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Amrit Dhaliwal is the Chief Executive of young and growing homecare provider Walfinch, which today has 26 franchisee managing directors delivering care to hundreds of clients across the country. He’s known for his creative thinking and new approaches, often addressed in leadership columns in the care and franchise press and at conferences. He takes time to share his Secrets of Success with Business Matters …
What is your USP?
The most fundamental is the Mum Test. When deciding what care is best, we always ask ourselves: ‘Would I like this for my own mum?’” We also use it when making many other decisions, and in recruiting franchisees and carers. It’s easy to remember, and it keeps the focus always on the people receiving care – the most important people in the care sector.
What is the main problem you solve for your customers?
We provide peace of mind for people receiving care and their loved ones. Simply said – but it takes huge commitment, teamwork and dedication to achieve.
What made you start your business?
After owning two successful hospitality businesses in my 20s, I became a franchisee of another homecare brand. It taught me a lot – not least that franchising for homecare in the UK was broken. I needed to fix that problem, so I went on to create the Walfinch homecare franchise. In homecare you can literally combine doing good with building a thriving business – but the sector needs a thorough overhaul, and I want Walfinch to be instrumental in that.
What are your brand values?
We believe in integrity, excellence and teamwork. But we have a fourth, equally important value: fun. I have always felt that I want my workplace to be a fun place to work – and I firmly believe that fun is for carers too! Making work fun makes clients lives more fun, and it aids carer retention.
Do your values define your decision-making process?
Our values inform everything we do, including client care, and how we treat our carers. They help us make better decisions and take better actions daily. In the care sector values must be more than aspirations.
Is team culture integral to your business and how do you show your team you appreciate them?
Team culture is vital in care.We do surveys, like WorkBuzz, of our franchisees and then act on the findings. We do the same in each of our branches with carers and clients. We also offer our franchisees meetings and conferences so we all contribute views to improve the business. Our franchisees consult their care teams, so their views are always taken into account.
Do you talk directly to your consumers clearly?
Yes! Our pricing is clear and transparent. It’s all wrapped in an hourly rate – there’s no booking fees to add on, for instance. With Walfinch there’s no small print – something we see a lot of in the care industry.
Many care companies also use care sector jargon that the general public don’t understand, but Walfinch avoids that. We also don’t patronise people or reduce them to stereotypes in our communications. Too often people are referred to as ‘the elderly’ or ‘the vulnerable’ as if they were all the same.We talk to and about them as individuals. Everyone is different.
What about inflation and interest rates – are you going to pass rises on to your customers or let your margins take a hit and reward customer loyalty?
We don’t set hourly care rates centrally –they are set by individual franchisees. Clearly inflation and interest rates put pressure on them to put their rates up.
In the care sector that’s not easy, because we deal with people, not commodities, but you can vary rates, so for instance, rates for new clients are higher than for long-standing ones. Our franchisees balance this for themselves very well.
Rates for private care are far more realistic than (often uneconomic) rates offered by local authorities, so franchisees can vary the mix of private and local authority care to balance their income – but they shouldn’t have to! Local authorities should be funded by the Government to allow them to pay fair rates.
How often do you assess the data you pull in and address your KPIs and why?
At Walfinch we use ‘The Metrics Method’. It tells each person in Walfinch if they have had a successful day. It’s broken down to every role – even quality and compliance is measurable.
We collect statistics so we can see which activities most increase revenues, making it easier for franchisees to set priorities and all of us to monitor our KPIs. For instance, we can tell our franchisees the average number of candidates they have to interview before a carer is taken on.
As the franchisor, we can see the average number of prospective franchisee leads required to recruit a franchisee. We can also monitor the performance ofindividual franchisees and step in with help to prevent small issues growing – a win for everyone. We usecustomised software for this and it’s available to our franchisees, which makes the Walfinch franchise more attractive.
Is tech playing a larger part in your day-to-day running of your company?
We use technology to keep in touch with our carers, clients and their families. Carers record details of their visits, including any client physical or mental health concerns, medications given, and other relevant details on an app, so we can monitor each client’s wellbeing, and nominated family members can access the records, which gives them peace of mind and alerts them immediately to any issues.
We also offer the Care Friends app to all our franchisees. This allows staff to suggest friends as possible candidates for carer jobs, with rewards if the candidate is employed. Personal recommendations result in more and high-quality appointments, and boost recruitment and retention.
What is your attitude to your competitors?
At present demand for care is vast so there is enough business to go round. However, there is competition recruit carers. At Walfinch our franchisees strive to offer carers ever-better working conditions, not just to beat the competition but because carers who feel valued deliver better client care.
But we aim higher too. We believe that care providers must work together to rescue the reputation of the care sector as an industry that doesn’t value its workforce, to become one that provides the working conditions and career paths that professionals enjoy.
Care providers must be willing to share ideas. I share the methods we use, and I hope our competitors are willing to share theirs too.
What do you do to relax, recharge and hone your focus?
I’m an exercise nut. I’ve been weight training for years, though it’s not so easy to keep daily gym times now I’m a dad of two. Dadding takes up a lot of time! I also like to do serious walking, which means I can also catch up on phone calls. My wife and I like to try out new restaurants and foods, and we’ll travel across the country for something special.
Do you believe in the 12-week work method or do you make much longer planning strategies?
My thoughts are always focussed on the BHAG – big hairy audacious goal. I have a ten-year plan, which I break down into three-year, one-year and 12-week plans – so I plan for the long term.
What three things do you hope to have in place within the next 12 months?
In the next 12 months, we plan to:
Introduce a carer support program. At present this is a statutory requirement for carers doing end-of-life care, but we think it should be available to all carers.
Set up a franchise advisory council, involving all Walfinch franchisees.
Focus our internal compliance, so a strong majority of franchisees meet CQC outstanding standards