So many businesses fail to think about how to improve workplace culture when planning for growth. According to company culture, expert Tristan White, your company’s ethos and values are the glue that binds your whole operation together.
Tristan White — founder and CEO of The Physio Co — generously outlines the systems that helped him to win “Australia’s Best Place to Work” 11 times in a row!
In this episode we discuss:
Host: Josh Fonger
Guest: Tristan White
Please Note: The following is a computer auto-generated transcript and will include some inaccuracies.
Welcome to the Work the System podcast where we help entrepreneurs make more and work less using systems and I’m your host Josh Fonger. Today we have a special guest we have Tristan White. Tristan is the founder and CEO of The Physio Co unique healthcare business that focuses on the care for the elderly. The Physio Co has been ranked one of Australia’s 50 Best Places to Work for the last 11 consecutive years. We chose Tristan has a keen focus on enhancing workplace culture. Author of the best-selling book culture is everything. Tristan now teaches this dynamic system to harmonize workplace culture across thousands of small businesses globally. Alright, Tristan, why don’t you give us the backstory? How did you become an expert in culture? And how did you get into the physiotherapy? Business. Give us that backstory.
Yeah, sure. Josh, nice to be here with you. And thanks for having me on. Josh. Important part of my story is that I’m a as we call it here in Australia, a physiotherapist, or in the states in other parts of the world. It’s called a physical therapist. And I went to University studying to be a physical therapist and came out of university thinking that I wanted to have this 10 year dream this big, long vision to learn the skills of the junior physiotherapist, hopefully progressed to becoming an expert in Sports Physiotherapy, and ideally progressed to becoming a physiotherapist who works with elite sports people. Preferably in the AFL, the Australian Football League here in Australia, the mighty Richmond targets being my favorite team, Josh, but that was where I started and that was the initial goal. The thing was that I just a year or so into my career as a physiotherapist. I, I didn’t feel like I was I was probably living a purpose or helping people in a way that that really made my heart filled goals. I was happy at work and doing what I wanted to do. And I think I was my head was thinking I’m on the right track of metastatic career and I’m stepping stone towards my 10 year goal of being a physiotherapist for elite sports people. The thing was I just couldn’t reconcile this head versus heart challenge. I just didn’t feel like it was the right path for me. And so I thought deeply about what was important to me what I enjoyed doing. And as a relatively young 24 year old recently graduated physiotherapist, who told the world that Sports Physiotherapy, the elite part or the more sexy part of our industry was going to be my career, I met a big shift a big change and I realized that helping young athletes run faster and jump higher tackle harder, didn’t make me happy. What I really enjoyed doing was working with older people who had declined in their ability to do the normal stuff in life and visiting an older person in their own home and helping them to stay mobile, stay active or do this things to stay independent. Even being able to walk from there, from their dining room at the front gate down a few stairs to check the mail at the front of their house was and then return with their mail or the newspaper. It was just something that made me much happier Josh, I just felt like I was serving people in a more useful way. And so I made this early career pivot to starting to work with older people in nursing homes. And, and that was the start of this, this business which is called The Physio Co. And The Physio Co started with just me working in a few older nursing homes in Melbourne, Australia. And over time, I started helping a few more older people in a few more locations. And over time, Josh from 2004, all the way through to 2019. Last year, we grew that business gradually and we ended up with about 150 team members, visiting all the people in all sorts of places around Australia. And we’re in the middle of a change in a pivot moment. So we’ve got a few less team members than 150 at the moment as we reposition ourselves for a future growth, but the backstory of my physiotherapy career was the early pivot in terms of what was important to me, growing that business with ups and downs and bumps in two steps forward and one step back and, and all the learning that comes with this. But what I discovered along that big journey to building a physiotherapy business, is it also had another passion and that is that I believe the world needs more great places to work. And I’ve been working and studying hard about what is team culture? How do you build a strong team culture? How do you build a great place to work and along the way The Physio Co has really invested on out our culture and our systems our people got an amazing group of people, and we’ve learnt what some important rituals or routines are Josh to build a strong culture. And we’ve been so fortunate that for 11 consecutive years, The Physio Co has been ranked as one of Australia 50 Best Places to Work. And that’s sort of the platform or the foundation for me to then share that story, the system behind how we built the video was a great place to work. And that’s the foundation of the book we were mentioning, which is called Culture is everything, the story and system behind Australia’s best place to work and so there’s a lot in that Josh but that’s sort of the backstory, if you will.
This is a gonna be a fun topic, cuz I know that. We’re talking about systems here. Most people think of systems as these working procedures that are very mechanical. But communication is a system culture is a system, no good health as a system. And so why don’t all what I’m curious about is, did you intuitively know that culture was going to be integral to your success? Or were there some problems that happened in your business during the first few years and you’re like, wow, I keep having these nightmare situations, and I really need to change this.
Tristan: 06:00- 07:45
Yeah, it wasn’t, even though now Josh, I know that some caught you can really build culture or culture can occur in business in two ways, either by default, when no one’s paying attention to culture, or by design, when you really do put the systems and the foundation in place. I know that now, but I sure as hell didn’t know that in the first place. And, and so I definitely had a culture by default in the early days at The Physio Co. And having said that, Josh, I had a culture by default, there was no systems or structure in place. By the same token, I genuinely had a view of starting a business and I thought I was gonna be a small business with maybe half a dozen people that typical healthcare practice that is what I sort of what I had in mind. And I really did want to attract a group of people who were aligned with what with helping older people, which is what we were doing. And also, I enjoy coming to work with that will probably my really early thoughts on culture is that I want to attract people that will could it could also do right work with me. And I enjoy going to work with him. That was my initial very loose thoughts on what this whole thing of culture was. And I didn’t realize at the time. And then I did record, I host a podcast called the thing for your small podcast, Josh, and an early episode, I think was Episode 18, if I’m going to remember back deeply, so I told the story about the very first team member at The Physio Co. And the very first team member didn’t last for a long time, I was not very well equipped to be a boss or a team leader at that stage. And I certainly didn’t probably attract the right person then support and help them to succeed as well. So yes, failures as well as part of that part of the story, Josh?
So do you think you’d be able to grow your company as big as it is, with a bad culture like, Is it is it possible to get big with a bad culture or is it is it pretty essential to actually build a good culture to make it big?
I think it is possible to get big, but I think you’ve got a big miss, if you’ve got a not a very well aligned culture and, and so when you’ve got a culture by design, in my experience, it creates time and space for the leaders to be able to grow their business and have more time to actually lead the business with a culture by default, which you can get being with a coder by default. But my goodness, in my experience, it’s a big firefighting mess that you’re forever chasing your tail, and rehiring and retraining and rehiring, and retraining and redirecting this, there’s so much rework involved in a culture by default. I think that’s the real difference for culture by default versus culture by design.
I totally agree. Yeah, I think that’s and some people that think, well, we’ll do this culture stuff once we’re at a certain size, but you just won’t get there because you’d have so many nightmares. To get there, you must build it from beginning. So why don’t you get walk through some of your key principles in your book, or your pillars to actually building a great culture. What are some of those?
Yeah, so Josh, the culture serving system, which we’re describing in this in this book, it’s this idea. And it was that was learned on the fly over a long period of time incremental learning of what are the principles of creating a strong culture. And the culture is everything system has evolved. And there’s a 19 step checklist, which is part of the culture is everything system and because one day someone said, Tristan, you keep winning these awards is a great place to work. And we want to know how you build a strong culture with The Physio Co. How do you do it and nice to give this long drawn out? Answer Josh, and it’s, and it made sense to me, but no one else knew what I was talking about. So I broke it down. And I listed the 19, sort of recurring, repeatable important steps that we’re using at The Physio Co that I’ve learnt from various places. I certainly can create these steps either and he went in from all different directions. And then I’ve collated them, I use them, I test them, that I’ve documented them in the culture is everything checklist. And that of course, 19 steps is too many to remember. So that 19 steps is summarized into a four part system. And the four part system starts with discover the core. Discover the core really important concept. It’s not, it’s not new, but it’s important idea that I believe you need to have a compelling core purpose for an organization. Some people might know it as a vision, a vision or mission statement. I think that a core purpose why you exist, is a concept that is easy to understand. And, for example, our physiotherapy business, The Physio Co exists to help seniors stay mobile, safe and happy. We help older people wherever they call home is a basic concept there. So discover the core which involves a compelling core purpose, and then a set of three to five core values is the first part of the Culture is everything system. Core values being a bit like rules more like guiding principles, and why between three and five, I don’t think you can define the behavior. So if you’ve ever visited lesson three, and if you’ve got more than five, no one can remember. So it’s a pretty simple concept. So first part of the system, Josh, discover the core. Next part is document the future. And I think it’s really important that we know who we are and what’s important to us in the discover the core part. But then where are we going? I think everyone wants to know where a business is headed and what they’re focused on. Knowing full well, that takes a long time to bring important things to life. But that’s why in the document the future section, I reckon it’s really important that we have a vision in two parts. One is a bigger, longer term approach, and that is that I call a 10 year obsession, a 10 year obsession. It’s something I learned from Jim Collins his idea of a big hairy audacious goal. He talks about between 10 and 30 year goal or do something very significant that I took the easier part of that Josh and the 10 year timeline made sense to me, but a 10 year obsession. An example that in our business is our very first 10 year obsession from 2009 through the end of 2018, was to deliver 2 million consultations to Australian seniors to help them stay mobile safe and happy. So big carbon mountain top goal of a 10 year obsession, but that’s far too long for most people in the team in the business suite. Business owners and entrepreneurs can think and commit to things that own period of time, team members like I think a much more incentivized inspired and connected to, to some it’s shorter timeline. So a three year painted picture vision is a concept that I learned from a from someone called Cameron Harold and Cameron, Harold Tom told me about the painting division. And so the second part of the system Josh says document the future in two parts, the 10 year obsession, and the three year painted picture vision is the is the two parts, they’re just the third of the four parts of the cultures, everything system is probably the most important, but it’s possibly the most boring as well. And that is it’s called execute relentlessly. And that is over and over again, you’ve got to build the system, then you’ve got to execute it over and again. And so two quick examples of how you can execute relentlessly is a short, sharp daily huddle, where with team members connecting, ideally, a stand up meeting is a really important part of a rhythm for building a connected team. And that’s something we’ve learned from many, many places. It’s not a new concept, but it is something that we did that I really do think is important. And the second part of execute relentlessly, which is really important. Building a strong culture is a robust, repeatable multi-person, multi-step recruitment process. You really need to have a really robust recruitment process to make sure you’re attracting the right people selecting the right people and what’s employing it attracting Tony Shay from Zappos, very famous culture famous for their culture, he talks about the wrong team members being polluters, and that is that they, if you select the wrong team members, they can very quickly publish and dilute the culture. So, a robust multi step recruitment process, important part of execute really relentlessly. And Joshua asked me fourth of the four parts of the culture during system. It’s called shadow love. And this comes from a place of pain in somewhat, somewhat Joshua is that a few years ago, I had this growing, connected important team of The Physio Co, we’re doing good work, but I thought I could do better work and I didn’t understand why. I didn’t feel like we were connected and as we were giving as much as we could. And a mentor said to me, Tristan, do you tell them that you trust them? Do you try to tell them that you love them and you care for them. And you know what I do honestly look in the mirror and say, you know what, probably not enough, I was probably a manager who was leading by exception, and catching people doing something wrong, as opposed to catching people doing something right. And praising them and acknowledging and supporting people to, to do their best work. So, show more love is the last part. It’s not only about supporting and encouraging and catching people doing something, right. It’s also having a system in place or a budget in place. For the bad stuff that happens in people’s lives. Sometimes we’re all human. Sometimes we get sick. Sometimes we have a loss in the family, a death in the family, bad stuff happens. I think it’s really important as team leaders and as a strong caring culture. We acknowledge those tough times. We send a card we send a flower, we give them space to be able to do what needs to be done before realizing that they they’re ready to come back to work and that’s an important part. Probably the last part of thermal love Josh, I think it’s so important that, we capture the memories, I’m going to hold up a copy of a cultural here. This is a book that we created The Physio Co. Every year, it’s a yearbook. But I reckon if you do so much work and so much we invest so much time and effort into building a strong culture, don’t forget to capture the memories and really store them away. And so we’ve got I think, there were up to eight editions of a culture book with The Physio Co now it’s really awesome to capture those memories and have a memory bank, if you will. And so Josh, there’s the, the four steps of the cultures everything system, document that sorry, discover the core, document the future, execute relentlessly and show more love.
Yeah, a lot of great wisdom there and I can see you pulled from a lot of great sources. So everything you’re talking about is tested, proven works and researched. And for anyone listening to this, and they’ve got a small company like wow, I’m really far away from getting that done, right. So where should they begin? Or is there is there a sequence to have to follow through with or can they just start off doing their? Their yearbook photos right now?
Yeah, so Josh it’s in this years and years in the making it from my perspective, I understand it, it’s, it’s much sounds, building a strong culture and a great place to work might be a great aspiration for entrepreneurs, you got to start somewhere. And I would send people if you want some quick wins to really charge your culture, go straight to the show aloud section, the show more love section, he’s got these small, incremental steps that you can put in place that we can get some results really really quickly. So share more love is where you go for the quick wins., Josh. So that’s probably the two places that we, we I’d point people to.
Another question I have is how deep do you have to go on one of these layers to be successful? So for instance, I’m thinking to say I’m listening to something in cash, I don’t have these pieces. Can I draft a quick core and future vivid vision or the three yea ow? Or do I have to really invest months and months building this thing? How perfect does it have to be to actually be useful in your business?
Josh, we’re after progress rather than perfection. So progress rather than perfection is definitely what we’re after here. And this is the challenge that I’ve had all the ways that I’ve I’m coming from a place of perfectionism, which doesn’t result in speed. It results in delay. So you can definitely you could set aside an hour to have a dot point painted picture vision, if that’s what if you had a clear view as to what you’re trying to achieve, and then absolutely start using that in recruiting and attracting the right people there’s no need to, to think it’s perfect. And this is the whole system Josh, the whole the whole thing. Even people that have got the 19 steps in place like we do The Physio Co, we’re forever refining and improving and, and making adjustments and Jim Collins speaks about the concept of a flywheel. This flywheel in business where you it’s a big heavy wheel, that you’re trying to get started in a business or building a culture, and you have your shoulder to the wheel and you and your shovel and you push it and it slowly moves a little bit when you do a little bit more work and it moves a bit further. And then and then over time it builds momentum. Well, you just got to get started on this stuff, Josh. So, so I think there’s no you don’t need to spend weeks or months building it before you can start rolling it out.
The phrase I like to say is, your actions will inform your next action. So take an action, it’ll inform the next action. So, let’s say somebody is like, okay, they’re excited about this. But they’re also excited about making some money. And is there a compromise where it’s like, well, if I do this, I have to wait to get paid. But if I just hammer hard on my team right now, I’ll get paid faster. And so is there, like a trade-off that they have to kind of think through or they or their alignment in doing this?
Ah, they probably use Josh but if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. And, and so this is not for the hackers. This is not for the hospitals who, who are like, let me just quickly build a great place to work. That’s, that’s going to be a strong culture that’ll make me heaps of money and keep churning out passive income. This is for leaders who understand that I’m building a great company with a strong culture is a craft. It does take time. And not only do native cultures everything system, but there’s a critical part of this, Josh that I didn’t realize in the early days for us to close to it. And Tony did a recent discovery. But to build a great place to work, that’s an enduring, great, great, great company. We need both the system in place, but we need a leader or leaders who’s willing to be brave, to be curious to be courageous, and to continue to fine tune themselves and the system to evolve and to grow over a longer period of time. So it’s, yeah, you can, you can quickly build a culture system, but to really enjoy it and to make it a great place to work over a long period of time. Like the 11 times one of Australia’s best places to work that I’m coming from. It really does take time to, to build and to fine tune.
Yep. I’ve got to believe the satisfaction is not necessarily quantified only in money. When you build something like this, there’s a lot of other value built. That’s not monetary.
The money, Josh, ideally, we build a great place to work that serves the will, that serves the world well and employs people that gives them meaningful work. And yeah, all comes together, then money is the outcome in some ways which, which can come quickly if you’re fortunate, and it can take some time. But either way, it’s a purpose worth pursuing.
So why don’t people build good cultures is because of their ignorance, or because their, their lack of focus or vision or lack of courage, like what, what do you see entrepreneurs or leaders where they, I mean, they could do it, but they just they aren’t doing it. What are they? What mental block Do they have that’s holding you back from doing this?
Yeah, Josh, I reckon that something really significant is this idea that entrepreneurs and business owners and this is where I came from as well. I didn’t realize I needed to be a leader at the start. And then I discovered this idea that I need to be a better leader. And so I started trying to discovery and learning about being up being a leader for others and building a team and involving the planning and the organizing, and the checking and controlling, and the finances and all that sort of stuff. What I forgot what I overlooked, or what I didn’t realize is I need to better lead myself I need to be, I need to be self-aware, I need to accept myself for the mistakes I’m going to make every day in the life, I’m going to accept that I’m going to have some days that I really nail it and some days where I just need a breather, I need a break. And I need to understand that it’s a it’s an incremental approach to self-growth and continuing to improve. And so I think the answer is that, that people, in my experience, I can only speak for myself, but don’t really we don’t know what we don’t know, and therefore being more so way to better learn from our experiences, and then adjust and apply and improve. That’s a critical factor in my experience.
So I’m going to kind of give you a leading question because I know that you’re, you help out with this. So if someone’s listening to this, and they’re saying, gosh, Tristan sounds like you’ve you’ve lived this, you’ve done this, you’ve written about this. Where do I go to grow as a leader? Like, because I know you talked about some community that you offer, correct?
Yeah, that’s right, Josh. So probably, probably, I’d love to invite people to join me at something called Timeout. A timeout, live daily huddle is something that I host on Facebook, on YouTube and on Twitter, five days a week. It’s something that that we attract leaders who are growing teams, entrepreneurs who are growing their teams, but for a moment for 12 minutes, I invite them to join me in a live stream, where they can have a timeout from their own leader own teams. And in being continually making decisions in the team, they have a timeout with me. And we can refocus on our priorities for the day, or anything we might be stuck on. And we can share a good news story to make sure we’re catching people doing something right. And that’s so by my Facebook page, and our YouTube channel, is the best place to find the Timeout live daily huddle. So that’s the first thing, Josh, but secondly, this, there’s a small online community that I’ve been building that’s relatively new, but it’s called the Culture is everything club. And the culture is everything you can find at cultureiseverything.com is the website. And but that place is a safe space for leaders who want to build the skills, sorry, learn the skills, build the competence and be supported to become a leader that can grow as a team with a strong team culture, and ultimately, so we can create more great places to work. So, Josh, I’d love people to join me for Timeout live daily huddle, and then consider joining the culture is everything called our online community.
So if I wanted to do that on, let’s just say YouTube, where I just type in Timeout daily huddle, or is that where I find it?
I know you search for Tristan White on YouTube. Is that okay? Right? Yeah, that’s right. We can definitely put the links in the in the stream. Hey, Josh, we can put in the public in the pod notes.
Perfect. Now, I think this is a great idea, especially well, for everybody. But if you’re new to entrepreneurship, if you’re young, if you’re it’s your first business, definitely. And if you’re a second or third generation business owner, essential, because a lot of the road that you’re, you know, the patriarch or the matriarch went through to build the business, when you assume it. You didn’t grow as leader to get to that leadership position. And so is this it’s essential to build these things. You can’t, otherwise your business will fall apart and the culture will fall apart and you will not be able to get it back. So this is really good information. Very timely. So Tristan, I want to leave you with a final couple of questions here before I before I let you go. I know it’s the weekend over there. So I asked us to everybody who’s on the Work the System podcast, which is about system so you kind of mentioned some systems, but can you tell us a story or an example of a system that you put into place in your business and what it’s done for you?
So Josh, I’ve mentioned a rhythm of connection and that thing, a daily huddle for every team member in our organization. I think that’s a really important concept that we have a short shop meeting. But we also have a deeper dive a weekly meeting that I think is really important as well. And, and our executive leadership team meeting with the five person leadership team that I work with at The Physio Co LL. It used to have an agenda at the start which is called good news. Until we all turned up with some good news personally or professionally, it didn’t matter what it was, and, and making sure that we started with some, some just a lighter note. But Josh, met a small adjustment a couple years back. And we changes from good news to simply news. And the reason is that we don’t want to show up and be inauthentic and have to share something good or positive. If we’ve really had a crap day or crap week, or something that some that hasn’t gone so well. So the system I want to mention too, is find a way to have a system which allows people to connect in an authentic way without having to be overtly positive and over the top all the time, because that’s more human that’s more authentic, and we get a deeper level of connection. And now we have team members who mostly show up with good news because we’re positive people. But if something’s not working out, I’ve got a space to be able to mention something and we can connect on someone which is which is a bit tougher for them to share with everyone. It’s a safe space. So that’s the system our Josh.
That’s great. Yeah, there was this trend over the last 20 years, people were really down on meetings and thinking, we have online things. We have software, we have tools, we don’t, we don’t need meetings, we can communicate over instant message. And now I’m seeing this resurgence of people realizing wait a second, we’re humans we do need to connect to there is a lot of value in that. And so I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s great. So building out your meeting system is going to make your culture good, which is gonna make your company good, which is going to make everything I mean, it just, it all connects. So that’s awesome. Now, what is a question? Tristan , that I did not ask you, but I should have asked you. Do you want to leave the audience with?
So the question probably Josh is, is there any, by investing in cultural learning and applying and trying to build a better company via connected culture? Is there any other positives that come out of that, that might affect your life or other parts of your life? And so that’s the question that I would have asked Josh. And the answer is, again, by complete default by complete accident, I didn’t realize this. But I’m so fortunate that I’ve live here in a little town called Foster in the southeastern part of the Australian mainland. I’ve got four, four kids, including a teen tiny little baby. But we’ve induced just a very scaled down simple version of this idea of this strong team culture in our little family. And we’ve got a few something called core promises, which is just a small set of little behaviors that we sort of work towards as a family. And not only they great for us as parents to be able to rip a small set of rules that you repeat over and over again, is the basic theory, Josh, but we can catch our kids doing something right and praise them by living ethical promises. And it’s some it’s some people say is just not for me, and I understand that’s fine. But I guess the learnings that work helped me create time and space in my life professionally, but they do carry over into my into my personal life and it builds a way to connect and build deeper relationships and connections at home, as well as at work as well. And I reckon that that’s probably something that I didn’t realize. And it’s something pretty. I’m, I’m looking forward to exploring as our kids grow Are there any little at the moment? But, but that’s something that might be useful for others as well.
Yeah, that’s great. Yeah. The culture systems, their rhythms, the systems. Yeah, we have a lot of those who could probably talk for a while about that. It’s fun. Yeah. I mean, you want a result? And you know, that it’s gonna take some steps to get there. So how would I have a great relationship with my kids? Maybe there’s a certain system that I could repeat to get there. That’s cool. Very good. So where can people again find out more about you, your book, your groups, your livestream is where where should they go Tristan?
Yeah. So if people Have a podcast listeners, they should check out the Think Big Act Small podcast. I think that’s the best place to find me and get me in your ears, so to speak, Josh. But my home on the web if you really want to, to go to my home on the web, TristanWhite.com.au, because I’m down here in Australia. It’s got the.au on the end there. TristanWhite.com.au would be useful. So check out the podcast, my home on the web. And or finally, Timeout Live Daily Huddle on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter would be another option to check out. But either way, I’d love to have people come and check it out.
Awesome. Well, thanks again. Interesting for making the time on your Saturday morning. My Friday afternoon for being here. I like I like interviewing people who’ve lived it. They’ve done it. They’re not just theoreticians. They’re not just based on ivory tower theory. You’ve actually worked this out in the real world with your business with your life. So again, great place to go. Go to TristanWhite.com.au that you all have the resources. And if you want to listen to another great podcast tune in next week, we do live streams every week. And also, you can check us out on iTunes or any other podcast player or YouTube. And check out some of our recent podcasts. Also, leave us a review, let us know let us know you left a review and send us a screenshot of that review. And we will be giving away a copy of our book that book right there behind me Work the System will mail it out to you. We pull out one name out of a hat each week. So that could be you, you could be lucky winner. So leave us review and we’ll do that for you. And also if you want to copy the book for free, you can download the Work the System for free at our website at workthesystem.com otherwise, we will see you all next week. Thanks, Tristan.
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