How to Retain Employees: An Interview with Tafa Jefferson, CEO and Co-Founder of Amada Senior Care

Tafa Jefferson, CEO and Co-Founder of Amada Senior Care

Tafa Jefferson, CEO and Founder of Amada Senior Care, is featured on this episode of The Best Team Wins Podcast. Learn more about Tafa and Amada Senior Care by clicking here and listen to the episode below.




Show notes:

2:59 – How did Amada Senior Care get started?

5:45 – How are you growing your business? It’s all about retention

7:25 – What are you doing to build your brand?

9:05 – The evolution of an entrepreneur and a company

11:04- The importance of having great business partners

13:10 – The moment you think that you’ve arrived, that’s not healthy thinking.

13:58 – This reward is often more important than pay in the caregiving industry

16:49 – Amada’s compensation philosophy

17:53 – Where did this philosophy come from?

19:05 – Employee feedback: creating a safe environment in the workplace is critical

22:10 – Amada’s core values and building an organization around them

26:19 – Tafa recommends The Talent Masters by Bill Conaty and Ram Charan

28:24 – Tackling the biggest issue for Amada Senior Care: the lack of workforce in the future and creative ways to recruit employees


















Adam: Welcome to The Best Team Wins podcast, where we feature entrepreneurs whose exceptional approach to the people side of their business has led to incredible results. My name is Adam Robinson, and for the next 25 minutes, I’ll be your host as we explore how to build your business through better hiring.


Today on the program we have the CEO of Amada Senior Care, a franchise system based in San Clemente, California. We are excited to have Tafa Jefferson here with us today. They have 90 franchise locations and were just named number five to Entrepreneur Magazine’s top 100 new companies. Pretty awesome stuff. Tafa, we are so glad to have you with us today.


Tafa: Great, I’m really excited to be here, Adam. I appreciate the invite.


Adam: Another fun fact, Tafa played for our hometown favorite Chicago Bears before starting Amada and we won’t … As much as I’d love to talk about the Chicago Bears for the next 25 minutes, we’re not gonna do that. I’m gonna reserve my desire to talk football with you and we’re gonna talk about home health care and the people side of your business.


Tafa: Sounds great. Sounds great.


Adam: So as is the tradition here on the podcast, we always start off on the right foot, that is the best business or personal news, whatever is on your list, that’s happened to you in the last seven days. So, Tafa, what’s going on? What’s your good news for the last week?


Tafa: Wow, well, the last seven days has been kind of a whirlwind, but we are really excited … We can’t make any formal announcements, but we just signed an NDA with a very large third party administrator in the long-term care insurance realm and we’re really excited to move that relationship forward. It’s gonna translate into a nice business opportunity for us and our franchise partners.


Adam: Yeah, that’s great. We’ll talk in a bit about what it is you guys do and why that’s so important to the business model. Here on this side, I gotta tell you, the right foot is that, on our end, we are expecting our fourth in any moment here, and everything looks good. Everything is healthy, and if at any point during this podcast recording my phone rings and it’s my wife, you’re gonna have to stick around and wrap this thing up, so-


Tafa: Oh, okay. Well, congratulations.


Adam: Yeah, thank you. We’re pretty excited about that. So, again, one of these shows here … I’ve been talking about this for the last couple of weeks, but one of these shows I’m gonna be reporting my right foot as we’ve got a healthy baby girl.


Tafa: Good for you. Great for you.


Adam: All right, so let’s jump right in. We’re here to talk about the people side of your business, but let’s set the stage. So give us 30 seconds on Amada and what you guys are doing.


Tafa: Yeah, well, I started this business out of my mother’s basement in late 1997, so, Adam, this is 20 years now I’ve been working with seniors in the health care space, and essentially what we do, is we provide caregivers for families who are in need of assistance in their home. We’re primarily a non-medical service provider, meaning that we send caregivers in to provide with activities of daily living. You know, things such as bathing, dressing, getting mom or dad to the doctor’s appointment, preparing meals, assistance with transferring, things like that. So just allowing seniors to essentially age in place.


In addition to that, we provide families with assistance, what we call placement assistance. In some cases, home care is not a viable option for mom or dad, their health care condition changes and quite often they need to be transitioned to an assisted living or an independent living or, in some cases, a memory care community, so we help the families with that transition.


And then thirdly, what we do, Adam, is we provide some technology components that allow families to monitor the care that’s being delivered into the home with mom or dad. We can put sensors in and around the home, in the bedroom, bathroom, things of that nature, in order to ensure that the seniors are safe at home. We can track when falls happen, etc., or if we need to dispatch a nurse for safety precautions, then we can do so. We can do that all on an app via mobile phone or a PC or a laptop.


So that’s essentially what we do, is we provide services for families and seniors to allow them to age in place independently.


Adam: All right, and if listeners want to learn more about your services or about franchise opportunities, what’s the best way to reach you?


Tafa: Oh, they can just go to our website, A-M-A-D as in dog-A, Amada.


Adam: Excellent. All right. So it just strikes me that you, and I know you believe this as well, I mean, your opportunity in your market is just so big with the demographic shifts going on in the United States. I know why you’re so excited about you’re doing, but it is a tough labor market out there, so-


Tafa: Yes.


Adam: … talk about how you’re navigating the size of the opportunity relative to the challenge of the labor pool, which just, frankly, isn’t big enough to meet the demand. So what are you guys doing to grow the business?


Tafa: Well, we’re doing the things that we’ve always done. You know, Adam, this company was started in large part because my mother was a caregiver. She turned to me one day and said, “Son, you need to really consider this. It’s gonna be a growing field,” and at the time, she was a caregiver working for another organization and she eventually worked her way up into a management position, and over the years I’ve just learned, you just take care of people. It’s not rocket science. When we look to hire on caregivers to come and work for us, that we’re building a brand, they understand that from the moment they hit our door … Actually, from the time that we get them on the phone and kind of screen them to find out if they’re gonna be a great fit for our culture, we groom them. We essentially indoctrinate them with our way of thinking and with the way we deliver care in the home.


Now, the environment has changed to where you have to be very, very good at recruiting, but it’s all about retention. Although we’re delivering care into the home to seniors to assist families with aging in place, our business really is people. So, if we have the ability to attract the individuals that are aligned with what we’re trying to accomplish by delivering excellent care and we’re able to maintain those people, that’s kind of the secret. So, for us, it’s recruiting and caregiver retention.


Adam: So you touched on a topic that I hammer on often on this podcast, and that is the concept of building a brand, building an employment brand. So you said, “It all starts with building a brand.” What do you mean by that? What does that mean for your organization?


Tafa: Well, building a brand, it constitutes so many different aspects of business, but it’s building a strong culture and it starts with the leadership team.  We’ve identified who our target demographic is, we identified who is a perfect candidate that fits within our organization, that can go out and carry our message and carry our service model forward, but it’s all about culture, and if you have a strong culture and everybody buys into it, you can really do some amazing things as far as growing your business.


Now, here at Amada, what we do is … our mantra is enriching the lives of others. That’s what we do. That’s in our mission statement, that’s in our core beliefs and from the moment you walk in our door, the first thing you’ll see on our wall is our mission statement and our core values and our principles, what drives our business. So we hammer on those several different things, and our employees buy into it and it promotes a healthy work environment. It promotes great work ethic within our organization and it translates down to our field employees, which in turn is essentially delivered to the consumer.


Adam: All right. So starting from core values, then … I mean, you starting it in the basement, right? This is such an incredible growth story. Did you grow into needing core values or did you start with core values that have always been present [crosstalk 00:09:03].


Tafa: That’s an excellent question. We learned along the way … When I started the company, it was me by myself and it was … I was very … It was tough me for to kind of let go of certain aspects of the business. It really was. I think you’ll find that in the DNA of most entrepreneurs, where they want to get things right, but eventually you have to start trusting and allowing other people to do the work and then you gotta move out of the way.


So, for me, my transition came over a long period of time. It wasn’t … I never thought core values initially. I never thought mission statement, although we did have a mission statement. It was something that was kind of just in my documentation, it was in our collateral, it wasn’t something that we lived. It wasn’t something that we breathed. I can say with certainty we live it and we breathe it each and every day, but the short answer to your question, it wasn’t always that way. It was something that we kind of mature … As an organization, matured. We wanted to kind of keep the wheels on the wagon.


You know, whenever you’re experiencing a lot of growth and you’re looking to recruit people in, we need to make sure that the folks that come in and work on the administrative side of the business, they believe in our core values and we just lay them out very clearly and concisely what they are, and we make sure everybody buys in, and we also make sure that we have the right people in the right seats doing the right things.


Adam: So when you are talking about trusting people to do the work, for entrepreneurs, I can tell you from personal experience, that’s a tough transition-


Tafa: It is.


Adam: … letting go. At what point did you know it was time to get out of your own way and how did you know that you had the right person or people in place to be able to do that and still sleep at night?


Tafa: I would be lying if I said that I don’t still struggle with that right now, even to this day I do, but it was an epiphany. It really came … It was kind of like, you had to accept the fact … When we were growing at such a steady clip, it’s like, okay, now we have to address this, and it was kind of a consensus.


I’m very fortunate in the fact that I have very, very good business partners, and these are gentlemen who I’ve been blessed with. They just kind of popped in my life, once of which was my quarterback from college, and he’s Mr. Consistent, he’s highly polished, highly organized, and he came from the corporate world. He came out of the pharmaceutics industry and he was able to kind of work his way up to the ladder, and me being a true entrepreneur, I’m very gritty, street smarts, and let’s just go out and make sales calls and blow doors down, where he brought that corporate structure in. It was the perfect marriage. Then I added another business partner who was a franchising expert, who allowed us to really scale and grow the business.


So by the three of us working together, we all decided, okay, let’s pull the team together, let’s identify the people that we need in order to grow the business. Let’s set them job descriptions, key performance indicators, roles and responsibilities, and once we put that in place, then we would be able to have something to measure and grow the business departmentally. So it was kind of a natural progression, but it was kind of … it just happened over time. I can’t point and say that this happened in March of 2009, it was something that … it was very fluid, if you will.


Adam: Got it. Okay. Well, I appreciate you sharing that. That’s what keeps most entrepreneurs up at night and it kind of sounds like you’re still up at night. I certainly am. Maybe that never quite-


Tafa: All the time.


Adam: Maybe it never quite goes away. So you talk about-


Tafa: Just to touch on that-


Adam: Sure.


Tafa: The moment that goes away, you’re on dangerous ground. I mean, it’s my belief that the moment that you’re not worried about your business, the moment that you think that you’ve arrived, that’s not healthy thinking. So I will always be that … I’m just wired that way, you know?


Adam: Yeah, I hear you. Absolutely. So let’s focus on a related topic. You mentioned retention is more important recruiting. You said that, and I know you know that both are important, but retention being the key to success in your model, what are the things you do in your talent pool to encourage retention or to promote that? What things do you do that work that you can share with our listeners?


Tafa: Sure. Well, with me, my sandbox is caregivers. It’s one of the fastest growing jobs in the United States today. Number one is a CNA, a certified nurse’s aide, and then the number two fastest growing job is a home health aide, or private hire caregiver, so for us, there’s a dire need for good staff.


Some of the things that we do … It was really interesting, Adam, a few years ago, there was a study that was put out and they studied health care organizations across the country, and one of the questions they asked specifically to the caregivers is, “What’s important to you?”, and they said you can name anything that’s important to you as a caregiver, as it pertains to your job, and I thought the answers were very interesting. The number one thing that caregivers found to be the most important thing for them was acknowledgment. They placed acknowledgment higher than they placed pay.


Now, we can all safely say that if you’re a caregiver, they’re not … By no means are you a six-figure income earner, so they’re not doing it for the money. They’re doing it because it’s a part of their culture, it’s a part of their DNA. They love caring for other people. So for us, we go out of our way to acknowledge our field staff. We do things like caregiver of the month. Quite often, we do things for the holidays, gift cards, text messages, thank you cards, birthday cards. We run different promotionals. One of the promotionals that’s a big hit for some of our offices, is they do a back-to-school promotion, where if the employees report on time every time, they do X, Y, and Z. We can give several hundred dollars worth of gift cards for their children for back-to-school supplies.  So just thinking outside the box and doing things that are meaningful to the employees that have an im- … That’s big for us.


Adam: And those are things … They don’t cost a lot of money, right? That’s exactly right.


Tafa: No, it doesn’t.


Adam: It costs time and it costs your intention and it’s not stuff that breaks the bank. So would say that, for you, if you had the option of raising everyone’s pay by a couple of dollars an hour or doing a couple of these things that help people feel better about themselves, would you go so far as to say that the pay raise is gonna fail in comparison to the caring about others and recognition option?


Tafa: I firmly believe if you invest in people, it trumps everything. Now, of course, they have to make a living wage and for us, we pay well above the industry standard for wages. Well above the industry standard. We believe that … My father taught me an honest day’s work deems an honest day’s pay. So for us, it’s like we want to pay our people well and I think that’s something that attracts them to our organization, but additionally, we go above and beyond to make sure that we’re investing in people.


Any time our staff comes into our office, we stop what we’re doing, we go out, ask about their children. Little things like all my employees know, all my caregivers know that in my desk there is a big black box filled with suckers, so any time their children come, we’re always pulling out suckers for the kids.


Adam: I love it.


Tafa: We’re asking about their school, we’re investing in our people. That’s irreplaceable. There’s no price that you can put on that.


Adam: Was there a moment that you realized that these are the things that you should be doing or did this come with you from upbringing, as you’ve referenced a couple times?


Tafa: It’s a little bit of both. It really comes … I’ve interviewed thousands and thousands of caregivers, and the more you do it, the more you have a better understanding of who these people are and what’s important to them, and it’s their family. So if we can have that little bit of time with them when they’re in our office visiting and we stop what we’re doing and we make them feel like they’re just important … When we interact with them over the phone and make them feel that they’re important, you know what happens when we hang up that phone or when they our office? They feel like a million bucks and they’re gonna go out and just provide our seniors with the best care they possibly can.


Adam: So on the same thread there, you mentioned the ability to connect with people. What’s your philosophy around employee feedback? What are you doing to get and give that and ensure that you’ve got the channels open to the people touching your customer base?


Tafa: You know, in today’s day and age, a lot of our staff, we communicate electronically. We send assignments via email, via text message, but all of our staff, any time they want to give us feedback, they can call us, they can text us, they can email us. We make sure that our staff knows that they have a … Creating a safe environment is huge. I can’t stress that enough, where they feel like they can come and tell us, you know, if it’s something with another employee, if it’s something with a client, if it’s something with … maybe someone in our administrative team spoke to them harshly, they feel safe enough to come to us and we put processes in place and we make sure we stress it. Hey, we want to hear from you. We want to get better.


I think one of the most important things that any business can do is always be … From a leadership perspective, is always be malleable, always be teachable, and that’s in our values. One of our core values is confidently humble, meaning that we want to have humility in everything that we do, and we want to be teachable. So we make sure that all of our caregivers have the ability to give that feedback to us on a regular basis, and by multiple avenues, email, text message, on a phone call.


We have … I think we do this quarterly now. I know we had done this annually, but we have feedback sessions where we can post out to our clients, hey, how are we doing? How is the care being delivered in your home? Are you satisfied? Is there anything that you could change? We also poll our caregivers as well, and that information we take and we feed that up to a national survey that’s taken by this same organization called Home Care Polls. So we give them multiple avenues to give us feedback, good, bad, or indifferent.


Adam: Wow, it sounds like you’re managing that with a great deal of transparency, which I know as well from experience, what matters is when people know you’re listening and that you care about making it better, it just goes so far.


Tafa: Yeah. It’s not if things will go wrong in business, because quite often they do, it’s how you handle the situations with your caregivers and your clients and your employees. It’s how you handle it. One of our other core values is urgency in everything, and so everything’s urgent with us. So if we’re taking the time out and taking the attention to address the situation and having the proper follow-up mechanisms, and all parties are satisfied, then we can move on. But when things kinda linger, they fester, then that’s when things snowball on you, so you gotta be very careful of that.


Adam: Now you’ve mentioned two of your core values and just done such a great job explaining how you make those real day to day. Are there others that you can share with us?


Tafa: Oh, yeah. We actually have created material content, which we email blast out. We give our employees pens. All of our employees also have … they’re like silver dollars that we’ve made and we’ve inscribed our company logo, Amada Senior Care, on it with these big letters etched in them, says, “enriching lives,” but underneath that, it has our core values and it talks about our principles. Everyone that’s hired into our organization goes through this training, and the first thing that we have on this medallion that we hand out to our employees is compassionate and charitable. In order to be effective in this business, you have to have some compassion and you have to have a charitable heart to do the type of work that we do on a daily basis. We’re literally caring for precious family members that mean so much to the sons and daughters that we’re fortunate to serve.


And then also, our second core value is competitively driven to be the best. You probably won’t meet more competitive guys in an organization, in a senior care organization, than ours. We put great thought and time into recruiting the operators to run our different offices across the U.S. There’s a specific person that we have identified within the sales force that we go after, so there’s a lot of attention and thought behind that.


Our third core value is urgency in all things. We’re urgent in everything we do. We take care of it. We don’t delay. We don’t procrastinate, that’s just not something that we do here. Next is a … We have a farmer entrepreneurship mentality, meaning that in business, it takes a lot to grow your business and when we start from the ground up, we explain all of the attributes of a farmer, and I think that’s … The attributes of a farmer are something to be admired because no one sees the work that’s involved in building a brand when you go into a new market, or even like yourself, Adam, when you started your organization.


We have to make sure before we get started in growing our crops, we gotta clear the field and sometimes there’s big, massive stumps, there’s cement blocks in there. We gotta do the heavy lifting and get those stumps out. We need to prep our field. We need to make sure that we weed our field. We gotta water it and we have to seed it, and then we have to be patient and allow our crops to grow. And then comes the harvest. Quite often, when you’re building a business, and the business is successful, they say, “Wow, that’s awesome. You did that in five years or ten years,” and a lot of times people don’t understand the work involved in building that. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that went into that organization. So, for us, we teach that from day one.


And then lastly, is confidently humble. It’s kind of like an oxymoron to be confident and also to be humble, but that’s just who we are. We know what we’re capable of doing, but also we temper that with humility in making sure that we’re always teachable, we’re malleable, and we’re good stewards.


So those are our core values and we live and breathe them each and every day.


Adam: Well, it is no secret why you guys have been as successful as you have. Pretty awesome stuff here.


Tafa: [inaudible 00:26:09]


Adam: So with our final couple of minutes here, really tactical but fun question. What book are you reading right now and would you recommend it to our audience?


Tafa: Oh, that’s actually a really good question. I was recommended this book, it’s called The Talent Masters, The Talent Masters by Bill Conaty, and in it he just discusses getting to the essence of people, really understanding the decisions that people make, the patterns of behavior, of closely observing people in order to bring out the best in them and, yeah, I would highly recommend it to others. They talked a little bit about Steve Jobs and when he accepted the position at Apple, how he went in and just removed … In the board room they had like 10 different products that they were going down the path on developing, and he removed seven of them and he picked out the iPod and said, “This is what’s gonna get us to the next level,” and sure enough … He knew the way that consumers thought. He knew from a design perspective what would sell, and he basically understood the consumer and charged a premium for it and it took Apple to the next level. That was their launching pad.


So, I think … In the story that they paint in there is the fact that he spent countless hours … Every Monday morning, he would spend several hours with the technology department, understanding metals, understanding plastics and glass, and it was really fascinating to watch that play out when he launched that iPod. So, again, it’s just understanding people, making sure you have the right people around you and eventually executing.


Adam: All right, so, thank you for sharing that. Closing question here. If you were come back on the show a year from now and tell us all about whether or not you successfully tackled the single biggest people-related issue or opportunity that you have in front of you in your business today, what would you be reporting on?


Tafa: Oooh. I think you stumped me here. Well, right now, the biggest people issue for us right now is just really wrapping our arms around the disparity between the seniors that are going to need the care in the next five to ten years and the lack of work force. I think we’re gonna have to get really creative. I’ve often thought of going overseas, building schools, in order to import people who would like to take on this line of work. We just simply don’t have the bodies to do it.


Gosh, tackling that problem is huge for us. I mean, there’s always room for improvement with our recruiting efforts. I think one of the things that we can get better is demonstrating to people outside of the health care industry how valuable this service is to seniors and convincing them to possibly move into this arena. That’s one area that we haven’t tapped, or recruiting externally, internationally. So that’s a big problem that we quite haven’t figured out yet. It’s something that we’re having some ongoing discussions on how do we address this, but I would say, yeah, just bringing people in from outside our space and trying to figure this issue out.


Adam: That’s the final word. You’ve been learning from Tafa Jefferson, CEO at Amada Health Care and Home Health Care System, with 90 franchisees, growing like crazy, all kinds of success. Best wishes to you, my friend, for continued greatness here and thank you for being with us on the program.


Tafa: Thank you so much. I appreciate the invite and much success to you as well.


Adam: All right, that’s a wrap for this episode of The Best Team Wins podcast, where we feature entrepreneurs whose exceptional approach to the people side of their business has led to incredible results. I’m Adam Robinson, author of the book The Best Team Wins, which you can find online at We’ll see you next week.