Tristan White is the founder & CEO of The Physio Co, a unique healthcare business that ranked #1 on BRW’s list of Australia’s 50 Best Places to Work in 2014. The Physio Co has ranked as one of Australia’s 50 Best Places to Work for ten consecutive years (2009-2018), along with being named one of the Best Workplaces in Asia from 2015-2018.

Tristan believes we spend such a huge part of our lives working that we have to find a way to enjoy it. In his book Culture is Everything: The Story and System of a Start-Up that Became Australia’s Best Place to Work, Tristan shares his 19-step system for building a great place to work. His approach is simple, centered around 4 basic pillars: Discover the Core, Document the Future, Execute Relentlessly, and Show More Love. Tristan loves to share what he’s learned along his entrepreneurial journey, and he does just that through his podcast, Thing Big, Act Small, as well as from the stage.

A captivating keynote speaker, Tristan shares his insight with audiences at conferences and corporate events around the globe.

Daniel: If your school was growing and growing and growing, but it wasn't aligned it. Wasn't staying true to the reason why you designed it. Would you have the courage to stop it, to shut it down to pivot, to relaunch. If somebody was going to offer you, if I was going to offer you a multi million dollar contract, could you say no? These were some of the decisions that today's guests, Tristan White had to wrestle with and he took a counterintuitive approach. Things were good and growing and he shut it down. Multi-million dollar connections. No, that's not aligned with where I want to go he said. For Tristan, he knows it's true. That culture is everything. So we're going to get into those stories, how he found the courage to say no, how he pivoted in how he builds world-class cultures. This is a great one you won't want to miss. Hey, it's Daniel. Welcome to the better leaders, better schools, podcast, a show for Ruckus Makers, those out of the box leaders making change happen in education. We'll be right back after these messages from our show's sponsors,

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Daniel: Hey there, Ruckus Makers, I am here with Tristan White, the founder and CEO of the Physio Company, a unique healthcare business that not only rate number one, our BRW's list of Australia's 50 best places to work, but he has made that list for 10 consecutive years. Tristan believes we spend such a huge part of our lives working that we have to find a way to enjoy it. Tristan's passionate about sharing what he's learned through his blog and podcast, as well as through speaking opportunities at conferences and corporate events around the globe in his book, Culture is Everything Tristan shares his system for building a great place to work. He's here to share some of those steps today. Tristan, welcome to the show,

Tristan: Danny. I'm excited to be here with you. Thanks for the invitation.

Daniel: Absolutely. I'll say that we've both gone through the altMBA and uh, I just want to highlight that because that puts a huge smile on my face. It's just an honor to have you on the show, but one of the things where I want to start is how you kind of slowed things down a bit with your business and your organization. It's really interesting because a lot of times I think leaders want to grow and grow and grow, right? And to say, you know what? I think something's maybe not working here. Let's revisit, rethink, and let's hit pause. Can we start with that story?

Tristan: Of course, Danny, it's a relatively recent one. An important part of my story is that I am a physical therapist or physiotherapist as we were known down here in Australia. I've been leading a physical therapy business that helps seniors stay mobile, safe and happy for a long time, since 2004. There was a significant growth story from the physio and I was very connected to the growth story. It was very important to me to continue to grow and to keep serving more older people and build a larger team, which was also a great place to work. But Danny, it was just last year in late 2019, we made a very big decision, which did change the course of our business. We opted to not renew a contract to provide physical therapy services, to a large group of nursing homes or aged care facilities across four States of Australia.

Tristan: And that was 70 locations, seven zero locations that we strategically or decided not to keep working and that was a big decision, not only for the impact on our company, but for the older people that we did serve that did live in those aged care facilities of the team members that their work was going to be disrupted significantly. Our team was going to get smaller, but Danny, the reason behind the change is not only the belief that the direction we needed to head in serving older people is a very much a person centered approach where we need to meet people where they are. And that means helping older people stay mobile, safe and happy wherever they call home and do it in a person centered way, which meets their needs to be an informed consumer. We just felt like the direction that we were headed by having to deliver our service in a very specific way within these aged care facilities, which were very controlled by the government funded funding streams that come for these facilities.

Tristan: We just felt that for two reasons that both happened to be C words, um, Danny, and they're not rude words. One of them is the commercials. It was very difficult to run the business in that very restrictive environment. But more importantly was the culture of our organization. We just didn't feel like we could be our true selves, deliver the service and be as useful to the world and to our clients, if we were to continue in that direction. So we opted to not renew, to get a bit smaller, but to focus on helping our older people and be more connected to our older clients in a more meaningful way. And that was a big change that we're still not recovering from, but still finding our feet as the year progressed.

Daniel: I think you were calling that the person centered approach, I'd love you to dig into that a little bit more because I think sometimes school leaders may fall into a stumbling block where they think the school has to be all things for all people. I couldn't disagree more. You have to me say, pick an edge, put a flag in the sand and say, this is what we stand for. Here's how we serve kids, at least at what we're great at and we want to be known for it. So much, so we're willing to be punished for it if you don't agree. Can you talk to me a little bit about maybe what that became for your company in this person centered approach?

Tristan: Yeah. I hear you. I understand you and I apply the same approach to having to stand for something. If you don't stand for something or if you don't actively choose to stand for something then you really do stand for nothing and that is a big challenge. Instead of trying to be an organization or a physical therapist who serves everyone, who serves older people in aged care facilities from these government funded environments, to older people who live in their own homes and retirement villages maybe with their children in the backyard, granny flats, and all sorts of different locations. We decided that we would choose to work with older people who really do believe that they can live an independent life to the best of their health and ability, and that they are willing to work with us to set a meaningful goal that's of interest to them.

Tristan: We will help them to set, and we will work hard with them to set and smash that meaningful goal. We were looking for purposeful older people who understand that maybe the prime of their physical life they may not be running marathons, but they can absolutely still get up, get moving and make the very best of their lives no matter where they find themselves in life. And that environment where people are engaged and sometimes it's the older person and sometimes it's the family member. Often for various reasons, often it's the eldest daughter of the family happens to be the most regular caregiver, if you will. It is very traditional type trend. Danny, what we found is by really focusing on an older person who is meaningfully connected to their health, and he's dedicated to doing their very best to improve and older people who are supported by and or actively encouraged by their family, often their children that were able to get better results.

Tristan: If we can engage more deeply with these people and often set one goal and make progress towards that goal, which might be simply walking with a walker or with a walking stick for a short distance, but we can sit and smash that goal to help them with their strength and their mobility and their fitness. And then all of a sudden they become, well, what else can I do? Starting to set a goal around perhaps going to a family member's birthday party, or going out to their favorite restaurant or the favorite cafe, watch grandchildren or a grandchild play sport. By really focusing on specific type of older person that's in our niche, if you will, then we're able to be very person centered our approach and deliver a better service, as opposed to trying to serve as everyone who may not be as engaged as focused and therefore we can't be as person centered. So that's our approach to the person centered approach any

Daniel: I appreciate and relate to that story. It actually reminds me of my mom and her fitness goal, I think is connected to me in some sense, because when she visits, right, at least when I've lived over here in Europe, it's not like we're driving around as much. Sure. There's some public transportation, but there's a lot of walking involved and, uh, for her to be able to just keep up right, and enjoy life in a hangout with her son, uh, there's a level of fitness there. So I've also helped, to bad you're not in the States, I've helped and hired somebody that's like specializing in workout, for older folks and she does that. I'm so proud of her and mom, if you're listening, love you very much. Let's talk about culture. You've brought that up a couple of times. It's very important, uh, for all organizations, especially schools, but I love to pick your brain because I like that you have a viewpoint that, uh, it's not as intangible as people might think, right? It's not so out of touch and it could even be systematized like professional development or maybe even creating curriculum, which, um, I don't have that strength. So I'm really excited to learn from what you have to say around this. And so let's talk culture,

Tristan: Danny, I love it. It's one of my close to my favorite topic. I'd love to tell you more. And just to quickly speak to that concept of systemizing or systematizing culture. Look, I'm a physical therapist by profession a technician who worked with clients with my hands and, and knowing how to lead a team and then build a strong culture that can be sustained over a long period of time. It was completely foreign to me. I learned this stuff from the ground up and I can really not understand, but consider the angle that the Ruckus Makers in your crew are coming from because teachers typically coming from a technical teaching side of things and I'm coming from a physical therapy perspective but culture is definitely something that can be systemized. I think the beauty of thinking of it as a system is that we can then put the pieces in place. We've discovered these 19 steps that I reckon are really important to build a really strong culture. They're the things that I've sort of outlined in four parts. The Culture is Everything System has got four parts to it and I explain it like that to hopefully make it more memorable and more easy to remember and then implement, Danny. So that's the concept.

Daniel: I really appreciate that. I know those 19 steps, they're broken into four buckets, and I think you mentioned there might be a download available as well for Ruckus Makers. So where could they get their hands on that? Yes.

Tristan: Danny, we'll definitely be able to put that into the show notes, but Tristanwhite.com.au is my home on the web. Our very homepage there's a spot to download the culture is everything checklist, which is the 19 steps that I believe are needed to build a great place to work @tristinwhite.com.au.

Daniel: Like Tristan said, we'll have that linked up for you in the show notes. So you can go ahead and grab that. Tristan, can you share any of those steps or ideas to maybe wet the appetite of the Ruckus Maker to go to that site and download this great resource?

Tristan: Danny, I'd love to. The four parts to the four buckets, if you will, to the Culture is Everything System. The first part is discover the core and discover the core, is a big concept. It's about understanding, digging deep into your organization. And what is the core purpose? What are we really here to do? Do what Simon Sinek might call our why. You might notice your cause or your reason for being, but really discovering a compelling core purpose that explains why your school or why your organization exists. An example from my perspective is the physio code. Our organization exists to help seniors stay mobile, safe, and happy. The physio co-exists to help seniors stay mobile, safe, and happy. That's our cause that's our core purpose. And so discover the core, including a core purpose and then a three to five core values or behaviors of the team and the organization is the first part.

Tristan: So, then you discover the core. It's the first of the four parts document. The future is the second of the four parts document. The future is about peering off down the road and doing our very best to decide what we're trying to achieve. What is the vision fully for the organization? And some people might say it's much easier to establish that in a startup or a private organization. There's no reason why it can't also apply to schools and to all sorts of organizations. We just have to work within the boundaries of what we do have control over. like being, person-centered standing for something and peering off and saying, this is what we're going to work towards is a really powerful way of building a strong organization that is meaningful. So discover the core, the first part document.

Tristan: The future is the second of the four parts. The third is execute relentlessly. Execute relentlessly doesn't seem to fit on first scan with a culture-based system, Danny. However, if you're going to build a system of any description, then you really need to make sure that you are executing your own system and living your own values, your own purpose, executing towards your own vision and in execute relentlessly. There's two parts that I really describe that are important. One is a rhythm of communication, making sure that there really is a really clear rhythm of communication with team members. I'm a big fan of daily huddle type communications, a short, sharp stand up meeting that can happen for administration, team members, teaching team members, or all sorts of members of an organization can do it either in person and or virtually.

Tristan: So execute relentlessly is the third part. And the fourth part, Danny is called show more love. Show love is as simple as it sounds, but don't be a manager or leader that manages by catching people, doing something wrong and only speaking to people when they're not quite living up to expectations. We need to be leaders that catch people doing something right, recognize it, tell the story, acknowledge people in the moment and that's one part of it, but also being a empathetic leader, that shows with love when things don't go so great in people's lives. We're all human beings. We have sweet spots and great times. And we have times when people are ill in our family, people do pass away in our families and in our personal lives and it does affect our professional lives. By being a connected leader that shows more love to people in an appropriate way when things aren't going great in your team members lives is a really the fourth part of the system.

Tristan: Discover the core ,document the future, execute relentlessly and show more love and approach it, Danny. For some quick wins, if people download the checklist, quick wins goes straight to section four to the show more love section, but if you really want to build the foundations and make sure you've got all the systems in place, then do start from the a bit more harder work required with discover the core and document the future. Working through it is the real power. But if you want some quick wins, head straight for the show more love section.

Daniel: Yeah, that sounds like an incredibly valuable resource. So with those quick wins, it reminds me of a book. I don't know if you read it, uh, called the Happiness Advantage by Shawn Anchor. He talks about how a ratio within your organization. You need three positive comments to every one negative to balance it in marriage or in meaningful relationships. That ratio is even higher. I think it's five to one or seven to one, but at the core of that, show more love, is like you said, it's really important to be looking for the good instead of looking and inspecting for the bad. So I'm really enjoying this conversation about culture Tristan, but we're going to pause here just for a moment for a message from our sponsors. When we get back, I'd like to talk about your book and club, Culture is Everything.

Daniel: Today's show is brought to you by Organized Binder. Organized Binder develops the skills and habits all students need for success. During these uncertain times of distance learning and hybrid education settings, Organized Binder, equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed. whether at home or in the classroom. Learn more at organizedbinder.com. Better leaders, better schools is brought to you by school leaders like principal Katerra's using Teach FX. Special populations benefit the most from verbally engaging in class, but get far fewer opportunities to do so than their peers, especially in virtual classes, Teach FX measures, verbal engagement automatically in virtual or in-person classes to help schools and teachers address these issues of equity during COVID learn more and get a special offer from better leaders, better schools, listeners@teachfx.com/BLBS that's @teachfx.com/BLBS. Alright, and we're back with Tristan White and we were talking about culture. Everything is culture in his book, Culture is Everything. Tell us about your book and about your club, too.

Tristan: Danny, The book called Culture is Everything which has been out for a couple of years. The subtitle is, the story and system of a startup that became Australia's best place to work. And it really does tell the startup story of our business, the Physio Code and at the same time, it introduces the concept of the Culture is Everything System that we'll just talk them through. In some ways it's a story and an inspirational story of a startup in a ugly duckling industry. Danny that's healthcare for older people, ain't the sexiest industry to be in, in a lot of people's eyes. Depends on who you ask. The beauty is that it's the sweetest spot that I'd like to be in ,Danny. I love it.

Tristan: There's plenty of people that are in the same place, but traditionally in healthcare and elite sports and those type of industries and surgery and the like. Probably the pointy end of health care industry, as opposed to working with older people in nursing homes and aged care facilities. But then in the book, Culture is Everything, tells the story of the Physio Code, which is hopefully an inspiring story for some, but it also introduces the Culture is Everything System and talks through how it was applied and growing, establishing and building the Physio Code. And that's the book Danny. Interestingly, if at any point in the las,t probably five years, or maybe more, if any one had asked me, tell me, Tristan, what does it take to build a really strong culture and a great place to work?

Tristan: I would wholeheartedly have answered by pointing them to the Culture is Everything System and the 19 step checklist. And today I still point them in that direction, but there's something else that is required in addition to that system and that is a leader or leaders who are willing to lean to be curious, to understand themselves in a self-awareness, a forever learning self-awareness type of way. People who are willing to lead, adjust, to tailor the system and to tailor the way they lead to the people on their team and the students and all the people that they serve. The culture is having system combined with a group of leaders who are forever learning, forever growing and forever applying themselves to become the best versions of themselves is the full package, if you will. And that is why just this year I've started an online community called the Culture is Everything Club and the culture there in the Club is a safe place for business leaders to learn the skills, build the confidence, and be supported to be the best leaders they can be.

Tristan: Together we can work through every each month, there is a different theme that we explore. Last month was leading yourself first so you can lead other people. And this month that is the foundations of leadership, including planning, leading, organizing, and checking. They are the first couple of themes, but each month we go into a new theme to help the leader to develop so they can become the best version of themselves and then apply the Culture is Everything System. So ultimately Danny, we create more great places to work in the world. That's the purpose that I'm doing my best to try and serve.

Daniel: Yeah, that's a beautiful mission as well. I think a lot of times, like why can't schools, for example, be the best place to work in the community and if it was truly known, how would that transform everything for that school, for that community, for the kids and the education they received. I appreciate your work digging into this very important topic. You brought up being a brave and a self-aware leader. I know we've both gone through the altMBA. I would like to ask you just about that experience, ,maybe if there was a highlight for you or the most impactful moment. What was that for you?

Tristan: I think there's two, if you were to ask that question to many old altMBA alumni or graduates, there's possibly two answers, and that is one might have an aha moment where there was a real moment during that time, and there might be some others where it's be more of an accumulation of moments and thoughts. I'm definitely in the latter category. There's no one killer aha moment for me. But one thing that was really, really important for me is just the concept, which is it's not a new concept, but it's the more you give of yourself, the more you can serve others and the better human being you can become. The altMBA created an environment for me, to not just be a student and turn up and to contribute, but to really lean in and really contribute in a way that I've never contributed to in an online or offline learning environment in the past.

Tristan: And I've studied to be a physical therapist, I've started an MBA, I've studied all sorts of other courses, but it really created a safe space for me to lean in and be the best student I can be to learn from myself, but at the same time, set the bar or set the example for others to give the best of themselves. I think that that concept was reinforced and it actually proved to me that I've got so much more to give Danny, by that experience. So I think that's probably the learning from the altMBA for me.

Daniel: It's a generous place that's for sure and you've been generous with your time Tristan. I'd like to move us to the last two questions that I ask everybody, first one being, what message would you put on all school marquees across the globe, if you could do so for just a day.

Tristan: The message is, and it's the name of the podcast that I actually host as well, I'm a podcaster. The name of my podcast is Think Big Act Small. I'm a whole heartedly believe that all of us have got so much to give. If we do take the time to zoom out and think big as to what's possible, but then act in the smallest kindest, most generous way we can to then move ourselves, our community, our school, and our family forward. So think big act small would be the reminder that I would put on all those marquees.

Daniel: Love it. That's one of my favorite, coaching questions. What's the next easiest step you could take. So it makes me think of that. All right, Tristan you're building a school from the ground up, you're not limited by any resources, you're only limitation is your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?

Tristan: Danny, I'm not from the education industry. I'm doing my best to try and answer this in the best way I can. What I've learned, both from my experience in the altMBA, from my experience building the culture is your thing Club and more recently from this COVID 19 pandemic that has been a dominant force in 2020, is that education is a concept that can happen anywhere. Of course, that concept is not new, but I would be really focused on a hybrid type of learning where home learning is combined with classroom learning and along with an experiential type of learning. I've got small and the value that it has brought our life, both our children's life and my life, my wife and I, by having them learning from home has been amazingly powerful for us.

Tristan: It's a real shining light out of a really difficult year due to your situation. So hybrid online home, remote learning and classroom would be the first thing. Secondly, Danny I'd really love it to be a based upon getting as much experience from people from different industries as we can. And that's what you're doing here with your Ruckus Makers,on this podcast. I think there's so much that we can learn from maybe the elite athletes or late presenters or elite teachers. What about people who are doing a tough, what are the people that are in a different situation from where we at? How do we do our best to learn, embrace, and find the thing that not only can help our lives now existence, but also to connect with other people. So somehow having a more experiential type of life focused, curriculum would be the second part.

Tristan: The third part, Danny, is just coming to me as I think this through, but somehow bringing as much fun to school as we can. I think we all know that we as adults, I learn things better when there's some entertainment or some lightheartedness mixed up with, uh, the stronger messages as well. Life, isn't all fun that's for sure. I think that it helps to embed messages and build memories. I think education has got a lot to do with memory building from my perspective, Danny. So that's my best response on the spot for you, Danny.

Daniel: No, it's brilliant. I really like asking this question to non educators because it gives us an outside look perspective into what's going on in the inner workings of school. Joel Weldon says it's really hard to read the label on a jar when you're inside the jar. Right, and that's why I asked this question why I love asking people like you in terms of keeping things light in my book. I say ridiculous things all the time. Part of it is just to stretch people because if they don't get all the way there, what's halfway there that'll make things better. Keeping things light, and this is rule number six to when somebody is just acting like a jerk and taking themselves too seriously at school, I say that there should be just pies available. So you could just smash it in people's faces just to lighten the mood. Like, come on guys. Let's recalibrate here. All right. Well, Tristan, thank you so much for being a part of the better leaders, better schools, podcast of all the things we talked about today, what's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?

Tristan: The one thing I'd love Ruckus Makers to remember is that culture is everything. To creating an environment where team members can give their very best, and you can serve people in the most powerful way. Culturally, everything is the concept and culturally a culture can be supported by a sustainable systemized process or system that doesn't have to be this airy theory, intangible concept that many people first think of culture when they first become a leader. So culture is everything backed by a repeatable system, Danny.

Daniel: Thanks for listening to the better leaders, better schools, podcasts for Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel at better leaders, better schools.com or hit me up on Twitter at alien earbud. If the better leaders better schools, podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter @alienearbud and using the #BLBS level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.

Show Highlights

  • Culture is something that can be systemized. 19 steps that build a great place to work and learn
  • The best ways to motivate your team towards your desired culture
  • If you want to build a strong foundation, start with the harder work
  • The courage to forfeit funding will build world-class culture that supports your mission 
  • Join a perfect club for leaders who are forever growing and applying themselves to become the best versions of themselves 
  • Person centered approach engages a better service to help motivate people to set and smash meaningful goals
Tristan White: Culture is Everything

“‘Show love’ is as simple as it sounds, but don’t be a manager or leader that manages by catching people, doing something wrong and only speaking to people when they’re not quite living up to expectations. We need to be leaders that catch people doing something right, recognize it, tell the story, acknowledge people in the moment.”

-Tristan White



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