thing.” Can we talk about your experience with that?
Within the care homes, that is huge. We teach our students that because it’s one of those things if you don’t set it up right from the beginning, it’s hard to work yourself out of it. With those care homes, you can get tempted to say, “I want to save money. I want to become a licensed caregiver or licensed administrator. I’m going to do the work myself to save money in the beginning when we’re not cashflowing as well.” I always tell people that’s a big no-no because it’s so hard to then work yourself out of it.
As an entrepreneur, a lot of times, when you do a role and you do a job, then you start to feel like you did it the best. By hiring somebody else to do it, you’re like, “They’re never going to do it as good as me.” It’s really hard to rehire that position. I remember in the beginning when we first started, we didn’t know what we were doing. There was no one there to teach us. There was no one there to hold our hands, so we were involved a lot more. We were visiting the home often. We were doing a lot of things manually, like paper records and all this stuff. It was forcing us to have to be in the home.
COVID sparked a lot of amazing systems that allowed people to build their businesses more hands-off or more passively by implementing those systems. Instead of me coming in physically every week for a meeting, I can do it on Zoom. I can give you a call. Instead of every day me needing to check in on this or that, if we systemize everything and make it all automated processes on the computer and things like that by using all sorts of different technology, it can help you be hands-off.
Over the years, we learned that, and then COVID cemented it to the fact that our care homes, I probably go every other month. That was from going almost every day to every other month. I spend maybe five hours a week on the phone with our licensed administrator, dealing with the day-to-day operations so that they can be the ones who’s handling it all and I’m the one hearing about the fire and how they put it out after.
You said a lot there. There are lots of great things to unpack. I want to go almost back to the beginning when you described telling people, and I’m not using your exact words, if you set up your home in a way or you set up your business in a way where you are an essential part of the delivery, you get stuck there.
That was so good for you to realize at first in your own homes and to pass it on to those who you’re teaching. That’s one of the hardest lessons for any entrepreneurs to go from that thing that they learned how to do as good as or better than anyone else, and then hand it off to somebody else. Could we talk about some insights or maybe some hard-earned experience on your part as to how you get more comfortable with letting that go and not being part of the core delivery and having other people do that? What are some things you’ve learned to help make that transition a little smoother?
Strategic hiring is what helps you feel more confident about it. If you’re hiring anybody and then showing them SOPs and saying, “Do these things,” you are not going to feel very confident whether they can do it. I know for me, at least when I do hire somebody, if they mess up the first time, my trust for them is, “I don’t trust you now. I got to jump back in.” That’s the thing. It’s the Godfather. They keep pulling you back in. It’s so important to make sure that you’re using strategic hiring. A tool that we use in our care homes and at our academy is called Predictive Index. You’ve heard of it?
Yes. It’s very familiar. Our audience might not be, so please. Say more about that.
We use the Predictive Index. We surveyed what some of our students were saying, like, “I have a top caregiver. They are amazing.” We surveyed 100 top caregivers across the country and 100 top licensed administrators. We found that they almost all fell into three similar categories, so three different profiles each. When I go to hire somebody, I have them take the Predictive Index and they need to be an 8 out of 10, 9 out of 10, or 10 out of 10, or one of those profiles. They’ve got to be the right fit because I know that with their God-given skills and their natural ability to do the job, they’re not going to be happy unless it’s within their scope of work. We have them take that.
It’s then the processes, so strategic hiring and processes. If you do not have it written down so meticulously, and what I mean by that is some of us may be visual learners or audio learners and other people need to be shown hands-on, you need to have all three of those things in your SOPs. You cannot have a visual like, “Here’s what I want you to do.” You also need to record it so they can hear you walking through the steps.
During their training, I like to do hands-on training with them. It’s like, “I have shown you verbally. I’ve shown you on video.” That’s auditory. You can see and hear me. We’ve done it in person together. You can refer back to 2 of those 3. We can’t go back in time to refer to the in-person, but we can go back anytime you have a question like, “What paperwork do I fill out here? What do I do here? You go back and refer. Now, if you have questions, feel free to call me.” It’s triple training and reference so that there should be little to no questions.
Once we answer that question, it’s telling me where I failed in my system. That question should be added to the three forms of training so that I never have to answer it again for the next hire. If there’s a question, it’s not that they failed. It’s probably that I failed. If I can find it in the systems I trained with them, then it’s simple. I’m not going to explain myself. I’m going to say, “Refer back to XYZ,” but if it’s not there, I failed. It is scary and it’s hard to become hands-off, but if you’ve set up strategic hiring and then processed out systems, it becomes a lot easier. You can take a lot of accountability for their success or their failure at the job.
I love the way you said that you can take a lot of accountability as a leader for their success or failure. I would add that not only can we, but we do. We all take full responsibility for whether or not people are successful or failing in how we set it up and how we lead it. I love the way that you talked about not just figuring out who the right people are and increasing the chance of success in our selection process, but then once they get there, what are we doing to make sure that the system is running the way that I would do it if I were there myself? That’s super wise, both of those insights or both of those learnings.
I want to make a mention about Predictive Index because we haven’t brought it up a lot on this show. If people are still, “Is that a personality profile? What is that?” It’s a behavioral assessment. It shows behavioral patterns in people. We all have some behavioral tendencies. If you understand the key behaviors for a particular role and can put together a nice profile for that, then you can hire against that. I love the way that you described that. That was great stuff. Is there anything else you want to add to the Predict Predictive Index thing before we move on?
It can be an expensive tool. I do know that, but it is really helpful. I have found every single time that if I don’t use it or their profile is not a match, it ends up not working out. It costs money to onboard someone and time and energy. You don’t want to waste all of this stuff on the wrong person. To me, it’s an investment in saving myself down the road of not having to deal with all this stuff. If the audience is checking it out and you get turned away or you’re freaked out by the price, it is expensive, but it saves you. Think of it as an investment. Especially if you are doing a lot of hiring, it can save you in the long run.It costs money, time and energy to onboard someone. You don't want to waste all of this stuff on the wrong person. Click To Tweet
I appreciate that last comment, too. If I’m going to hire one person for a unique role, I may or may not do all of the homework to figure out who that ideal behavioral profile is. The way you described it is like, “We were hiring a bunch of these across multiple locations.” It made sense to do the research and get it right so that you could save yourself time and frustration in the long run. That’s great.
We talked about the Predictive Index, getting the processes down, and training those people to be successful. I’m curious because it’s one thing to find a fit behaviorally and somebody who can do the role from a skillset standpoint. Is there anything you’ve done to make sure that they’re going to fit with your team? Culturally, is there anything that you do to make sure, “These types of people work well with us and these don’t. We know who that is. We never bring in the wrong people.”
Yes. I host a podcast called Young Boss Podcast. I talk about all sorts of strategies and things like this. When it comes to hiring for a good culture fit, I have our company’s core values. I read them every week at the town hall. We reward and I don’t want to say punish, but you know what I mean.
We reprimand people based on fitting or not fitting into the core values. One thing is it’s hard to find out what someone’s core values are in an interview. A tactic I’ve been trained to do is you ask the person, “I want you to think of three people who you respect, admire, and look up to in life, business, or whatever.” They’ll think of three people, and then you say, “I want you to list all three people and tell me three reasons why you look up to them.” A lot of times, it is like, “It’s my mom. She worked so hard. She did this.” Whatever adjectives they’re using, like hardworking, selflessness, or whatever, write down those adjectives for the three people they’re describing. Those are their core values because that’s what they look at other people and admire in other people.
Not everyone uses the same language. My word might be efficient and their word might be, “He is so fast. He gets the job done right on time or before I even ask him.” I know what he’s describing. It’s efficient. Look at their words. If they match what you’re saying, then that’s great. If nothing matches, they’re probably not a culture fit for you. That’s one thing. It is finding out their core values and seeing a match. If you say, “Here are our company core values. Do you fit them?” They’re going to be like, “Yes.” They’ll be like, “That’s my favorite.” It’s like, “No.” You have to find a sneaky way to get it out of them.
Second, and I’ve learned this the hard way, sometimes, when you’re hiring people, especially if it’s going to be a higher-up position, you need them to come and almost be also interviewed or also intermingle with the rest of the current staff. I have seen lower-tier staff throw away higher-tier people and bully them to get them out of their position, try to make their life miserable, or this, that, and the other. You’re like, “They’re amazing. Why are you doing this?” It’s because they were not involved. They’re not connected to this person. They feel threatened by them or whatever the case is.
It’s so important to incorporate them in that interview process, whether it’s they get to have a group or team interview and ask whatever questions they want or that person can come over to have a working interview and hang out and talk to them. Especially for a higher-up position, that is so valuable. I learned that the hard way, for sure.
That is such a great lesson. I’d like for you to flip that around a little bit because you described what happens. It’s almost like a rejection response. If the organism doesn’t accept that new person, there’s this rejection response. It doesn’t work out. What happens when the team has some ownership in the selection process? When they’ve been involved and they said yes to that person, what does that look like? When the new person’s coming in? What’s the difference between scenario A and scenario B in terms of the team and how they respond to that person?
What I’ve seen is that for the person who they are involved with the interview process, when their ideas are presented, they’re on board with them. They’re behind them. They’re excited about them. They catch the vision a lot faster and easier. They trust that person more because they feel that they chose them. It changes their mindset around interacting with this person. When they say, “Did you get this done on Tuesday?” it’s no longer accusatory. It’s like, “I’m genuinely checking up. Are you okay? Did you get it done on Tuesday? Is everything cool?” They feel a lot less threatened. That is very much key, especially when you’re hiring a higher-tier person.
It could be good to do it for any position. If they’re going to be working amongst the coworkers, they probably still need to have that buy-in, that camaraderie, and all that good stuff. Especially for somebody higher up, it can become very threatening to have that person come in with new creative, fresh ideas. They’re thinking, “They’re coming for my job.”
They’re seeing something and they say, “This could be automated.” It is fresh eyes, and then that older person is like, “You’re going to automate my job. I don’t have work.” They panic and go to the worst-case scenarios. It is like, “Automation doesn’t mean you go away. For automation, someone still needs to oversee to make sure. It allows you to do more and better higher-use jobs.” They don’t always see it that way. It’s so important to get that trust and get that relationship built so that they take their leadership not as a threat, but as a true, “Let’s all level up. We’re on the same team. Let’s go at it together to improve this.”
We’ve found what you said about the team being involved in any role. I like the distinction you’re making. I know it’s especially important for a leader who’s coming in, but for any role, it’s almost magical how it changes it from the hire where they weren’t involved, like, “Who are you?” and you’re like, “The new kid.” They almost push him out a little bit versus, “You’re my pick. I helped to select you.” They have this vested interest in that person being successful because they want to be right. It is like, “I chose them. I want to be right, so I’m going to help them be successful.” It’s amazing. I love that you drew that out.
What else should we talk about? That’s about getting the team set up culturally. That’s where we were. How do we make sure the culture stays well, healthy, and whole? You talked about reviewing this consistently in team meetings. You reward it. You lead or coach to it if you need to be correcting in any way. I imagine you fire to it.
Yes. In almost all of our fires, the only other type of fire would be when you’re not hitting your Key Performance Indicators or KPIs. Other than that, it’s almost all based on core values. We want the right people in the right seats. If somebody fits the core values but they’re not missing their KPIs, I’ll give them multiple chances. I’m like, “Let’s find another position for you. Let’s strategize where I could use you better.”
If I still can’t find something, KPIs are a fireable offense if you can’t hit the mark. Almost always, it is a core value. It’s somebody doing something out of alignment. It makes it very easy because it’s like, “You agreed to these things. Every week, you agreed to them.” If they don’t hit it or they do something out of character, it is like, “This is not cool. It doesn’t fit with what we want, what we like, and what we stand for. You know as well as I do that I can’t keep you.”
It makes your team trust you more when you hire and fire based on those. They want to also be surrounded by people who value those same things because they also value those core values. When you stand by it and someone’s hitting their KPIs but they are not core values fit, and you say, “We need the money,” you are not being very trustworthy to your team. You need to stand by them. You need to say, “This is not right.”
It may cost you in the long run, but it’s going to cost your team over here. When you keep somebody who hits the mark maybe financially but doesn’t hit the core values, it can become this snake in the grass through your team. It can spread bad culture and bring you down from the inside out. It’s important to review them, stand by them, hire and fire based on them, and be serious about them.
You’re right. You said it may cost you in the long run. You might’ve meant it may cost you in the short run to get rid of somebody. If you get rid of somebody who’s not a fit for your values even if they’re hitting those performance measures, in the long run, it’s way better for your team and your customer or client experience. Everyone’s better when you preserve that core. That’s what I was hearing from you.
Thank you for that correction.
That’s because I love what you’re saying. I’m like, “I think you meant this.” I could talk to you forever. I want to be your new groupie. I got to listen to your podcast. What is that podcast called again?
The Young Boss Podcast.
I don’t qualify, but I am at heart. I love that. We have time to get into one more topic. I’d love to have you discuss what it was like as you got bigger to where you couldn’t have everybody reporting to you because there were too many people, what it was like to start to build a leadership team, and what you’ve learned about not just leading team members, but leading leaders.
It has been a fun transition. I shared with you before the show started that my father used to be our CEO. I worked alongside him for about eight years. A few years ago, he passed, and then I got to take over. I went from the integrator role where pretty much everyone was reporting to me and I had my hands in everything, and I was running it all to then not being able to do that because the skills and talents required of me were more of the visionary role. I had to transition.
That’s a strange and difficult transition to make that most integrators probably can’t make because it’s not in their natural skillset. We were in a unique position where it was my father, so I didn’t mind playing second fiddle to him even if my opinions got put down for a couple of years. It worked out well that I could step into that visionary role.
With that transition, it was a huge awakening. You have to hire the right people underneath you because you do not have time in the day. What was being asked of me was to travel almost 33 weeks out of the year to be the main stage presenter and the face of the business. Before, I got to be behind the scenes and the bad guy to the clients. If the clients need to be told no, it was my job. I can’t do that as the face. I’ve got to be the nice guy. It was a different requirement. It was like, “I can’t do this alone. I need the team under me.”
It took a while for me to find the right people who I could trust because of what we talked about earlier of wanting to make sure that they could do the job as good as me, if not better. What I found with using those things we talked about in the beginning, the strategic hiring and the systems, was that there are people who can do the job not only as good as you but better than you. If you hire the right person, they’ll surprise you with how much they can do.There are people who can do the job not only as good as you, but better than you. If you hire the right person, they'll surprise you with how much they can do. Click To Tweet
I’m blessed that my integrator is an absolute rockstar. I can call, text, and email her at any moment and she’s on it. It really works well with me and for me, but I did have to let go of that stuff and be okay with it. She’s been with us for over a year. It took a while to train her, and it took a while for her to understand. It’s a new industry. Whenever you’re hiring somebody new, they’re probably coming from something different, so it takes a minute. I knew that it was going to take time, but I knew investing in the right person would be worth it.
We first hired probably the wrong person. It was then slow to hire and quick to fire. We made that decision, got her out, and then got the right girl in. She’s blown me away with her capabilities. I’m blessed to have her because I can’t do it alone. What do they say? The hustler has to die for the CEO to live. You have to delegate and elevate. You cannot keep doing it all yourself. You’ll drive yourself crazy and stunt your growth.
When I was looking at the numbers, I was like, “We got to grow, so I have to let go.” I have to let go and put my ego aside. Thinking, “I’m the best. I can do it all,” I’m going to kill the business if I do that. I have to be smarter than this. I’ve got to think ahead and look ahead. Making those decisions, I’ve never been happier and I’m not looking back, but it’s difficult when you’re in the process of it.
It’s so interesting how we came all the way back around to that point where we started, which is you have to let go. You have to figure out how to do that. That one-liner, I want to hear it one more time. The transition from hustler to CEO, I’ve never heard that. Will you say it one more time?
The hustler has to die for the CEO to live.The hustler has to die for the CEO to live. Click To Tweet
I’ve never heard that. That transition from entrepreneur or hustler to CEO is where most seven-figure businesses get stuck. That has to happen once you become the leader, and then as your business continues to grow, you have to take it to the leader of leaders. There is a next-level version of that, which you were describing. That’s really great. I’ve enjoyed thoroughly our time together. Can you let everybody know aside from the podcast where they can check out? If they want to learn more about RAL Academy or connect with you on social, how would they do that?
That’s wonderful. I know why they put you on those young amazing people lists because you are that. To everyone who’s been reading, please share this episode. Do all those things so that we can help as many seven-figure business owners as possible learn these lessons from people like Isabelle. We want to help. Thank you again for being here.
Thanks for having me.
We’ll catch you all next episode.
- Residential Assisted Living Academy
- Young Boss Podcast
- @RALAcademy – Instagram
- @RAL.Academy – TikTok
- Facebook – Residential Assisted Living Academy
About Isabelle Guarino
Isabelle is a graduate from Arizona State University, a former flight attendant, Walt Disney World intern and now Residential Assisted Living Academy’s leading lady. She has been working as the COO of the company for the last 8 years, keeping everyone in line and on task. She’s been featured in many magazines and articles on the topic of Senior Housing and most recently was given the title as one of the “Top Influencers in Senior Housing”. Isabelle also won Aging Media’s “the Future Leaders of Assisted Living” award in 2020 being 2 of 100’s under 30 to make the list.
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