Tristan White is an Entrepreneur's Organization (EO) member in Victoria, Australia and founder and CEO of The Physio Co, providing physical therapy services for seniors to help them stay mobile, safe and happy. As the leader of a company voted one of Australia's best places to work for the past nine years and the recent author of a book on the subject, we asked Tristan about the importance of company culture. Here's what he shared.
You're a physical therapist-turned-entrepreneur. When you started The Physio Co (TPC) in 2004 it was just you; now more than 100 physios work for your company. What was the most difficult challenge in your entrepreneurial journey?
The toughest challenge has been to attract and retain enough great team members who align with TPC's culture and core values to help our clients stay mobile, safe and happy. Working with older people like we do at TPC is not seen as sexy or attractive by many healthcare professionals, so we have to be very selective about our hires.
What characteristics do you look for when hiring new employees?
We look for alignment with our core purpose, core values and vision. We have a robust and multi-step recruitment process at TPC that allows the potential hire and us to get to know each other before we advance to the job offer stage.
Throughout the process, a potential hire is assessed against our selection criteria. If at any stage they are assessed as a "maybe"―meaning "maybe we should hire them" as opposed to "yes we should definitely hire them"― we respectfully part company and wish that person well for the future. A strong culture can be diluted very quickly if team members that don't align from the start join the organization.
TPC has been named one of Australia's best places to work for nine consecutive years. Why?
Because of our commitment to the Culture Is Everything system.
A strong and sustainable team culture needs to be based on firm foundations which are fixed. These include core purpose, core values and a 10-year obsession. At the same time, it needs to be flexible in the way that it is followed―for example, evolving the type of communication and recognition to the needs and wants of team members.
This specific, functional, repeatable system that we have created and evolved at TPC helps us continue to do great work, grow our team and maintain a strong culture.
What was the turning point where you decided to dedicate yourself to the importance of developing a thriving company culture?
It was five years into this venture, in 2009, when I was in desperate need of help to reorganize our then 20-person team that had grown into what felt like an overwhelming mess and burden. At that stage, all team members reported directly to me, and I felt like I was drowning in a never-ending sea of phone calls, emails and reactiveness. I knew I needed a way to empower team members to do their best work instead of needing to ask for permission to handle nearly every client question.
I discovered the idea of a values-based business thanks to books by Verne Harnish and Jim Collins. Since then, I have obsessed over learning and creating a culture-based system that has now become the basis for TPC's growth to over 100 team members.
What are the unsung benefits of having an exceptional culture?
The most significant unsung benefit of having an exceptional culture is time. A team with a strong culture based on a repeatable system creates time in the day of its leaders and managers because team members are aligned and empowered to do great work without constant supervision. That time can be used to focus on growing the business and culture so we can make an even bigger contribution to the world.
What can you share with entrepreneurs looking to build a strong company culture?
Use a system! In my experience, many people think a strong team culture is an airy-fairy concept based on perks and cool office design. It's not. Benefits for team members are important, but strong and sustainable cultures are built on solid foundations which are part of a repeatable system. When you develop and sustain such a culture, your operations will be ever-improving, clients will be better served, communications will be authentic and friendly, and team members will be happier, more reliable, and more likely to stay for the long-term.