Building a business with employees involves culture. Good or bad, every organisation has one. Healthy cultures with engaged employees have more effective teams and better business performance. This podcast looks at how to keep culture from turning sour.
Tristan White founded The Physio Co in 2004. 5 years later he had 20 employees and what he calls a great big mess. After addressing his organisation’s culture, Tristan has grown from 20 to 150 happy, engaged and enthusiastic employees in less than a decade.
Lisa Spiden is the Founder and Managing Director of fibreHR and Roster Right. Working in HR in London and Australia, across banking, fast-moving consumer goods, IT, and communication, Lisa has seen the best and worst of cultures. With a great culture comes discretionary effort from employees, which Lisa says is the best way for your business to set itself apart from the competition.
Disclaimer: Transcripts may contain a few typos. Similar sounding words can lead to them being deciphered wrongly and hence transcribed likewise.
Ed Guy: When it comes to HR, what do you think is the best way to get the most out of your employees?
Interviewing Public: Engage them. I think the best way is focusing on leadership development, managing and leading from the top modeling of the behaviors, modeling the culture, modeling the values, the vision of the company and having that built into the way that you manage your staff.
Interviewing Public: I don’t know, I suppose to keep them engaged and happy. Foster a culture in your organization where people can be happy in their roles and learn and progress.
Interviewing Public: Trying to create a culture of involvement inclusiveness where everyone feels, they can speak up and be part of what’s going on and opinion is valued, no matter what level they’re up.
Serpil Senelmis: For WeTeachMe this is the Masters Series where industry professionals share their secrets to business success. I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded. In every episode of the Masters Series we hear from entrepreneurs and founders who have built successful businesses. Almost all of them say that their greatest challenge in business is employees. Finding, hiring and keeping employees that support your business goals and vision is easier said than done even when you’re a specialist in HR. Lisa Spiden is the founder and managing director of fibreHR and knows from experience that culture flows from the top down.
Lisa Spiden: One particular business logic work with the leader themselves and the execs work that engaged in the particular vision you just saw. Filter through the rest of the business, people taking sick ways they had high staff turnover. The actual environment just felt really flush.
Serpil Senelmis: We’ll hear from Lisa soon. First up, Tristan White is the founder of The Physio Co, the weather network of 157 staff across the country. Five years into the business, when he only had 20 employees, Tristan realized that he had created a big mess. Of the past decade, Tristan says he’s cleaned up that mess and created a culture that supports the team and celebrates collaborative wins.
Tristan White: So my story goes something like this. I was not a born entrepreneur. I grew up in a small town called Foster and in the bush 1000 friendly people within Foster and I moved to Melbourne to study physiotherapy. And physiotherapy is important part of my story. I am a physiotherapist. And when I finished uni, I felt that I had a real conflict with my head and my heart. My head told me I need to go in my career direction. My heart told me I didn’t stomach the idea of working in a public hospital system, it just didn’t feel right to me. I moved back home to Gippsland and I worked in a group of private practices, where I got to see sportspeople work in an elite AFL footy club in the evenings and on weekends, a little bit of hospital and aged care work. And that first job was such a blessing and such a challenge because I loved it. And then I sort of hated it. And after one year, in the job that I thought was going to take me 10 odd years to get to. I fell in love with my career. That was a really, really, really tough time. But what I did, I reflected hard, I thought about what I enjoyed doing as a physiotherapist. I didn’t tell a soul because I was embarrassed about what I discovered. But I discovered that I liked working with older people. I started working in a small old nursing home in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. And I met George. George out of work needed some help to get around was bent at the knees that the lane to the left and really hard work for George to get around. But I started working with him as his physiotherapist helping him to improve his strength. He’s balanced his endurance and his happiness. And I loved working with George. And so the next year, I work with George, his roommate, Liz, and some other residents at this nursing home. And then I got busier going to other nursing homes and other nursing homes. After the first year. I needed to ask for help. I couldn’t help all the georgia’s and lasers and matrices that I need to help. And was that point that the physio code that is today with close to 150 team members, helping people like George to stay mobile safe and happy was born from me swallowing my pride reflecting on what was important to me, and being humble enough to dive in to what made my heart sing. And so, as the Physio Co started, this was flying by the seat of your pants adventure of growing a team. I had no idea what culture was. I learned about culture about five years in. All I was doing serving my clients as best I could saying yes to opportunity, encouraging people to join our team and moving forward in the fastest, most effective way I could. I created something that from the outside looked growing. Impressive, helpful, useful. From the inside, I’d created a beach mess. Started Physio Co 2004, five years in, got about 20 team members, no idea what culture is. didn’t really know what this business stuff was. I got to a point I felt completely trapped and stuck inside a business. I’m a bit of a tackle a problem and get stuck into it sort of work. And so I did something, which was one of the biggest risks I’ve ever taken in my business career. That was our left. I didn’t leave forever. But I left the three weeks. I went from Melbourne to North America. I visited some seniors healthcare businesses in America and in Canada. A wonderful, wonderful business called Nifty After Fifty. Kind of gyms for older people in Orange County, California. I came back and I had my solution. I had the idea. I was going to create a purpose-driven values-based business, which would be the foundation of how we would then scale grow and tidy up this big fat mess that I’ve created. If there’s one learning from my career from a business perspective, is choose a model choose an ID and choose something to follow along. I don’t have all the answers that other people have done it, if someone’s done it before, learn from them grow from them, tailor it to what you can do, but really, really do learn from others. What I’ve just described is what I called the fifth year struggle. And it’s nice to give names to challenges in your life once you’ve moved through them. At the time, it’s like hell that like we all know when you’re going through hell keep on going. But one thing I want describe that having a strong culture, purpose-driven values to guide the behaviors in every business, but so very important that we have a really clear vision as to where the business is headed. Because how the hell can any team members follow, grow, challenge themselves and move the business in the direction they want it to go? If they don’t know what the vision is and where they’re going? So as the founder, that’s our job to clarify, communicate, and over-communicate and over-communicate and our over-communicate, and then do it again as to where we’re headed, I reckon that we need a pretty long term goal. Now, Jim Collins in his famous book, Good to Great talks about a big, hairy, audacious goal and be have should be between 10 and 25 years or thereabouts. I’m now a risk-taker, but not that of the risk-taker. So I have on the 10-year end, and so a 10-year obsession as our north star where we’re headed. So if a challenge comes up, are we going to work through what is our core purpose to help seniors stay mobile safe and happy? Great. Let’s continue with our purpose behaviors, core values, we know exactly how we should be acting and the vision where are we headed? And so a 10-year obsession is what we created in 2009. The 10-year obsession for The Physio Co was from our little team of 20 people to grow at 35% per year, per year, per year., per year for 10 consecutive years, so that the end of 2018 we will have delivered 2 million consultations to help Australian seniors stay mobile safe and happy.
Tristan White: That’s a big goal when tracking for 10 years and making good progress. We have had years where we have smashed the yearly goal, and we’ve had years where it’s really sucked. And we’ve really struggled. But where we are right now, almost at the 10-year obsession is we are close to 1.5 million consultations delivered since 2009. With that goal of 2 million consults by the end of this year. It is likely that will land at 1.6 million consultations delivered to Australian seniors in aged care homes, retirement villages and their own homes between 2009 and 2018 which is partly disappointing and partly completely fine because we will likely hit 2 million consults the 31st of December 2019. And it may just take us 11 years to hit our 10-year goal. And I for one, think that is a okay. Our business has grown from 20 people to about 150. We’re going to deliver over 2 million consults in 11 years with one wonderful awards for being great place to work. But all that means nothing if we’re not serving our community and helping seniors stay mobile, safe and happy. It’s been a wonderful experience for 10 years to be one of Australia’s best places to work. For me two weeks ago, to have our group at Amy Park and have over 100 people in a room. A full day of learning, flying in from all around the country was a wonderful, wonderful, proud experience. But this is not about celebrating this is about sharing experience. And so from my perspective, there’s been so many things I’ve had to learn as a person, as a physiotherapist as a team leader, as a CEO, as an entrepreneur, as a husband, as a father, as a volunteer. But the one thing that I think I’d love to share as the most significant thing that I’ve had to figure out and this is an idea of mine, and that is that in any team or any relationship, this is never-ending continuum between caring for and focusing on the people in your team at one end. And the very other end is outcome or business performance. And in my experience, I spend more of my time caring for and spending too much time I naturally gravitate towards the people end of the spectrum, which is probably why I’m a physiotherapist in the first place, and probably part of the strong business we’ve achieved, but in some really tough times and crap time for cash is getting tight, difficult moments with clients, retention of the team, might be having dips because we’ve had all those challenges. Sometimes I find myself focusing more and more and more on the numbers and the business performance. And when I focus on that end, we lose momentum on the culture. But when I focus too much time on caring for and engaging with our individual team members, we don’t always get the performance we’re looking for, be really clear that there is this continuum of people and, and business outcome and, and if you spend too much time focusing on one of the other, then you don’t have that balance, right. I learned that from a business perspective, but it applies to nearly everything in my life. I’ve got three little kids at home. And if I don’t engage with them in a way, which is both caring, and making sure I’m leading them and helping them in the right direction, that relationship doesn’t work out. It’s hard, but it can be done. If someone else has done it, you can do it too. And I’ve had an interview with a wonderful, wonderful mentor of mine just a couple of weeks ago, her name is Emma Isaacs from Business Chicks. And I said to Em, what is the one piece of advice you wish she’d known a long time ago? And she said, to believe in myself. And as I reflect on that conversation with Emma Isaacs, and I think about my own journey, that’s one thing that I haven’t done enough of that is believe in myself, care for myself, who got myself learn, grow, challenge, stretch, rest, and do it all again. Because that’s the job that we’ve got as individuals as humans and as business owners. Thanks for your time.
Serpil Senelmis: So when it comes to building a team, flying by the seat of your pants, is not the way to go. Thanks, Tristan. We’ll take a closer look at building a healthy culture in your business with Lisa Spiden of fibreHR right after this.
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Serpil Senelmis: Thanks, Ad Guy. Lisa Spiden is the Founder and Managing Director of FibreHR and she’s passionate about working with brands to create high performing teams. In this fireside chat with WeTeachMe’s Wayne Lewis. Lisa says the leader of a business is always on show. So it’s important to model the values of the business and remember the impact that your mood can have on the rest of your team.
Lisa Spiden: I fell into HR doing some work over in London in the Human Resources area. My first proper HR gig I would say would be at Barclays Capital in London doing Human Resources generalist type of work. At Foster’s, I had many different HR gigs, including international liability. So looking after all the people who went overseas and looking at how we equalize their tax in different countries and all different elements of human resources, which was relatively complex at the time, but a fun role. Went to Just Group, probably about 12 or so years ago. And it was probably my first real commercial HR gig and it’s because of the person that I actually worked for and the fact that it was in retail. I’d worked in human resources for many years and thought I was pretty good at it got some pretty good feedback, but it wasn’t till I got to the Just Group that I actually worked out that everything I did in human resources had to lead to an actual benefit to the organization. Retail as people would know, is really fast-paced, really low margin, you’re doing everything on a shoestring and really impact-driven, you’re looking at things that you’re doing one day and how it actually is affecting store and sales the next day. So Just Group is just James Portmans, Peter Alexander, Smiggle, seven retail brands. And so it was the first role that I actually I felt such a huge sense of achievement working in that particular business. Because the things that you were doing, you could literally go into store the next day and see how it was actually affecting the people, if it was actually working and people were enjoying what you’re doing. And you could actually tell if it was making a difference to the business. And from that I worked on a particular project, which I won’t bore you with but but a particular project around retention and how do we make sure that we had the right people in stores and what have you. And I had a number of people come to me other retailers and asked me to do the same thing in their business. And so I went out and thought I’ll just do some consulting until I run out of work and then I’ll go and get a real job again and 9 years later, I’m still looking, waiting to go and get that real job but I’m really lucky in that time I’ve started my own HR consulting business fibreHR that I’ve had for nine years. I’ve worked with some amazing brands. I learned so much from these incredible entrepreneurs and businesses that I work with. I’ve worked with Carolyn Crystal from Carmen’s. I’ve worked with them the day when they had three people, Kikki K., I absolutely love working these brands and seeing what they’re actually doing. And I’m learning about the culture, people business, what’s actually working in these particular businesses. And I find that really inspiring. About four years ago, I started a second business. And that business is called Roster Right. And that’s looking at mathematically constructing rosters in the retail, hospitality, aged care, healthcare, spaces. And so I’ve got two businesses that run from my offices, and they’re completely different businesses, different cultures, different type of work, and the nine years of consulting and the work I did with Just Group previously, just gives me a huge amount of different experience and insight into culture and what actually leads to I guess, great culture. But right now, I run Roster Right on a day to day basis, I’ve got someone else running fibreHR, but I’m still really cross that business. So I’ve only got about not like Tristan, who’s got a beautiful empire over there. I’ve only got about 15 staff, it’s quite little. But as I said, the team, little things can make a big impact mosquitoes are a nightmare, they can make a big impact on the barbecue with a little bit hopefully making a big impact.
Wayne Lewis: And how does the culture look in both of your businesses?
Lisa Spiden: So it varies over time. And I think culture isn’t stagnant. And it’s not something that can be fabricated. One business is highly technical. So in the Roster Right business, I’ve got two individuals who are optimization mathematicians. And there’s only 20 of the people in Australia who’ve got the skills to do the math that they’re doing. That business along with the other team that I’ve got around them is very in to tasked focused very clear on what they’re actually doing. It’s a really tight culture in that particular business on the basis that the vision is very clear and you’ve got people who don’t need a lot of leadership. could not do the math they’re doing, I’d add absolutely zero value getting up in front of them and trying to tell them how to do their job. What I can do is point them in the right direction of what we’re trying to do commercially. And they can solve the problem themselves. So that is very interesting. Compared to my other business. The other business has got amazing people, lovely culture, it’s a little bit more reliant on the leader in that business, because that leader is really setting the vision and the passion. So depending on what stage of the business is, that depends on you know how that business is feeling from a cultural perspective. So it’s actually interesting sitting in literally one room with 15 people and you can actually see two different cultures going on in the businesses. All the people are awesome, but the cultures are definitely very different. For me, culture isn’t about one certain element. I’ve worked with businesses that have got basketball courts in their offices, or foosball tables, or they have drinks every Friday night. And for me, what I’ve seen over my journey is it’s not one element that actually creates culture. You can’t fabricate it. If you don’t have the right people, the right leadership, clear vision. It doesn’t matter how cool the whiz bang thing you got around the business, the culture is a made up of a whole lot of different elements, starting from leadership and vision and having the right people in the business. The other cool things, are little cherries on top, as opposed to what creates culture.
Wayne Lewis: And how do you know if culture is working?
Lisa Spiden: When cultures working, you’ve just got a really unified team who are working all together on one particular vision. The discretionary effort is insane. We were doing a piece of work for clients, and we needed to hit a deadline of Friday what have you, the entire team without me asking without even knowing, literally worked 24/7, literally overnight, all of them were working to get this piece of work actually done. I’m devastated because I’ve never ever expected or asked or would want my team to actually be working 24/7, they had so much pride in the work that they were doing, they refuse to actually let it not hit that particular deadline. And so the discretionary effort of a culture when you’ve got people aligned is just inside and around what they’ll go over and beyond to actually help the business achieve a certain goal. It’s easy to recruit when you’ve got a great culture, clients can feel it, you know, the actual quality of work, the fact that they’re actually really proud of where they work. There’s so many elements that just stand out when cultures working really well. And you can feel it if you walk into a business, you can feel straight away whether it’s actually got a vibe of people actually wanting to be there, as opposed to everyone taking off at four o’clock and you know, taking as many sick days as they can and not actually wanting to be around. On the flip side, when cultures not great, and I’ve seen this before, even some of the large FMCG businesses that pay their staff really well, they’ve got all the whiz-bang benefits, they will be have to pay salaries that were significantly higher than their competitors, because to attract talent, the only way they could get them was $3. Yo people didn’t want to work there. So they actually had to pay to get talent to come to them. When it’s not working well, you’ve got huge amounts of sick leave, you’re dealing with a whole lot of politics and people issues that you don’t really have to you don’t have to resolve when it’s all really working well.
Wayne Lewis: How do you monitor that and make sure you’re on top of it?
Lisa Spiden: Actually just talking to you staff and actually asking the question, I talk to a lot of managers who are doing performance reviews and they’re too scared to ask this staff if they’re happy. And they’re too scared to ask if they’re actually going to stay around in the business because they don’t want to hear the answer if they’re not. And for me, I would way rather ask the question of what’s keeping you here, and what would make you leave, because at least I’ve got the opportunity to address it, if they’re going to leave and see if I can actually turn it around, rather than sort of putting my head in the sand and waiting for a resignation. So for me, finding out how culture is going is asking the question, how’s it going, you know, if you know it’s not going well, and you don’t want to hear it, obviously, you’re not going to ask the question. But then you’re obviously okay with having potentially a poor culture in business.
Wayne Lewis: At what point did you think okay, I need to actively install the culture. Obviously, you work in an HR space that give you some insights, can you advise, when to introduce that and how?
Lisa Spiden: Well cultures pretty much mean at one when you’ve got staff so, so for me it’s not a formal introduction of culture by the fact that you actually are running a business and the fact that you have any staff at all if you do, you’ve got a culture, whether it’s a good, bad or indifferent culture, there’s a culture that exists. When to address it, obviously, you’re constantly monitoring it and making sure that it’s where you want it to be. But in terms of setting the culture right from the start, the core things that really influence culture is leadership. So having strong leadership, having clarity of vision, and a really inspiring vision, you know, where people actually want to be a part of it and buy into it. Having the right team, I’ve seen small businesses that have got one person that’s not the right fit that can completely affect the culture of the entire business. So dealing with poor performance or managing people who are not the right fit for your business is really important. But I do know of businesses that have had people who haven’t been the right fit for their businesses but have needed them technically. And they’ve sort of come to us previously and looked at ways to actually keep that people in the business but not affect the culture. And one scenario, I’m not suggesting that this is the way to go but I’ve seen one particular business where they actually ended hired to that person to work from home, which sounds a little bit crazy but it worked from the actual office perspective, people actually enjoy coming to work. They weren’t actually influenced by this person, this person thought it was great, because the reason they weren’t a great fit is they knew they weren’t a great fit. And they were happy to do the work and do it from home. And I guess what I’m saying is really addressing what is the issue with the culture and then working out if there’s a way to, you know, address that whether it’s out up around, whether it’s even just having an honest conversation with someone around fit?
Wayne Lewis: Can you give us an example of the worst-case scenario, something that you’ve seen that stands out to you?
Lisa Spiden: So one particular business that I did work with the leader themselves and the execs were that engaged in the particular vision for whatever reason, and you just sort of filter through the rest of the business. People were taking sick leaves, they had high staff turnover, people would come to work late leave late, really didn’t put any discretionary effort. They kind of did the minimum effort that was required in their job and you could just feel the quality of the work. The actual environment just felt really flush. Not long after some new executives were actually bought in and you can just feel the vibrancy people actually challenging things that are happening in the business question because they actually care. You know, it’s coming from a good spot and just feels very different. So, culture can be affected by many different elements. I think it’s just about being able to work out what culture you want to create new business.
Wayne Lewis: And what does the future hold for fibreHR? Do you have the long term 10-year plan, and maybe what Tristan talked about before the 25 years?
Lisa Spiden: I’ve got more of a 25-year plan for Roster Right in there. I know what that business is going to look like. And that’s hitting overseas markets. We’ve got a revenue target and sort of domination in that market. We’re lucky because no one else in the world is doing what we’re doing. So that’s a really cool business. In terms of fiber. My vision has been the same year on year, you know, a win for me as if it is the same in 10 and 15 years’ time and that is to work with some inspirational entrepreneurial businesses and provide HR support to help them be the best businesses they can. So our describe our services refers to their businesses. We don’t want to take the glory. We’ve navigated many HR obstacles and challenges along the way. And we want to use our learnings to help other amazing businesses reach the area for us. So that in itself is an amazing goal because over that 10 years, it might be another thousand incredible entrepreneurial businesses we get to work with. And that’s amazing inspiring. So it’s not really about world domination for that particular business or tripling the size of that business. It’s just around continuing to do amazing work with amazing people and adding value.
Wayne Lewis: Excellent, great answers. Guys. Can you join me in a round of applause for Lisa Spiden of fibreHR?
Serpil Senelmis: Even though I love the idea of a business with a cherry on top, it sounds like no amount of perks will make up for bad corporate culture. Thanks, Lisa. And thank you Tristan as well. Next time on Masters Series how to turn your passion into your business. Wait, I can, I can have a business based around watching Netflix? No. Okay I guess not every passion can be a business or maybe it can. I can’t wait to find out in your next it. Until then I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded and for WeTeachMe, this is the Masters Series.
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