For many owners making the transition out of (some) patient care and into more management/administration is a huge hurdle but one that, once they experience it, leads to more growth as a company. Jacob Pollard, PT has made that transition and has now taken the NEXT step. Now, instead of him being the go-to guy for all questions, the resolver of all problems he has developed a leadership team that follows policy and procedure. His team is able to follow policy and handle issues without his involvement! What is simply a dream for most owners Jacob is now experiencing because he spent the time developing his team and training them on the policy. Learn how this all came to be in this conversation with Nathan Shields.
I've got a friend, a coaching client, and also a business owner nearby me in Wasilla, Alaska. He also has a clinic in Anchorage. He's the Founder and CEO of Empower Physical Therapy. Jacob Pollard is joining me on the episode to talk about some of the growth that he’s had that I wanted to highlight and share with the audience.
Jacob, thanks for coming on. I appreciate it.
Thank you, Nathan. I appreciate you asking me to be on. I'm excited to talk to you.
Before we get into what we want to talk about, which is developing your leadership team and creating, implementing and utilizing policy procedures in your clinic, share with the audience a little bit about you and what you've done up until this point to get to where you are.
I live here in Wasilla, Alaska. We have a clinic out here in Wasilla but we also have a clinic about 40 miles south of here in Anchorage, Alaska. We started Empower at the end of 2016, the beginning of 2017. We're excited about having it and being around. Nathan talked to me and introduced me to a coach that helped me but as most practice owners, I’m working 45 to 50 hours a week of treating and then trying to fit in. In addition to that time, hours to try and do marketing, admin trainings, business management and grow the business, anything and everything else that most clinic owners do. It was right around that time in October, I had my second child with my wife and I was exhausted. You know how that is with a new baby. I thought, “There's got to be a better way. This can't keep going this way.” Nathan is the one who introduced me to a man named Jamey Schrier. Jamey's program is the Practice Freedom U. I got introduced to him first. I started down with some coaching and consulting. Nathan also reached out to me when he started coaching to become a coaching client of his.
I quickly jumped on board because I realized, through Jamey's program, that I had no idea what I was doing as far as running a business. I needed people who knew how to run a business to show me what to do. That's a big thing that prompted me to get started into taking control of my business and deciding I needed to do something different. Through a lot of that coaching, consulting and education, I started to turn around things with my business and say, “This is a business. It's not a job for me to come in and do every day.” It changed me and my family's life and where I am.
Before, I was still treating full-time. I had a couple of admin blocks here and there. We made the transition and I started carving out more time to work on the business. Now, I'm completely out of treatment and I've built a management team that helps me run all the day-to-day operations of the business. As Jamey said, we've implemented a lot of policies and standard operating procedures that helped guide who we are and what we do. I've been able to take a step away and focus on the business. That's where I've come from and what I've done. It's been years of a journey here.
First of all, congratulations. I remember when you first started opening up your clinic in town and I had met you and I thought, “Here's a guy who's opening a clinic like I did years ago. He probably doesn't have a lot of business training.” I remember I sent you a book or two because I'm like, “You're going to need some help.” I had Jamey Schrier on the podcast a couple of times and I was like, “I'll throw some contact information on Jacob’s way and see if he could use some help.” That seemed like a real turning point for you where you started getting a handle on how to run your business and what you needed to be doing.
When I started working with you some time ago, it's cool to see where you are from December of 2019 to 2020 and the changes that have evolved in your company. Part of it is like what you said that you developed some policy and procedure and standardized operating procedures. You've also started to build out a real leadership team, which is vital to take some of the burden off of every owner. I wanted to go down that path a little bit. When we first got started working together, you didn't have a designated office manager. If you follow the traction and rocket fuel organizational structures, there's the visionary at the top and the integrator. She was essentially your integrator but you didn't have well-established clinic directors of both places, it didn't seem like. You were the clinic director for both locations while you're also trying to treat patients. Am I right?
I want to talk a little bit about your successes and some of the things that you've done right, some of the things you've done wrong, or what you would have done differently. In talking about that, share with us a little bit about how you started working in developing a leadership team. At this time, they're doing a lot of stuff on their own. What was that transition looked like? What did your leadership development program look like per se?
The leadership team and the management team has been the biggest thing that's allowed me to step out of the business as far as working in the business and start to work on the business. It wasn't an overnight thing. One big thing was I was hoping I could turn to my office manager and say, “Now you're the practice manager, make it run.” It didn't work that way. Same with the clinic directors, I gave them the title. At first, this was talking about those mistakes, I said, “You're the clinic director.” I expected them to know what I meant when I said, “You're the clinic director.” Looking back, those were big mistakes on my part that I didn't provide any clarity for what I meant by that. I didn't provide direction and a clear outline of, “This is what I need you to do and expect.” I didn't set those outcomes for them from the beginning.
You didn't have a job description. That's essentially what you're talking about. A clinic director has these traits, these are their responsibilities, these are the product, or these are the KPIs that are measured by or are responsible for.
I didn't have that. I had written down a few things I wanted them to take over. It was, by no means, a clear job description. That was a huge mistake on my part. From your coaching and Jamey’s coaching, I knew I needed a management team. I started there. On one hand, it was good that I jumped in. I said, “We're going to build a management team.” I used to sit around and kept thinking about, “I’ve got to get it perfect before I do.” On the bad side of that, it did come with some headaches and a learning curve. That would be something I would have done differently. I would’ve got clear on what I expected from them and written it all out before I made them the clinic director or the practice manager.
When did you see some traction as far as their growth and taking on the responsibilities that you expected? When did you start seeing some of that? Did certain things start happening? Did you implement certain trainings or something like that?
To be honest, it was during COVID. When we got hit with COVID, I relied on them and leaned on them. At the same time, I had some more time to flush out a lot of these things. At that point, we had 4 or 5 months of struggling through like, “I expected you to run those reports and they didn't get done. Make sure you do it next time.” It's me telling them here and there instead of having it all written up to this and move on. I was realizing like, “I've got to get this all organized so they know what to expect.” It was during that time, end of March, beginning of April and May when COVID was at its worst up here as far as shutdowns and all that stuff. We banded together. We spent some more time training with each other. They got to see more of what I was doing because I was there with them more. On top of that, I had more time to sit down. It’s almost going through that trial together and build some managers. I’m not saying everybody needs a COVID to build their managers but it forced me. I realized, at that point, I need these things or I'm not going to have a business. In the future, I hope COVID never happens again. That drove me to say, “If I don't figure this out, in a couple more months we're not going to have a business.”
COVID might have forced it. If someone is not going through that stage of a pandemic, recognize you've got to dedicate and set aside training times. I'm assuming you sat shoulder-to-shoulder with them, looked at reports, talked to them across the table about how to handle things, “This is what we do and this is how we handle this.” If people are outside of the pandemic and they feel like they're too busy, I even told a client, “You've got to take time away from them being on the floor to train them or else you're going to be spinning your wheels.”
That was the scariest thing for me as a new business owner. Cutting my hours or cutting other therapists' hours to train them or to work on creating a job description. I couldn't see past like, “I'm going to make a couple of hundred dollars if I'm out there and my PTs are out there.” I couldn't see past that. By taking a few hundred dollars that we would make by being out there for these two hours, training, going through this and writing this up, it's going to pay huge dividends into $1,000 down the road. Out of everything you said, taking the time was the scariest thing for me.
I remember you and Jamey told me, “You've got to start blocking some time and working on the business.” That concept was hard. It took me a couple of months to do it. It took me a full year before I got out of treatment. I was working with you for over a year before I was like, “I’ve got to get out of treatment.” It was cutting hours back-and-back. It's still a scary thing to do once you've trained for it for so long in your life is to treat patients. That's what you want to jump back into doing because it's easy and you feel comfortable with it. I can step out there, treat these people and make some money. Taking time is vital. No question, that would be huge advice for someone down the road.
It's a mindset that every PT owner I work with has to get over. The first one is taking themselves off the floor. Even though they know that's what they need to do, there's some mental barrier in there or whatever it is that keeps them from doing that. To take another provider off the floor, I'm paying them for me to train them, how does that work? They can't flush that out psychologically. It's a hurdle they have to get over. Inevitably, every time they do it, there's a positive response. They're like, “Why didn't I do this earlier? Now, I can see that.” You have to go through that experience to figure it out.
I knew this was going on. The thing that stuck out to me in our mastermind meeting was when you talked about your wins. One of your wins is your management team was able to resolve a problem without your personal intervention. You might have discussed it, whatever the problem was, but they handled it without you. That's another level of ownership where they follow policy and procedure to resolve an issue without you. That's next level ownership and something to get excited about to try to replicate over and over again. Share with us a little bit about your win there.
The incident that we're talking about, in particular, we have a policy or a procedure in place on how to handle patients that are no show and patients that miss an evaluation or miss a follow-up visit. We have different ones for what they miss. This was an exception in their mind. Usually, those exceptions in the past would come to me like, “What do you think about this person? They did this, but then their dog got sick. They should give him leeway on this one.” Inevitably, they would come to me as what do I think? I was supposed to decide and tell them, “Go do this for this case. In this case, let's do this.” We got a lot clearer lately. We wrote up in a policy and procedure, “This is what we're going to do and this is the procedure.”
I had come back into the clinic the next day or later in the afternoon. They said, “We tried sending you an email or calling you and we didn't get ahold of you. Ignore it because we figured it out. We went back to the procedure and followed it. That patient is taken care of.” I don't even remember what happened honestly. They either booked out or they told them they're not coming back. That's the thing that was nice. When they told me that, I sat back like, “I didn't have to do anything with that. They took care of the issue and they resolved it.” I’m not even sure who the patient was or what happened. It’s exciting for me to say that.Look at your business as a business, not as a job for you to come in and do every day. Click To Tweet
That's a new experience for you.
It was, it's the next level. You can write up those SOPs but then the training and getting people to do them, that's next level. It was exciting to see.
Number one, you weren't necessarily involved. I was joking you need to turn off your email a little bit more often or not answering the phone. Number two, the policy worked. That's like, “Something that I wrote about worked. That's cool.” That being a new experience is what you're looking for. Back in the day, we got to a point with our leadership team and our clinic directors, if they came to us with a question like you had, our response was supposed to be, “What does the policy and procedure manual say about it?”
Even though we knew the answers in our heads, our job and our leaders’ job if they were talking to the clinic directors was, “What does the policy and procedure manual say?” It's too easy for them to send out an email or make a call and get the answer than it is for them to do some footwork, look through the paperwork and try to find it. If you're going to make that policy and procedure manual, live, breathe and have some meaning, you have to guide them back to that over and over again until they get a clear message and then say, “If the policy procedure manual doesn't give you the answer or you try it and it didn't work, then come talk to me. Don't come and talk to me until you’ve followed the procedure.”
Another cool story, I did an out-of- office visit at the surgery center. I went down and did an eval for a new patient. We document those a little differently and the way we get it to our biller is a little different. We updated the procedure of how we do these things. I wasn't even sure how we did it because I wasn't the one that updated the SOPs. Something cool was my practice manager was the one who updated and how we do it, “This is the system.”
You're telling me that people besides you are making policies?
Now, they are. That's another big thing that we've started doing. My practice manager has done several of these procedures.
I wanted to gloss over that. I want to make sure that stood out.
Another big thing for me in the beginning was I felt like I had to do all of these procedures and write down all the systems that we do. It was overwhelming. I can't even tell you everything we do. I couldn't write it all down, let alone the whole team. Once you had said it or someone is like, “There's no reason why my new patient coordinator and the practice manager can't write her own procedures and systems.” They've been writing them out.
Back to the story. I was the lazy one and I was looking around and saying, “Where are these supposed to go?” My practice manager pulled out the SOP binder and said, “Right here.” She's the one that pointed, “Here's what the system says.” I was laughing about it. They were all making fun of me. You can tell I was fish out of water in my own clinic. I went and put it where it needed to be. It was too easy to ask around than it was to go to the manual. It was good. She brought me back to it and said, “This is what we do.” It was a cool experience.
That's been their MO this entire time and not any fault of theirs. That's how they've been trained to get answers. As you start implementing these policies and procedures, it's going to take a learning curve and a redirection regularly before they get the message. If you have a question, figure it out through the manual first and then talk to your supervisor if that doesn't answer the question or if you don't get the result that you want. That's what is super exciting about it. I assume that all that grinding and hard work feels like it's paying off.
Not only is it paying off in the sense of my overall workload has dropped dramatically. I've been able to hand off a whole bunch of different things and tasks that I was doing. It's paying off in the stress level of my life and the time I get to spend with my family. I'm not working every night anymore like I was. I would get home and put my kids in bed. By 9:00, I was back on the computer. Every practice owner knows what I'm talking about. If I was doing notes or I was writing emails, I was on the computer from 9:00 until 12:00 or 11:00 PM. I'm not doing that anymore. My wife pointed that out and she said, “It's been awesome that we can be together, not have to worry about me being on the computer.” It's paid off in the overall profits of the company. Financially, it's paid off. We've had some huge growth. No way I could have done it without growing my management team and bringing on other people too.
We didn't even mention that. You were striving to hit 800 visits a month and now you're up to over 1,100 visits a month if I'm not mistaken.
We went over 1,300.
Over 50% increase in one year.
It was nuts.
We had some big growth. Thank you.
In a pandemic no less, right?
Yes, it was.
Your leadership team, new clinic directors and practice manager, how do you think they feel now that you've given them these responsibilities and they've made this progress?
They feel a lot more ownership of their position. Before, it was obscure and vague of what they were supposed to be doing in that role that they reverted to what they feel comfortable in, treating or running payroll. That was a big thing Bree did. Bree would go back into authorizations or something that she felt comfortable with like, “I know I can do this. I'm going to go do it.” Like we do when I don't know what to do but I know how to treat someone, so I'm going to jump back into treating. This has given them some clear direction and I know that they feel more comfortable with their abilities to lead and manage and their ability to own what they do in their positions.
I feel like you're now becoming a coach to them.
I have a quick half-hour sit down with each one of them once a week and we model a coaching call like, “What are some wins from the last week? Let's review it. What are some challenges we're working on? What are some things I could do to help?” We model a coaching call through that. It's been awesome and fun to do.
You've made this great progress, you've got the beginnings of a management team in place, your policy and procedures are starting to come together, and they're starting to gain some traction. What do you think the next steps are that you're going to be working on?
That's the role of the owner. It's always looking ahead, looking to the visionary of, “What's next? What's down the road?” Before, I was always like, “Let's look what's down the road.” Instead, I would put my head down and see what was right in front of me. I didn't want to trip over that tree branch and so I could never see what was coming up to the horizon. What this has allowed me to do is look to that and say, “This is what I see in our future.” A new building for example, bringing on a new service line. We did bring on massage therapy. We'll bring on occupational therapy. It’s allowed me to step into that role of, “How else can we empower our community?” That's a phrase we say and our clinic being Empower. How else can we do that? By me, working on the business, we can reach more people that way. That's exciting for us.If I want to get from A to B, it's a process, a road to go on. There's no secret sauce to make it happen overnight. Click To Tweet
Were there some books that were influential not just for you? Have you shared any books with your management team?
We read a book now. We try it once a month. It's been once every two months or so. I had them all read with me the E-Myth so they can understand what I was going to be doing. It’s like, “This is where I'm moving to and what I'm going to be spending a lot of my time on.” A lot of the Mike Michalowicz books were influential for me. Profit First was awesome. Clockwork was a great book. I've read most of them, The Pumpkin Plan and a couple of others. Those are influential. Jamey Schrier’s book, The Practice Freedom Method, that's a good book. My management team is reading that too because we're talking about marketing, active appreciation and a couple of things along that line.
If you can look at your leadership development program, if you will, some of it was shoulder-to-shoulder training and there were some books involved. Was there anything else that you did to help them learn and grow whether it was leading out on meetings or heading up other programs and stuff like that?
There are a couple of things. One is I did end up giving them some responsibilities and said, “I want you to do it.” They took it over even if it was rocky to start. Bree runs our team meeting now. Before, I always did it all. She took that over. Even if it was rocky in the beginning, she's run with it and does a great job with it. The other big thing, we also sit down all together once a week for 30 minutes. When I say all together, I mean the management team, the four of us. That helped a lot because there was no real coordination between us. I would be going one way, Bree would be trying to do something else, the other two clinic directors had no idea what we were doing, and that didn't help them. This at least got us coordinated and said, “This is what we're going to work on and this is how we're going to get these things done.”
It's simple things like that. When I talk to clients about developing leaders in their clinics, they have a deer in the headlights looking and understandably so. It simply goes back to having opportunities for communication and a meeting rhythm works. What did you learn to make you a leader? What books did you read to make you a leader? What is your agenda for leading out on a team meeting? How do you remind them of the values? It's little things like that. If you took 30 minutes and wrote down what you did as a “clinic director,” then that's what you would train the other guys on and that becomes your development program.
I've had a couple of PT owners that we've talked to that have asked, “What did you guys do that last a little bit?” Honestly, I've told everyone, “Nothing complicated, out of the box, obscure or crazy things.” Mainly, it’s been a lot of simple processes and they've started to get traction to where they're finally taking off. Part of it was the fact that we kept doing it during that time when they weren't getting traction. We could have turned back and said, “This isn't working. Let's scrap this whole procedure thing. Let's scrap the management team. I'm going to take back over.” It’s like he says in the E-Myth like, “Fire everyone and I'm going to do it again myself. This is a headache.” I knew that I didn't want to do that. Sticking with it, eventually it paid off. A big thing for people to think about is it's not going to change overnight. It’s been years for me to get here. Even then, I don't feel like I'm there. It's not like, “I'm done.” At the same time, I'm in a way better place now than I was years ago. It’s important for people to look at that and say, “If I want to get from A to B, it's a process and it's a road to go on. There's no secret sauce that tomorrow or next month, I'm going to now be all of a sudden done with treating and out of all this.”
It's great to hear your experience and you can share some of the details about it. That's why I was excited about having you on to show owners that it can happen. It can happen within a couple of years. You’ve got to start doing some of the hard work, start putting some intention and development behind it, and it starts coming around.
In Jamey's group, we talk about something we call the deep work. The deep work that the owner needs to do and that's vision planning, value building and culture creation. It's all those things that, a lot of times, you don't do because you're busy treating or managing the fires. Taking the time and doing that deep work pays off huge in the end.
Thanks for spending a little bit of time with me and sharing your experience. It's great to have that experience and see that happening in real-time. Number one, congratulations. Number two, keep it up. You're doing great things.
Thank you. I wouldn't be anywhere now if it wasn't for Nathan and Jamey's group. You've helped me a ton to get where I am. It's a huge difference from where I was before. I'll put a shameless plugin for Nathan's coaching. He's helped me a ton and it's been awesome. You may have even talked about some coaching when we first met and I blew it off because I was like, “I'm too busy for coaching.” It's one of those things I would now say, “I would never start a business without a coach and without this type of training.” For anybody out there that's considering, “Should I pay for a coach? Should I pay for some extra education or training?” It’s more than worth your money to do that. I would have never got to where I am without that.
It's the formula. I don't think I've interviewed an owner yet, a successful owner at least, that hasn't stepped out of treating full-time, got some coaching or consulting and continues to network. Whether that's in a mastermind, PPS or small business organizations, they're doing all three of those things on a routine basis. It's a formula that hasn't been proven wrong so far. If you want the stuff that you're talking about growth, freedom and the ability to develop what you want in a business, then that's the formula right there. Thanks for sharing your experience.
Thanks for having me. I'm happy to be on.
Thanks for your time. Thanks for coming. I look forward to hearing more about your growth in the future.
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I'm bringing back my good friend and partner, Will Humphreys. I want to bring back Will because he has become a master at recruiting physical therapists. I've had Brian Weidner of Career Tree Networks on and talk about what to do as you're looking for physical therapists. It gets you the general idea of what it looks like and what it takes to find qualified physical therapists. I've also had Dr. Sabrina Starling talk about recruiting or hiring in rural settings. Jamey Schrier talked to me a little bit about hiring A players. Those weren't specific to physical therapists, but Brian Weidner’s was and as will this one be with Will. Hiring for a physical therapist is different than hiring for admin and tech positions. It's a different ballgame and it's harder. At least from our experience in Arizona, it was hard to find qualified physical therapists.
I wanted to bring Will in because during those other interviews, I'd always referenced the success that he had, that we had in finding quality people. He continues to do that at Empower Physical Therapy. The proof is in the pudding. Here's a story that he shares, but I want to really emphasize it and that is he had a physical therapist that put in their two weeks’ notice because they were moving out of state on a Thursday. The very next day, they had a qualified physical therapist. This is someone they've already qualified. They had an offer out to that person on Friday and then on Monday the offer was accepted.
I haven't heard a story like that before when it comes to recruiting physical therapist. That's how powerful it can be when you have a strategic way of recruiting for physical therapists and physical therapy assistants. Will's been able to do that. He shares his mindset. He shares some of the tactics that he used and has come to a point where he has people qualified for at any moment when a physical therapist is leaving. He can put an offer out and have someone in there in a timely fashion without having a significant dip or drop in productivity. I'm really excited to bring him on because I always referenced to his successful action.
I've got my old partner and friend, still partner and friend Will Humphreys on again. This is the third time so far. You've come on three times. He actually interviewed me, so check that out as well. I wanted to bring Will on because I’ve referenced a lot of what we did at Rise Rehab back in the day for recruiting physical therapists and Will was the headliner of that. He really recruited well for us back in the day and is continuing to do that as the VP of Talent Acquisition at Empower Physical Therapy. He has really grooved in some amazing processes to find quality physical therapist and physical therapist assistants to Empower PT. First of all, thanks for coming on again, Will. I appreciate it.
You're welcome. I'm happy to be here. This is so fun.
Let's talk a little bit about it. For the readers, why don't you tell us a little bit about where we started back in Rise Rehab and how you eventually got into this process of acquiring talents in getting into this groove?
I like that you start that way because I hated recruiting for ten years. As you know, we initially opened a clinic with you as my employer in Florence, Arizona, which is halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. I later learned through some recruiters that I had been working with, they told me that Alaska and Arizona were the two hardest states to recruit based on the number of colleges versus population and all that. It really felt true for me back then because it took me forever to bring someone on. Frankly, if they fogged a mirror, they made it. It’s like, “You're alive and you have a pulse, congratulations,” and you can imagine what culture that created and you're paying more.
I paid one person an exorbitant amount of money to see like 40 visits a week which in Arizona is you're losing money. That was the whole thing. It required me to stay in it. It was a matter of like, “Am I going to make this work? If I do, then I have to figure out this thing called recruiting.” I put a lot of time and energy into figuring it out and it's grown into a passion, even though I hate the word recruiting. I don't think that defines like what I do whatsoever. That's a very bland term. I'm really surprised at how much energy I get from it now and I find myself getting a lot of the same rewards as a talent development and acquisition specialist. That’s the word I'm working with now. I get so much energy from that in comparison to treating patients. It's a very similar energy gain for me. I would never have suspected that as a PT.
Tell us a little bit about your mindset change. You said you used to hate it, but now you love it. What happened there?
It definitely wasn't gradient. It wasn't like an overnight switch in many ways. There was this effort. It forced me to create a culture and you were obviously equal parts in that. We worked hard on creating a culture to where people would want to be there. It includes logistics, things like salary and compensation and having the right benefits. It was more about like making sure who I could hire or hire the best, whether it was a front desk person or a tech. Once we started getting that momentum, we could almost draw people in. Otherwise, I wouldn't have even thought about driving an hour halfway to Tucson and pass a dozen opportunities on the way there. Our culture started getting really great and then we started attracting a couple of really big star people like Michelle Bambenek. You already have Stacey Sullivan. These rock star individuals brought so much personality to the company. It was like a snowball. At the top of a mountain, that was really painful with my hands making that cold little ball. As I was rolling it down the hill, eventually it caught momentum. When it catches momentum, then you're just guiding where it goes. That's what makes it fun.
Can I share with you an experience that I remember you telling me the switch that went off in your head? You would go to the student health fairs or at the local PT schools. You had your table there and the other guys had their tables there, the national guys and the large local chains, they all have the tables there. They all had the students lining up at their tables, but then there was a switch. You told me about a change in mindset that you had in and it switched from all the students lining up at their tables to now everyone lining up at Rise Rehab’s table. If you remember, at least what you told me, if you changed your mindset from, “Hopefully who would want to drive all the way out here,” to “Who wouldn't want to? We have an amazing company.” Maybe you can elaborate on that a little bit.
I'm trying to bring that up because as I was speaking into this process and it's true. There was a degree of it that were gradients, but there was one moment when there was a major mindset shift for me and after that, it's when we started building a bench. We went from trying to recruit one or two people a year to our new company Empower that Rise Rehab was put in, last 2018, we hired sixteen physical therapists in eight months. What happened was I went to one of those self-improvement things. It was on a meeting and I realized how my mindset was limiting. The fear of never overcoming it dissipated. Who I was a totally different person around it. I can talk about tactical things all day long, but the most important shift was that piece.
I was acting like a guy who was frustrated with recruiting all the time. It showed up in my efforts, to being a guy who felt confident that I was going to make the difference in the life of a physical therapist through my company. I did have to have some sort of foundational work to be able to feel that way, but there was a day where I shifted and the next week, I hired two PTs that I had zero lead generation on. I went from meeting them to hiring them in two weeks. For me, that was more than they would do in a year. Who we're being in recruiting is a big part of it because if we're frustrated with it and we're irritated that the last person didn't work out, that's going to show up in who we're being as we're talking to new people.
I remember I made some off comments and it was a comment that we'd made with each other over the years. It was like, “It's hard to recruit in those roads in the city.” You and Michelle turned around immediately were like, “No, it's not.” It’s almost like I had to apologize. I'm like, “I'm sorry.” That's the mindset I recall. You shifted from, “It's not hard to recruit out there anymore.” You took a definite stance to say, “It's not hard. We just need to find the right people and we will.” I recognize you found some amazing people that came into the clinics and they'd started bringing their friends.
That goes the snowball effect but you're right that there was that moment that there was a shift. It's so funny because you don't have to go to a seminar, in my opinion, to get that epiphany. I love the realization that we have. All of that potential in each of us, we just have to tap into it. The way we do that is by being clear with our intention. What is it that I'm going to be creating here? It takes a little self-confidence too. It's okay. We're struggling with that but ultimately to make a decision, “I'm going to kill this thing.” It's not enough to say, “It's going to get easier over time. I'm going to go find someone tomorrow and it's going to work out great.”
That happens with so many things and it's not just recruiting. I was talking to a guy who's not even in physical therapy school and he called me and he's like, “What should I start doing to be successful physical therapy owner in the future.” I was like, “Don't worry about the ownership stuff and don't even worry about the PT stuff, get your mindset right first. Go and read, Think and Grow Rich and maybe Rich Dad Poor Dad or something like that. Get your mindset in a position where you're empowered. That you are at cause for all these things. Get your mindset right first and then you can deal with the tactical stuff later.
I love that you said that because it's so true. Our industry is so riddled by the fear that I think that's how it shows up is in things like recruiting because we typically see things like anything, “sales related” and recruiting a sales activity like our first visit with a new patient. We see that as bad because we never want to be in it for the money. The truth of the matter is that fear, when overcome, is what changes the lives of our patients and therapists. One of the phrases that I'm taking a stand against is in PT school, we learn from day one that our license is our livelihood. That phrase is a load of crap because there's a lot of people out in this world who don't have a physical therapy license who can provide for their own living. We are our livelihood, not our license.
Our licenses are our opportunity. That's the distinction. It's like trying to win a game because I'm afraid to lose versus wanting to win. That was me in recruiting. I was afraid of losing time away from my family because the longer it took to find someone, the more I was away from home. Pain in hiring the wrong person because I wasn't confident I'd bring the right person on and the management headaches of bringing them on with such a nightmare. When I was recruiting, because I was afraid of that, it's what produced it. When I let the fear go by saying, “This is stupid. I'm going to go create a great company and find good people regardless of the state I'm in,” then we started finding them because they were attracted to that energy.
We talked about mindset, but we have to talk about some of the tactics. A lot of your success has been with students and working with the schools, but you can't get all of it too. Tell us a little bit about what you're doing maybe with some of the schools and maybe if that's progressed to doing a little bit more to actually get 32 providers in the last number of months.
We've hired 34 physical therapist assistants and PTs.
Talk to us a little about what you're doing with students and anything else that might be tangential to that.
When I started operating from a place of being at cause, I saw my role being a mentor and a coach. That's really how I approach this process, is that I am there to help people find their home, whether it's with me or somewhere else. That's a powerful distinction because I tell them in the first visit, I'm not trying to hire you, I'm here to serve you. What I would like to do is find out who you are and what you're about. I have a network of people that I have. This happens all the time, that there are people who I would love to hire, but I know it's going to be a better fit for them to be somewhere else. It makes it seem like I'm a good guy when I do that but it's very selfish because in those meetings with any PTs, whether it's a student or an experienced PT, when they hear that, they are immediately drawn in and if they're supposed to be a fit in my company, they land beautifully.
If they don't, it ends up working out somehow. It does. I trust the greater powers that be, that by being in a state of service to these people, things are going to work out the way they're supposed to. It takes so much anxiety off of me to realize that it's not my job to convince anyone to join our company. It's a big thing because I'll show you how that shows up in things like job fairs. At the core of who I'm, as I sit down and I tell them even after they join our company that my job is to help them find their next job, whether it's in my company or not. I hope it's my company, but that for some reason when they get feedback, they see that that's what really resonated with them is that commitment to the individual and the process and not an outcome.
I can be witness to that. You and I both have hired and fired people and the people that we have fired, we've actually made recommendations and called a few of our friends around town saying, “I’ve got these physical therapists. He's not working for us, but if you're looking for somebody, I'm going to vouch for him.” That really means a lot to them. We're not burning any bridges, but we're actually doing a service to the human that's part of our team and no longer part of a team. We want to help them move along and find the right place because we're not going to be the right place for everybody and you have to understand that. I think it's really a tribute to you too because one of your tactics at the fairs that you go to is to offer some of those students some trial interviews. You say, “I’ll sit down with you and we'll go through a typical interview process. You can practice your interview skills with me and I’ll give you some feedback.” That has a secondary purpose. You really find some gems in the making.
That's when things got really fun is when I realized that I was there to really serve the greater good and my patients became the therapist in the world. I used to treat and serve patients and alleviate their pain. Now, I'm doing that full-time with physical therapists, physical therapist assistants and anyone who shows up. I don't personally recruit entry level positions anymore. I have one person, one very special person, Toni Williams, who is masterful at all things talent development. She personally does hiring for all 27 locations of Empowers’ company. She personally hires every single person. I had my weekly check in with her, she has zero openings. I do want to brag on this, in our company as a whole, we have 27 locations, we have one opening right now. It's a physical therapist opening. I have a lead that I can tell you now, we're going to close him.
I'm excited to say that after our merger is at a point where we'll have zero openings and any position in our company, which is pretty fun considering at Rise, we used to have at least three or four we’re constantly working through. That's only four locations. You brought up the student thing so I’ll jump into that. Once I saw myself as a coach, it changed how I sat at job fairs. First of all, everyone's standing behind their table and they're waiting for students to come up to them. Forget that. I'm there to serve. I'm not trying to attract people. I'm attracted to them. I'd have someone with me stay at the table and tell them to stay in front of the table. The second thing I did and this is going to sound a little gimmicky, but one of our three cultural values is fun. Our cultural values are family, fun and freedom. If it's fun, it’s not work. We've got this big prize wheel and everyone can and they can spin the prize wheel and it was really silly. It would be like there's a Starbucks gift card, there'd be like pens, a candy bar and there'd be like a slap on the face.
I’ve got to tell you the side story. We have like three other serious prizes and then there'd be a long awkward hug as one of the prices they could get. I had to stop doing that though because we started spending a lot of time hugging people and it got weird. As you said, there was an offering and that offering, again, if it's done from a place of trying to convince people, it's going to look like a gimmick. Legitimately I say, “I offer two services. The first is, I'm doing free job interviews. I want you to sign up. What's different about this is this will count as your first job interview. What's different is we're going to give you feedback and we've designed this very specific structure that's come from books and experience of how we give feedback around it that is so powerful.”
Our mission when we have a student step into that mock interview is to change their life. Oftentimes we have them in tears and it's because we're in this space of creation with them versus trying to convince them. Another thing is a real servant isn't going to distinguish between the third year and a first year. Those third years are getting attacked. No one's even paying attention to the first years. Those are my favorite ones to get to. First of all, they are like deer in headlights. They walk into those job fairs. They feel like they're supposed to. No one's really paying attention after they find out. Those are the ones I sit down and we get real clear on their future because if I'm serving them, the earlier they get that information, the more it's going to serve them their whole student experience.
What's funny about that, and you can imagine, when we hire one of those people, they come in as almost director level by the time they get to me because during the year, one of my other offerings is I’ll coach them on leadership and that's where I’ll take the books that you and I have read and that we've been a part of all of our time. I'll put them almost always immediately on good to great on a whole series of books based on their interests and what they want to go create. We talk about it every quarter. Every week I interview, no kidding, five or six students, whether they're first or third years and I don't hire the vast majority but I serve all of them. That has built into annual speaking opportunities.
I'll speak at all the different colleges here, the four different schools in Arizona. I was honored to be the keynote speaker at their student conclave where they all come together. I'm not there to promote Empower, which I believe is the greatest company on the face of the Earth. I'm not there to do that. I let Empower create its own buzz. I set the example by serving and that's how we've been able to grow. Our feedback after being open for less than a year, we've had two people leave in ten months out of 27 locations that said it was the merger of our locations that was the reason for leaving. Those were individuals that frankly I didn't think aligned with us. Our retention has been phenomenal despite all the changes we've made. It's been a lot of fun.
You talked about having a bench and we had that in Rise Rehab. We were constantly hiring. I want you to speak to that a little bit because we got away from the positions open, put an ad out. It’s a type of frame of mind that we have that we typically have. We're only putting a lot out when we need somebody. I'm assuming and correct me if I'm wrong, you've got an ad out all the time. You said you don't have any positions that are opening. That probably stems back from when we were hiring all the time for the admin staff that we were always trying to hire, but now you're hiring all the time for PTs, PTAs and you probably you’ve developed a bench simply based on your relationship with the schools and some of the first and second years that you're talking to.
The bench concept is a really interesting one and it's very real and to prove that point, we had a therapist move out of state two weeks ago. They resigned saying, “I'm moving out of state. I'm getting married.” They resigned on a Thursday. We had a job offer out Friday and they accepted Monday for a rural area in Arizona. It was at one of the more rural areas. That bench concept is where you generate a lot of power. What I would say about generating a bench is that you're always recruiting. You always have ads out. Another thing I’ll do is I do a love letter, is how I call it, to the physical therapist in Arizona. It's not like romantic or anything, but it means basically talking about like what we're doing as a company and what openings we have. Every time I do that, we generate a couple of hires from that. Every state is different. In some states, it’s physical mailers, which statistically, it’s actually is proven to be a better method. It just costs more money.
I use MailChimp and then the Arizona database. For a price, they'll give you the current PT registered list through the state. It's 3,000 people and I’ll send out an email saying, “This is what we've got open. I write them in a way as if I'm coaching them.” It's like, “First of all, I hope you're happy where you are. If you're not happy, I’d like to meet with you.” This is true. Every time I get a PT from that email, the first thing I try to do is help them resolve their issue at their current employer's place. I don't want someone who can't resolve their own problems. If I sit down with them and they're like, “I'm unhappy at work.” I’m like, “Did you talk to your boss?” They're like, “No.” I'm like, “Let's talk about that. What is it about you that isn't being powerful to go solve that issue?” I hated that when people left my company and didn't even tell me why that they were unhappy. It was the worst. I've saved a number of relations in the valley with employers who don't even know that it was their “competitor.”
It speaks to the service that you provide and to go back a little bit, the power behind the constant promotion for an ad or for any position in your company, it brought to my mind the conversation that I had with Brian Weidner. He's a PT recruiter for Career Tree Network and I had him on. He had some great insight, but he said there are two types of candidates that you're trying to attract. There's the actively looking and the passively looking. The actively looking won't have a job or they're students. The passively looking are like, “I wonder if the grass is greener. I'm happy at my current place, but I'm wondering what's going on out there.” They're the type of people that are looking on indeed to see if they're making as much as the rest of the people in the region or they're like, “I wonder if there's another setting or I don't like my EMR and this is going on for a couple of years. Maybe there's another place that I can check out where things are easier,” but they're passively looking.
It's hard to attract the passive ones because 80% of the PTs are happy where they're at, especially in Arizona, they could go any place they want and find a better place. It's important to keep that ad out there because you never know when the actives become passive and vice versa and you don't want to wait for the perfect timing when you need somebody and they are actively looking at the same time to merge and all the planets align and you find that right person. There's some power behind the constant ad process being out there.
I would say because I hear myself ten years ago, listening to this going, “Great. Now, there's another thing I should be doing that I don't have time to do.” What I would say to that person is to remember that at my size with 27 locations and being a minor partner in that, that’s my role so I get to live in that space full-time. When we had four locations, I didn't have to spend a lot of time on it. I had to be really focused and precise as to what worked and nothing is more empowering or beneficial than that mindset thing you brought up at the beginning, like “I'm going to find someone.” If you allocate an hour a week or 30 minutes a week and work on an ad, work on a mailer to be Arizona or your state PT group or just researching the job fairs. What I’ve learned by talking to other companies as we've looked at acquiring other practices is most people don't do jack squat. It's hundreds of times more powerful than nothing
Plan it out. It really doesn't have to be a lot of time. You create the content once and you can run it for a couple of months probably or the job fairs aren't every week. They're like once a quarter maybe. Once you plan for one and you get all the swag for one, then you have it covered for the next couple of years probably. You can float around and play around with how you're going to do things differently. You put in some initial efforts to create content and create your setup. After that, it's just pushing the flywheel and keeping it going. You can always filter out the people that you don't want to see but if someone amazing comes across your desk, it's nice to be in a position where you say, “I don't have a position for you right now,” or we've had this before, “You're an amazing person. We don't have a position in a company for you right now, but we're going to bring you on anyways and we'll find a place for you.” That's pretty cool.
If you build it, they will come. It's so true. If you've got the right who, the what makes sense afterwards. We're not saying too and I make sure people understand this, is that I'm always top grading. If we find the rock star and we have someone we've been questionable about, we make a change. That's the way it works. If another employer offered a better position to one of my team members, shame on me for not pivoting and being a better company. It works the same way. The bench thing is interesting because what I’ve found is when we absolutely can't make it work, we keep those relationships up. We send out a six-week email to them, checking in with them no matter where they are. We've developed some incredible relationships with people we've never hired and coaching opportunities. We've helped people negotiate salaries and reviews and those kinds of things from a distance that these aren't people who even work with that were there to serve still because we're committed to these people as long as they want help.
You're committed to the relationship, whether it's in the company or without and that goes a long way. You have a sincere commitment to that and that shows up. If we're talking about tactical things, anything else that's come up that seems to have really helped you or is it simply the focus on relationships?
Relationship-focused, summarizing what I talked about and then adding that the piece I haven't yet. Mindset shift number one there is to serve and coach and that looks like meeting students where they are. Any PTs, where we can find them, whether it be active or passive, through ads and communication to the state board. What I would say is once I get an interested individual and I’ve coached with them, I don't pretend that I have all the answers. I struggled. I had done well with the Rise Rehab when we merged and I started doing poorly again. What I realized was at that scale, I needed to leverage other great people to reinforce the positive story about Empower. When I started with Sean Miller, Matt Figueroa and then we have regional vice presidents.
We have Kyle Davis and Michelle Bambenek, these are individuals who, after I'd have this powerful first meeting, I'd send that person to them to show up at the clinic and have them observe the clinic. We tell our future employees, that's our way of providing our references to you. Go ask our team members, what's the best thing about here? What's the worst thing about working here? We want people to know where we have our struggles. The biggest mistake you can make in talent acquisition is a surprise post hire. The biggest mistake I’ve ever made is either me or them being like, “I didn't expect this.” That's when it goes to crap. By providing that, it was a huge piece for us because it reinforced the story through other amazing, high talented individuals, but then it also created clarity and transparency that allowed our future employees to really see us. Sometimes that means they don't join us. Every time that's a gift.
I remember one time, we were recruiting a physical therapist that we knew would be great and she's still with us now, Jody Maluski. Remember we brought her to the company party for one of our clinics. That's where we recruited her and she sat there with the Maricopa team and got to meet some of them and some of them came over and said, “This is a great place to work for, you ought to join us.” Just to show her a little bit of the culture I think was huge, personally, but also to have them go onsite and see the offices and do those job interviews onsite and hang with the providers and meet their directors. That can all be a great benefit to both parties for them to see what's going on and how you guys work. Number two, for us to see how they interact with people and socialize.
You hit it. I'm so glad you brought that up, Nathan, because it is in my mind now, I consider finding talent very easy because physical therapy as an industry, we understand what you said. You go outside of our industry and the people that make the company grow, they get taken out to dinner. They get soft handed through that process. If we want to stand out, take someone to lunch. It's mind-blowing, but no one does it. You take them to lunch, you bring their spouse. You're hiring a spouse every time. You're not just hiring the individuals. You bring the spouse and you see how that dynamic works with other work family members. I love how you stated that. It gives us a chance to see them and how they interact with other rock stars.
You shared a lot of great information. I appreciate it. I've referenced a lot of the work that you do. I was like, “I need to have you on and get it from the horse's mouth.” It's nice to get to get it straight from the source. You've done amazing. Your division within Empower Physical Therapy is a strength by far. You can imagine how weighed down they would be if they were looking for four or five, six PTs constantly. Being in the position that you're at now is huge. It's because of all this work from the past that you've built and the relationships that you've built, you've done a lot of hard work to get there.
I sure appreciate that. I acknowledge that comment, as well as acknowledge again Toni Williams and the amazing leadership team we have an Empower. I get to take credit for a lot of other people's powerful influence on what we do and even yours. You and I, we cut our teeth together and that's why we're who we are with each other now. With what you're doing up there, it helps create space for me to do what I'm doing down here. It's always a family effort and it's been a wonderful education as well.
I think I'd be remiss in saying that a lot of this stuff that you've done has not become procedural. You've created systems behind it so to go back to the effort that it takes to move this along, now it's a matter of following the procedure. Job fairs coming up. You've got a laundry list of items that you know you need to prepare and you go and do it and everything's covered and it makes for ongoing success. I'd be remiss if I didn't point out to the audience that there are a system and procedure. You're not making it up on the fly every quarter for every job fair. You've got it all dialed down.
I would be more than happy to speak to anyone of your readers, to dial in their systems. As I said, coaching is what I do. It's what you do and the opportunity to serve another person who was me ten years ago is the coolest thing. It’s like, “I've been there before and yes, it sucks, but it also gets better.” If any one of your readers does call me this, be prepared to spend a lot of time talking about their mindset.
How can people get in touch with you?
Thanks man. I appreciate you sharing. Again, thanks for your time.
It was so much fun. Thanks again, Nathan.
Will has been VP of Marketing for Empower PT from August 2018 - May 2018 with a focus on Talent Acquisition and Development, which he continues to do and specialize. He has developed a strong relationship with the PT schools throughout Arizona and is proud of the support and coaching he has provided physical therapists and physical therapy students.