I was stressed. Possibly the most stressed I’ve ever been. It was early in 2009 and I’d barely slept for two weeks. I was stressed because I had someone in our team that had to leave. The time had come and it wasn’t specifically for poor performance. She had contributed to our growth and given her best. But she did have to go. The Physio Co’s future depended on it. One of the reasons: she didn’t live the positive, values-based culture we were determined to create.
I remember the time so clearly. I remember the sleepless nights. I remember the horrible headaches. I remember the Friday night when I had such a headache and was feeling so sick that KW had to drive us to our Sandy Point getaway. I could barely think and certainly couldn’t focus on driving. I had never removed someone from a team before. I didn’t know how to do it so I’d been putting it off. But, that very weekend, when I was sick to the stomach I decided that it had to happen on Monday morning.
Monday morning came. I got to work early, rehearsed the short and direct conversation I was about to have and made sure we weren’t going to be interrupted. And then I got the phone call. She wasn’t coming in. She was sick. I couldn’t have the conversation I’d prepared so carefully for. I was going to have to live through this for another 24 hours. My lingering headache just hit a new high.
The next morning, I again got to work early and prepared. And when she did arrive, she was dripping wet from a huge Melbourne downpour. Again, I could’ve delayed the conversation. But I was committed. I gathered the courage and delivered the news. I managed to control my own tears as they flowed from across the desk. I waited patiently as she cleared her desk and collected her things. We said our farewells. And then there was silence.
As a 29 year-old inexperienced entrepreneur at the time, removing that person was one of the most difficult things I’d ever dealt with. It was also one of the most courageous. Since 2009, The Physio Co has grown from a team of about 20 to more than 50 and has four times been listed as one of Australia’s 50 Best Places to Work. That growth has only been possible from our obsession with only having people that effortlessly live our core values in the team.
The lesson I learned from that painful situation in 2009 is the importance of courageous communication. Building a values-based culture requires an obsession with getting the right people on the bus and into the right seats. The lesser known part of creating a strong culture is the courage required to get the wrong people off the bus.
Having the courage to face the facts and initiate challenging conversations every single day is one of the keys to building a strong culture. If someone isn’t living the values, they have to know about it. It’s the only way.
Since 2009, I have had countless tough conversations and I have had other people leave along the way. But it’s never been as tough as that very first time.