I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Mamie Kanfer Stewart (from The Modern Manager Podcast) to chat about my Culture Is Everything system.
Mamie and I discuss the four secrets to building a strong workplace culture; these are the cornerstones I've established and built upon in my own business, The Physio Co.
Audio of the podcast is below, as is the transcript of our conversation:
Mamie: Today's guest is Tristan White. Tristan is the founder and CEO of the Physio Co, a unique healthcare business that ranked number one on BRW's list of Australians 50 best places to work in 2014 the Physio Co has ranked as one of Australia's 50 best places to work for 10 consecutive years from 2009 to 2018 along with being named one of the best workplaces in Asia from 2015 to 2018.
Mamie: Tristan and I talk about the four secrets to powerful culture that Tristan has learned over more than a decade of leading and growing his own company. We take a deep dive into execution and appreciation and how to do those critical activities in alignment with your values, whether you're leading one team or an entire organisation. Now here's the conversation.
Intro: You're listening to the Modern Manager, a podcast dedicated to helping you be a rock star boss with a thriving team. Whether you're looking to upgrade your meetings, cultivate your team, or grow as a leader, this podcast is for you. Now here's your host, Mamie Kanfer Stewart.
Mamie: Tristan it is such a pleasure to have you today. I am sorry that you had to get up so early in the morning to record with me, but I guess that's what happens when we're on opposite sides of the world.
Tristan: Absolutely Mamie, I'm really wrapped to be here with you and I'm happy to be up early in the morning to have a chat. So thanks for the invitation.
Mamie: All right, so let's just jump right in here. You have a book called Culture is Everything, which I love the title and I totally believe and you very early on say that there are four secrets to culture. So can you just give us the highlight of each of those?
Tristan: I absolutely can Mamie. Culture is Everything is the idea that I've discovered after building a team from startup to a small business and now to about 150 team members in our business. And along that journey I've discovered many things, a whole lot of mistakes at whole lot of things that have gone well and not so well. But the four secrets, the four critical parts of building a strong team by building a strong culture is firstly to discover the core, secondly, to document the future, thirdly, to execute relentlessly and lastly, most important, not most importantly, but very, very importantly is to show more love. And they are the four parts of the Culture is Everything system I wrote about in that book.
Mamie: So walk us through each of them and then we'll probably just pick one too dive deep into, but I feel like we need to at least have a little more about each of the different secrets first. So just give us a little bit about each one.
Tristan: Absolutely. Okay, so that is the overview. There are the four parts and the detail of each of them is the discover the core is about two things. It's about a very clear core purpose as to why the organisation or the team exists. Simon Sinek would call this the why. There are many, many versions of this, but a short, sharp and compelling core purpose as opposed to a wishy washy mission statement is the concept here, so clear core purpose.
Tristan: The organisation that I lead called the Physio Co is a physical therapy organisation for older people and the core purpose of that business is to help seniors stay mobile, safe and happy. And that is the core purpose of that organisation. It's short, it's sharp. The Physio Co exists to help seniors stay mobile, safe and happy is the first part of the discover the core section. It's about a strong core purpose.
Tristan: The second part of the discover the core section is about a set of three to five core values or behaviours that really described how the team behaves. Now core values are a little bit like rules, more guidelines or more like guiding behaviours for a team. And I think three to five is really important because I don't think you could actually describe the behaviours of a team in less than three core values, but if you have more than five people can't remember them. So it's really important that you have between three and five core values.
Tristan: And I really think that they should be actionable words, actionable statements like find a better way would be a great core value as opposed to a bit more like a platitude of innovation or integrity are very difficult core values for everyday for us to grab those behaviours and really know how to live them. So that's the first section Mamie, discover the core is about a compelling core purpose and three to five accessible and easy to remember core values.
Tristan: Mamie, the second part of the system is document the future. And this is about a vision. This is about where we're headed and in my experience, if team members don't know where the business is headed, don't know what the team is working towards, it's really, really difficult to show up, give their full self and actually contribute in a meaningful way though it helps the team but also makes them feel satisfied as well.
Tristan: So similar to the discover the core section, document the future has got two parts as well. I think for a team that's going to do something really useful in the world, it's important for the leaders, potentially the owners to have a longterm vision that acts as their north star as to what they're going to do over a long period of time.
Tristan: And what I mean here is what I call a 10 year obsession and that is what we're going to achieve over a 10 year period. And many people are really scared to peer off into the future as to what 10 years could look like. But I really encourage people to be brave and don't pin themselves down to something really, really specific, but really focus on what they'd like to achieve over the long period of time. This comes from the research of Jim Collins. Jim Collins in the book, Good to Great, wrote about a big, hairy, audacious goal, or a BHAG. He talks about 10 to 30 year timeline. I think 30 years is a bit too far for me but 10 years is my focus.
Tristan: And so a 10-year obsession is the first part of the discover the core section. And but for most team members and employees, 10 years is just far too long for them to imagine. And so I think it's really important we break that down into a shorter timeline and I'll have to use something called a three year painted picture vision, which is a short, sharp document that we create, which is a stepping stone or a base camp towards bringing that 10 year obsession to life. And the beauty of a three year painted picture vision is you can share it with your team, you can get input and as you achieve the milestones that you documented in your three year painted picture vision, you can celebrate, have a party, pat people on the back and have a real opportunity to dare I say have a finish line in business because Mamie, one thing that really challenging in business is, and sort of in life is that there's no finish lines that we never get to a point where we stop, look back and celebrate.
Tristan: But by putting a three year vision in place where you can have milestones and achieve them and celebrate them is something really, really valuable. So they're the first two parts of the system. The next two I'll go a bit quicker, but execute relentlessly is the next part of the Culture is Everything system. And this is about making sure that if you've got a system in place, including core purpose, core values, vision in place, you've really got it live your own system. It's important to have a robust recruiting process that you have the same a multi-step multi-person recruitment system happening over and over and over again because if you attract and then recruit the wrong people, that will pollute your culture that all this work you're doing to build a strong culture can be evaporated very, very quickly.
Tristan: So execute relentlessly is the third part and the very last part, which is something I learned from a real tough time in my growth Mamie and that is that it's called show more love. And that is that if you lead a team of human beings and you'd like to see them showing love to your clients, to your teammates, to your business, to themselves, then as a leader and as a manager, it's so important that we show more love to our teammates and to the people around us and there's a really practical small things we can do to show more love and that is to, for example, to catch people doing something right and praise them for it.
Tristan: There are so many managers and I used to be one of them that would only communicate when things were going wrong and I was the one reprimanding and redirecting and it just doesn't work well. So show more love is the fourth part of the Culture is Everything system. And that's the summary I suppose Mamie.
Mamie: Fantastic. I feel like I now have a good overview of the four different pieces to it. So let's dig into this execute relentlessly piece because my experience with managers has been like that is where the majority of their brain is. Focus is just on execution and getting their team to achieve their goals, but then trying to do it in a way that feels good to everybody. So I know you have some tips and tricks for how managers can execute relentlessly while keeping the vision and the core purpose and the values in play. So can you talk more about that?
Tristan: I sure can. I mentioned briefly about the recruitment process and a robust recruitment process, but let's talk about how actually using execute relentlessly to manage the existing team and to lead the existing team. And one thing I think is critical in growing a strong culture and having a connected team is a really robust but also memorable and enjoyable meeting rhythm. And that is a communication rhythm or a meeting rhythm with team members that can really help to connect them to make them feel like they're important valued part of the team and they know what's going on. Because people like to know what's going on, they like to know what the manager's thinking and they also like to know what their other teammates are working on. So I think it's really important that we have a short, sharp daily huddle or a daily meeting, which helps to connect team members.
Tristan: So in our business at the Physio Co and in the businesses I work with and coach, I really encourage them to choose an unusual time. I'm not talking about nine o'clock in the morning, I'm talking about 9:27 or I'm talking about 11:05. Choose a memorable time to start the meeting because it's a short, sharp meeting goes for less than 15 minutes. And what happens at these meetings is that we ideally stand up. If people on the phone, they can certainly call in or it can be a video chat, but it's a short sharp meeting where we stand up, where we connect as individuals and at those meetings I really encourage every person to contribute and to enter three things. One is what's going on and what that means is what are they working on today? What's important? And to share their three main priorities with their teammates.
Tristan: And this works in a group of about between six and 10 people. If you've got a larger group than that, you probably need to split it up into multiple calls. But what's going on to first one? Where are you stuck is another really important question. People are not always comfortable asking me for help, but if we put an environment says, where are you stuck? What's not working out? How can we help you to improve? And the beauty of this is that we don't solve the problem on the short meeting, but we allow people to raise challenges and then the manager could potentially take it offline with that team member and help them to resolve it after the check in.
Tristan: And the last thing that's really, really important is to make sure that at least someone, it could be the manager or there could be some sort of rotating system, at least someone mentions a story or nominates another person for living a core value. I think it's really critical that we get into the habit of telling stories of how people live the core value of being memorable and a short story as to how they live that core value. And I use the example be memorable because that's one of the core values that we have at the Physio Co, but I think it's really important.
Tristan: Whatever your core values are they ones that are on people's mind and people are thinking through the lens of core values of the behaviours in our business and we praise people for living them and we also use them to redirect if we have to, as managers, we have to redirect and reeducate people and I can use the language of the core values to do that. But I reckon execute relentlessly with a short, sharp daily meeting, a standup meeting where people call in or huddle in a physical part of the business and connect for 10 to 15 minutes around that short agenda is a really, really powerful way of doing that, Mamie.
Mamie: So I want to reiterate a couple of things you just said because I see them in my work as well, which is to use the time in the meeting to talk about what's not working but not solve the problem in that meeting. That is a challenge I see so many teams run into where they get from a check-in into a deep dive discussion that isn't actually relevant for everybody on the team. So I love that this is just surfacing issues and then anyone who needs to be pulled into that conversation can get looped in afterwards, but not to take up and turn this 15 minute check in into a 45 minute or an hour long deep dive conversation that's not relevant. So I love that.
Mamie: And then the second thing is that you're bringing core values into this meeting. I did an episode a while ago on core values where I talked about how you have to elevate the values to equal importance as the results that you're trying to achieve with your team. And as long as core values are second class citizens to the accomplishments, you're never going to build the kind of culture that you want. You have to elevate them. And that's exactly what you're talking about doing. And talking about doing it through stories and highlighting people who are living those values is just a beautiful way to show some love and elevate them and make them real every day.
Tristan: Mamie I'm with you 1000% and I think if we want our team members to start telling more stories, we have to do it ourselves as leaders and managers. So it's tell more stories and then encourage people to help people do the same thing and even have a rotating roster of who is going to share a story to which helps to include people in this process. It's so powerful and so it's so much fun as well, Mamie it really brings a lot of interest in what's the story going to be today is something that people do look forward to.
Mamie: How have you seen this impact your teams and are you finding that you this is happening throughout organisations or individual managers are making these meetings more their own in one way, shape or form?
Tristan: There's definitely, so I think there needs to be some freedom within boundaries and I think that's critical in an all businesses and also certainly in this Culture is Everything system that I speak of. And that is that the manager definitely needs to make it their own and it needs to suit the team. There are some non-negotiables. So that is that it's a short, sharp meeting that we do go through the agenda of what's going on, where are you stuck? Add some core values, but the way they do it, the way they include people can be very much the personality of the team member.
Tristan: For example, what does happen is when the manager or the leader of the team really owns it and empowers other people to run it. The beauty of this is that it almost gets an energy of its own and the manager, let's say the manager is on leave or isn't at the core a particular day, it happens, it shows up, someone steps in to take responsibility for it. Ideally the leader has asked someone to lead it on their behalf and it almost takes on an energy that people look forward to coming to this type of meeting and that's when there's a real connection with the team, a really strong culture and you really do some great work together.
Tristan: On the flip side, one of the real challenges of these meetings is being too general. When people show up to the meeting and they say, "I am just going to do some stuff, that I'm not stuck at a core value. Yeah. Someone, someone sort of helped me out with go to the coffee shop for me and got me a cappuccino." Those sort of stuff is really general, really uninspiring and really low energy. And we say this all the time that meetings go up and down the in their energy level and that's normal, but if you do stick to the agenda and you really do own the process in an energetic way and really specificity is the real key here. That's what we get some great value meetings.
Mamie: You know what Tristan, I hear so many times when teams celebrate when they're team leaders out so that they don't have to have their meetings. And so it's exciting to hear that actually there are some kinds of meetings that teams want to have regardless of whether their team leader is making them do it. That's just so reassuring.
Tristan: And I think the key there that's so it's so important and the key is to make the meeting fun and allow people, it doesn't have to be the team leader doing all the speaking and all the... Give people jobs in the meeting and allow them to make it their own. And you know what, it will feel like the meeting belongs to the team as opposed to belonging to the leader. And that's when we really got a sustainable sort of system.
Mamie: So well said. All right, let's talk about show love because I feel like these may be are intertwined since we were just talking about lifting up stories of people who are living the core values and that's one way to show some love. So what are some of the other ways that you can show more love?
Tristan: Mamie, I think it's so important as managers and as leaders that we realise that life has some sweet spots in life. We have some wonderful times in our lives and we have some really tough times in our lives. And then there's the space in between and I think the opportunity to show more love as a leader and as a human being is when bad stuff happens in the lives of our team members. And if you don't have the connection with your team member, you might not even know that they're struggling or that something bad is happening in their life.
Tristan: And I'm not talking about prying into people's lives Mamie, I'm saying be caring and connected to your team members so that they'll let you know what's going on or if someone shows up to work in a different way to what they normally would, there's lower energy, there's a lower level of connection or communication then privately again without prying to say, "Hey, what's up?" "You don't quite seem yourself." And often these times we find that there was something happening in their life and it may be a sick relative or it could be they could be having a challenge with a child or a relationship or a housing situation or their car. There's so many reasons why things can go wrong outside of work.
Tristan: And as managers we often think that so when someone doesn't show up and perform the way we would expect them to, that it's work related. And in my experience it's almost always something happening outside of work. So I think being a caring human being who notices these things and then connects with team members and lets them know that you're there for them and whatever is the case, you're there to support them when and if they'd like to ask for help. And so I think that's a critical part to show more love is having a connection between team leaders and team members.
Tristan: But a very practical way to do that is that I think it's important that we actually have a budget in our teams and our business to show more after people when stuff does go wrong. And an example of this that I can share is that a few years ago we had an accountant who in a team that I was working with and the accountant's wife was expecting their first baby. It was a really exciting time for them. They were young couple and now just starting their family and the accountant who was a member of the team, his wife was in the final stages of pregnancy and she got sick. She got unwell. She ended up being admitted to hospital and without a bat of an eyelid, without any hesitation there was a bunch of flowers that was sent to the hospital bed of the wife of the accountant who was a part of the team.
Tristan: And that small gesture that said, "He thinks are you not quite very well at the moment. I hope you're getting better soon." Knowing full well that it wasn't a particularly a serious medical condition, it was more of a complication and that's bunch of flowers was received with such love and such care that not only by the accountant who was a member of our team, but the wife who received the flowers had never actually received a gift or anything from her own boss, let alone from the boss or the team that her husband worked for. And that small gesture which costs $80 or thereabouts credits such connection and loyalty in a really tough time for that time for the young couple.
Tristan: And so having a budget for small gestures when things go wrong in people's lives is a really important part of the show more love system.
Mamie: You're totally right that it's often the small things that actually feel impactful rather than the big employee appreciation days. Those things feel obligatory almost but it's the small gestures that show you care that you're thinking and doing something special in the moment that's specific to this person and isn't just kind of a mass, "I'm supposed to be you saying thank you right now."
Tristan: It's so true Mamie, it really is so true. And that was an example of something that happens, an ad hoc example on a more regular example is that I really encourage them to do this myself is to make sure that we acknowledge the milestones that happen in our team members' lives and something so small to do with that is for the manager to write a handwritten card and post it the old fashioned way in the postbox to the team member's home that says happy anniversary. I can't believe we've been working together for one year, two year, three year, 10 year. I really appreciate your work. And then sign it off and then it's put in an envelope and send it in the post. And for that to be received and acknowledged by the team member is such a small gesture which can help to show more love as well.
Mamie: That was awesome. So what about when teams are not geographically co-located? Are there things that managers can do to help as you started off with talking about building those connections and those relationships. Are there strategies you've seen that work well to do that at a distance?
Tristan: Yeah, there sure is. There sure is. And this idea of a meeting rhythm or a communication rhythm between managers and team members and also teams themselves, it does not have to be physically in person. So I work with teams who absolutely connect in a daily huddle via phone then have a longer half an hour to 40 minute meeting once a week where they go a bit deeper into what's happening in their team. And that happens via Zoom or by a video chat and there's plenty of teams who've got WhatsApp group to also continue the communication.
Tristan: So I think the concepts I speak about, yes, you may initially think of them about being physical and in-person tools, but they absolutely can be adjusted and used using technology in a way that works just as well. But I think one thing I'd really encourage people who are working in more virtual teams, and this can be a little bit challenging with alternating time zones, but it's so important that we don't only communicate using text. Email is great for transferring files and information. Texts and SMS is a OK. And Eastern Messenger is a OK for quick conversations.
Tristan: But whenever you receive an email or receive a text message, consider it an invitation to pick up the phone or have a video chat and really connect with someone one-to-one. That's where the real magic happens and that's where the real connection happens, which builds a stronger culture in my experience. So I think that's really important that we keep that in mind Mamie.
Mamie: Yeah, I completely agree. And I was just talking with a client about other ways to build relationships through picture sharing and how powerful pictures are compared to words. And even if you're sending it via text messaging type of tool or you're sending it by email, there's something about seeing a person on their vacation or with their family or at their volunteer activity that they were at over the weekend or whatever it is that transcends any kind of, "I had a great weekend, I was out volunteering," like that. It just doesn't have the same resonance, but yet when you see that picture, somehow you feel connected to that person in a new way.
Tristan: Yeah Mamie, that is powerful. That's really important and that's where the beauty of our phones so we can take photos so quickly and easily. And I think you're right. I think it's so important we connect on what's happening outside of work. But I'd encourage people to start meeting at the start of the week with some good news. What are some good news that happened outside of work that people would like to share? And I say start with good news but in many teams that have got strong connection, we actually move on to simply sharing some news. And that means that there's a higher level of trust. And even though 80% of things shared are usually of a positive or good news, there is space there for people to say, "Well you know, I planned to have a good weekend, but my grandmother got really unwell and we ended up having to go to the hospital and go through it." And it can be a little bit different type of news, but that sort of information really does build a deeper connection as well.
Mamie: I totally agree. All right, well we are coming to the end so Tristan, can you tell us about one of the rockstar managers that you had the privilege and pleasure of working with and for, what made this person so awesome?
Tristan: So Mamie, the first person that comes to mind is not a direct boss of mine because I've been an entrepreneur for a very long time and I haven't had that many direct bosses or managers, but it's a person called Ben and Ben Hosking has been a mentor of mine and effectively a leader of mine. And what I just love about Ben is that he's not only interested in me about my work, he's interested in me as a person and he really asks what I'm up to and we don't waste too much time on the non-work stuff because he is a mentor for the work side of things. But he really does connect and he cares and he pays attention. And if he's ever invited to come to an event or alter the light, he genuinely does his best to be there.
Tristan: And I think that's really, really important that as managers we are human beings and we do care about the... Just because you get invited to 10 different parties doesn't mean that each person who's invited you didn't really think deeply about whether you should be invited and desperately wanted you or sincerely wanted you to actually attend. So I think that's a really important thing to keep in mind as we're managers. And I've learned that from my friend Ben and I say friend because he's been a mentor of mine for a long time.
Tristan: And one other quick thing I would like to share is that I have got another person by the name of Jeff who I do work with. Not as closely as with Ben, but at one time I went to Jeff with a challenge and I was stressed. I was worried about where we're headed in our business. I was really challenged about what was happening and I was a bit stuck to be completely honest as to what I was going to do. And Jeff spotted this so quickly and he said, "Tristan, let me share something that I learned a very long time ago and that is that worry doesn't work." And he said, "Worry doesn't work, but if you understand it and do your very best job of having a plan in place as to how you can take some action to move forward from where you are now to where will hopefully be a better spot and then reassess and do the same thing again and you'll be making progress towards actually improving things." But that three word, worry doesn't work has really stuck with me. It's been really helpful for me as well Mamie.
Mamie: Oh, brilliant lessons and where can people learn more about you and get your book and all that fun stuff?
Tristan: Yeah Mamie, the best place to head is my home on the web, which I've created a very special page for the listeners of your podcast and so the URL is tristanwhite.com.au/modernmanager and I'd really love people to head on over there. They can download a free copy of chapter one of the Culture is Everything book at tristanwhite.com.au, because I am down here in Australia and then forward slash modern manager.
Mamie: Fantastic. Thank you so much ... such a pleasure to talk with you and I am excited to dig back into your book after this call and learn even more because you are clearly onto something.
Tristan: Mamie, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to have a chat and I hope you have a wonderful day and everyone listening has a great day too.
Mamie: If you have checked out Tristan's book and read that first chapter or you want to learn more because you're already sold on the concepts, Tristan has generously offered a free digital copy of the book to members of the Modern Manager community, to join go to mamieks.com/join. He's also offered a free checklist to all listeners, so to get that there's a link in the show notes and of course it's in your inbox if you subscribe to my newsletter and you can get on that list at mamieks.com/podcast. Thanks again for listening until next time.