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Being well precedes doing well

Help your people thrive personally and the organisation will benefit, writes Jason T Smith.

People matter. They are the reason we do anything. At least, this should always be true. For me, as the founder of Australia's largest and fastest growing physiotherapy network, the Back In Motion Health Group, I felt this conviction deeply. This is not to say that I was careful enough in all its expressions, but I tried to consistently value people above all else.

In organisational life, we are taught to concentrate on the imperatives of our identity statements. The purpose drives our why. The mission infers our what. The vision sets our where. The strategy defines our how. But we can never forget that people are the glue that holds all this together. They are the heart of our organisation – forming our collective soul. 

Great people are the prize of effective leadership. They are the hero of every workplace story. They are both the means and the end. People defined our culture at Back In Motion, not a systems manual or embossed plaque hanging on the boardroom wall. And it's our culture that sets the tone for the experience of every stakeholder – both within and outside our team. So, we ignore people at our peril.

Do well

There are fewer things I want more than to see my people thrive. I'm sure you are no different. I want them to experience personal success and fulfilment, and reach dizzy heights in their careers and lives. I want to support them to achieve beyond their dreams, exceed expectations, and go to unimaginable places.

I want them to feel the thrill of professional excellence, expert craftsmanship and deft skill, with insightful judgement. I want them to stand heads and shoulders above the norm, and be highly esteemed – the gold standard, beyond reproach. I want them to be wildly successful, the envy of their peers. My hope for them is to go further, faster; and grow bigger, stronger. I really want them to do well. I expect they do too. 

Accordingly, they should be well rewarded for their efforts. Their loyalty and work ethic should yield bountiful return, career progression, financial gain, rich experience, professional development, personal satisfaction, and community impact. But doing well is only part of the story.

Be well

More than doing well, I want our people to be well. We are human beings, not human doings. We need to be well in body, soul and spirit. Healthy people are better than smart ones. Self-care is essential. In this fast-paced, manic world, being well is a precursor to doing well. 

I needed to teach our people to look after themselves better. It was the only way to be at our best. We couldn't lead and empower others unless we learnt how to achieve this for ourselves. Learning to swim was a prerequisite to saving someone else from drowning. Health, happiness, alignment… these are all high ideals in the workplace – but for many, long forgotten.

We had to incite a workplace revolution, and in the process, recognise those who were unwell. The many who had lost ground to progressive tiredness and confusion… with looming burnout. We saw lots of strained activity and exhausted souls. It wasn't just mind over matter. Deep rest and recalibration was necessary. Being well became a strategic imperative of our growth story.  

Stay well

For more than a decade, I had led my team with a traditional vertical organisational structure that mostly worked... Up to a point, anyway. We were about a $25 million business with 40 locations and approximately 200 staff. But if we wanted to give our people real freedom to be well, we had to shake things up. 

We got rid of job titles, static job descriptions, unnecessary staff meetings, unfair bonus schedules, and benign performance reviews. We introduced new principles of free speech, peer accountability, distributed authority and trustparency (a little word we made up that describes exactly what you think it means). We created a spherical organisational model called ONEteamâ„¢ that allowed our people to do what they love, and love who they do it with.  

After two years of intensive change and re-imagining our leadership culture at work, we discovered an authentic and scalable way to give each team member the freedom to both be well and, consequently, do better. Today, we stand having achieved brand presence in Australia and New Zealand, generate revenues of close to $50 million in annual client services, and officially host over 110 locations. And we have no expectation of slowing down any time soon.

If I had known this was going to be the result, I would have focused on our staff's wellness a lot sooner and with much more enthusiasm.

Jason T. Smith is an author, entrepreneur, business and health thought leader, and founder of the Back In Motion Health Group. 

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