If you're stuck on how to create vision and values, this episode is your "how to." Business coach, entrepreneur, and physical therapist Sturdy McKee, PT makes a comeback in this episode to talk more about creating vision and values. Sturdy is a business coach, entrepreneur and business owner who also happens to be a physical therapist and private practice owner. Today, he reveals the three components of a vision and how much they can influence how you seize opportunities, make business decisions, and identify a good team player. Sturdy also touches on his methods in helping business owners and executives achieve their business and financial goals. Prepare to be inspired and fired up to start a business that not only drives wealth but also makes the world a better place.
I have a returning guest, Sturdy McKee, a physical therapist out of San Francisco. He is a successful physical therapy business owner, business coach, and entrepreneur who I want to bring on to dive a little bit deeper into vision. We had an episode about vision and its importance. I want to talk to Sturdy about what a vision consists of, how to go about creating it and how to utilize it in our practices. Sturdy is a great guest to have on because he has quite a bit of knowledge about current businesses and how they've been impacted by implementing these fundamental principles. I love hearing his real-world examples of how these things are helpful in our businesses or how they can hurt us if we don't have them. He's got a lot of wisdom to share. I don't want to speak into it much more than to get to the interview.
I've got Sturdy McKee, a physical therapist out of San Francisco, who is a business coach and entrepreneur himself. Sturdy was on with me in 2018. We had a nice discussion about his story and what got him to be successful to the point where he is right now. He shared the formula that I espoused. He reached out, he networked with people, he stepped out of his clinic and started creating the business that he wanted. Thank you, Sturdy, for coming on the show again.
We already shared your story about what got you to where you are. You have the social proof, you're in your business once a week managing, leading the company and in touch with your clinic managers and directors. I know you reached out to me. I'm excited to have you on because we’re talking about vision. You shared the idea and I agree. It'd be nice to get deeper into how to create a vision or what a vision really is. Where are you coming from in that regard?
I’m passionate about what a vision is because I've been through the same thing. Many people, your readers, all have heard of these different versions. I used to teach some of this stuff. I remember the mission of the VA stands out as one. When I first started teaching, I was using it as an example because it was obviously done by a committee. Each one of them, each VA was different. I'm not talking about each district. I'm talking about the Palo Alto VA and the San Francisco VA. Each one of them had its own mission statement on their website. I have some old PowerPoints where I copied a couple of them. They're all gone.
I haven't been able to find the old ones, but they basically were a laundry list of all the content constituencies at that organization. It was very internally focused on what we do. Without getting too much into politics, Obama and under the VA administration updated and changed it. The mission of the VA was revamped to be one sentence by Abraham Lincoln. He quoted, “It's around taking care of our veterans and soldiers.” It is far more eloquent. It's more purposeful in nature and that's a great contrast. It’s all over history. My history is working in hospitals and other businesses and seeing things like vision, mission, values and all these different things that you need.
I have been taught by coaches and some others and guided this way, but I have come to this conclusion where my definition of vision includes three things. It's very clear, these three things. It's the higher purpose, it's the core values and the big, ambitious goal. Whatever you want to call that, whether that's a BHAG or what have you, we can take them one at a time and break them down a little bit. The higher purpose is your why. It's the reason the company, the organization exists in the first place and it's not profit. Profits are good and it's necessary, but generally it's not the reason we got all fired up and went out and started whatever business we did.
It's more of the Michael Gerber explanation of it. He calls it an entrepreneurial seizure. I call it an entrepreneur or temper tantrum, but it’s like, “I'm going to do it by myself. I'm fed up wherever I am. I can do it better.” Whatever triggered that is the higher purpose. It's not necessarily the service that you're providing. This is true, whether you're an attorney, a therapist, a plumber or a cake baker. “I'm going to do it because I can do it better.” It's like, “Why were you not happy with where you were? What are you going to do for whom?” That’s more of the purpose. Why are we doing this? Why are we going out and taking this crazy risk going on this journey that is really hard?
I’ve read your blog with Will where he talks about falling 50 feet, breaking both legs and arms, the rehab and everything with that, and then saying, “The business was harder than that.” That made me think about another friend of mine who is a Navy SEAL. He was honorably discharged. He took over his father's business. After about a year and a half, he was one of the EO members, Entrepreneurs Organization that he has been involved with. Darren is an EO member. He did a talk for us, a small breakfast talk, only about twelve members in the room. One of the things he said about having run that business was it was the hardest thing he's ever done in his life.
We're like, “You're a SEAL for more than ten years.” He's like, “I know.” That was incredibly humbling at the same time, I'm still not sure, maybe my journey has been a little bit easier, but it hasn't been easy. I'm wondering, “That's a heck of a comparison too.” It is this thing that keeps us doing what we're doing. It's the reason and it's the why behind it. The other thing to know about a higher purpose is it's not a goal. It's not something that will be achieved. It will never be completely finished or fulfilled per se. It's the reason that you get up in the morning and do what you do.
It's also the reason why your employees should maybe feel compelled and excited about a vision that, “I'm going to work for something that I believe in.”
Let's put them all together and then talk about how we can use it. That's definitely one of the areas. The core values are the second one. We talked about a higher purpose. That's the why. The core values are the how. It’s not the operational how but the behavioral how. It's the code of conduct. It's how we do things around here. When you write them out, I've looked up core values and you get this long list of one word to choose from, please don't do that. The core values need to be behavioral in nature. They're generally about three to six words in length because they need to be descriptive enough that people know what to do.
There are a lot of good examples out there. You look at the New Zealand All Blacks, an organization since 1902 or 1906. In any event, for more than a hundred years, they have a 77% win rate. That's a country the size of Phoenix. In an international competition, they have the highest win rate of any professional international sports team in the world for more than a century. A lot of that has to do with their core values. “Leave the jersey in a better place, champions do extra,” those are a couple of values. They got five that they outlined. These are the things that tell them all how they're going to behave.
“Sweep the sheds is another one.” Sweep the sheds doesn't mean sweep the sheds, but it means cleaning up after yourself. Take care of the facilities. Take care of the place. It doesn't matter if you're an international superstar or you're the towel boy, you still pick up your stuff. If you don't do that, you don't get to stay. They've stuck with that. That's an attitude that brings to them together and bonds and they have. They've dismissed international superstars in the past because they haven't lived and abided by the core values. They lived and not agreed with because that's a whole other thing. It’s behaviors. What we need to do is ensure that the people in the organization are following those behaviors. Then, we'll come back to attracting people.
The third component is the big ambitious goal. It's sometimes referred to as the Bang or the BHAG. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras defined it in the Built to Last book in 1994. It was the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. They set a time frame for 20 years to 30 years, yet their number one example is the Moon Shot, which was about ten years since then. I've had this discussion with a couple of other friends who are business coaches and former coaches of mine, and we all settled on an eight-year to ten-year time frame. That's far enough ahead that you don't know how to get there, yet. It can be aspirational. It can be inspiring. You can figure it out along the way. It's not so far over the horizon that it's abstract.
If you ask me 25 years ago what I'd be doing, I would have been way off the mark. Twenty-five years from now, what will I be doing? I have a better idea than I did 25 years ago. If I can look at an eight-year to ten-year time frame, I can start to put my head around that. I can grasp that intellectually and logically, but it still gives me enough time to figure stuff out along the way. Those are the three components, the why, the how we're going to act on the way there and where we're going. Those are the three components of a vision that I seek to work with clients to develop and get those in place. The earlier you can do that in your process, the better.
That's not to say they're set in stone. They can shift. They can iterate and morph as you go along. You may discover some things that we're missing, assumptions that need to be more explicit or what have you as well. It will evolve along the way. It starts to give you a beacon, a north star, a direction of where you're going. This has got a lot more attention. This isn't some feel good, “I want to fulfill my destiny” type of thing. There's been quite a study around purpose-driven and values-driven organizations. They outperform their competition. They're hard data, but they outperform on multiple fronts, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, innovation and financially.
Harvard Business School did a research study where they looked at companies for a decade. They outperformed their rivals by a factor of twelve. That was in seventeen different countries too. I've had people tell me, “This is culturally specific.” It's not. Maybe what your purpose is could be your values, but the structural blocks do attract and inspire the right people. It makes your life easier all the way along the way. It’s not just if we talk about how we use this stuff, there’s one other thing that is interesting is it may give more credibility to this whole thing. Do you know who Laurence Fink is? The CEO of BlackRock?Profits are good and necessary but it should not be the reason you get all fired up to start your business. Click To Tweet
That sounds familiar.
Laurence Fink is the CEO and Chairman of BlackRock. I didn't even know this. I knew of them. They're here in San Francisco, but they have somewhere north of $6.8 trillion under management and investment. It might be as much as $7.4 trillion. It fluctuates a bit. The point is they're one of probably the biggest investment firms in the world. Every year, Larry Fink writes a letter to the CEOs, the thousands of CEOs that are running the companies that they are investors in, that they have board seats on and all this stuff. In 2019, this is the quote in his letter, “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.” He started to talk about not just corporate social responsibility because that's not the same thing that we're talking about, but a purpose-driven values-driven organization that isn't solely shareholder focused.
In the publicly traded world, I think rightfully so, he got some push-back. A couple of hundred saw his letter and wrote him a letter back. They said, “That sounds great until you change the playing field in the rules, the way we get compensated, the way we avoid liability and don't get sued and all the rest of it. That sounds great, but you’ve got to change the playing field if you want that outcome. The way it's set up now isn't going to allow us to do what you're talking about.” That's great news for most people who are going to read this because you're not running a publicly-traded corporation. Very often, you're the sole shareholder or at least the majority shareholder. You can take this stuff and you're answerable to yourself not to institutional investors and CalPERS. You can do this. The cool part is if the playing field over the long-term favors this and the big guys, the corporations and your perceived competition out there can’t do this, at least not with any integrity or fidelity over time, then you have a bit of an unfair advantage.
Maybe someone already has an idea of a vision that's already out there. How does one either assess their current vision? Is that different than someone who's trying to start from scratch? I don't have a vision in place necessarily, how do I go about creating one and get to my why?
If you have an existing organization, whether you've been in business six months or fifteen years, you already probably have a purpose. You already probably have values in a way you do things. What those are more of a discovery process of unveiling, sussing out and asking, “Why did you start doing this in the first place? What are some themes throughout your life? What do you do when you're not getting paid? What inspires you? What does your family tease you or make fun of you about?” They’re like, “That's Nathan. He does that.” It's that stuff that starts to give you this common thread that ties it all together. Sometimes, we're the last ones to be able to see it.
Everybody around us sees it. We think we've made this great discovery. We tell them, we figured it out and they're like, “Yes.” Another friend of mine, Bill Gallagher is a coach. I love his saying, “A fish as the last one to see water.” Ask your loved ones. Ask your best friend. Ask your spouse. What do they see in you? What do they think drives you? That will start to help reveal the why and you tie that into your business. How does that align? What is it doing at the core values? Similarly, when I go through and do the core values, that exploration and facilitation with clients, I want to get everybody in the organization, in the room together, at least the leadership team.
Do you do that with the vision or do you leave the vision simply to the owner?
The vision is the aggregate of the higher purpose, the values and the BHAG, those three components. The higher purpose is usually more around the owner, but it depends on the maturity of the organization as well. There was an interesting story. I forgot what university it was. This woman came in and was leading the department organization. She was new to it but was going to be taking it over. To figure out what drove the people that were already there, the tenured professors, the new faculty, and the other people that had been around and were there for a reason, she went and talked to all of them about what that reason is. She started to find some commonalities and threads through that, that she then brought back, reflected them, asked them, vetted it and they were like, “That's what we're about.”
That is the discovery process. The core values are largely a discovery process because we have expectations for each other. What irritates you when somebody doesn't live up to those expectations? What do you expect from each other? That's a way to get to that. There's a cool exercise to go through and get in the weeds and ask all the details, be on time and look people in the eye. What do you do? You start to find those common themes. The couple I mentioned follow the respect theme. There's something there about respect. What does that mean for us? How are we going to manifest that in our day-to-day actions and behaviors? How do we articulate that, not only so we're clear about it, but for new people joining the organization? How do we make it clear to them what the expectations are before they even get here?
I like how you filter it down from what it sounds like. You take this aggregate of behaviors. You filter it down to a common word. What's our definition of that word? What does that mean? What does that look like in our company? From our perspective, we had four core values. PAGE was the acronym, Professional, Accountability, Growth and Empathy. We had those for a number of years, but they didn't gain a lot of traction until we did two things, until we defined to them with the leadership team as what that looks like. What does professionalism look like in our minds? That could be different for somebody. You can't assume that everyone has the same definition.
That's the biggest hazard of these one-word values. If we have fifteen people in the room, we've probably got seventeen different definitions, which of those? Does respect mean the same thing to you as it does to me? It’s communication. It’s communicating. I hate that one. Communication can be a theme, but exactly what you have said, how does that manifest itself? Being a good one-way communicator and articulate, that's maybe part of it. Listening is important in working together. There's an empathy component, or there are other pieces and parts that come together that start to describe how we embrace that. Communication might encompass a theme like grouping, but then what we're doing is taking those micro behaviors, pulling them together into something more cohesive.
You mentioned, “Champions do extra.” For the All Blacks, that means, “We run farther, we work harder, we stay later, and we go the extra mile in some cases. That's if we want to win.” I've seen companies take that on and swipe it. Please don't do that. Core values need to be unique to you. Aside from the fact that whatever business you're in, you're probably not a champion. You're not literally competing for a world title. If you are great, then maybe that works. For most of us, figure out what your own version looks like. Make it your own and embrace it. The idea can be great, but that brings up one other thing. These are real. These are serious, real expectations. It's somewhat hazardous to create core values that are aspirational in nature and that we're not going to fulfill. That's one of the hazards, in addition to the one word. Be careful about aspirational core values. You want them to be actual rules we live by.Spend time and effort on people that are attracted to your purpose. Click To Tweet
You've got to make them. They are the law.
That’s the third risk. If you're the owner leader and you're not going to abide by them, then you're probably better off not ruling them out. That's going to create dissonance and a problem with integrity in the organization. If you don't intend to follow these, if these aren't things that you exemplify in your behaviors, you may want to think twice before rolling it out to the rest of the organization to holding them accountable.
You’ve got some good advice. It's not something I've considered before, that there could be a hazard in making it an aspirational value. We hope, but it's tough. It's something that we want to live to, but we're not quite doing it yet. It doesn't vibe. You can lose some people in that regard because you're supposed to be holding people to this standard. If that standard is somewhat fuzzy, then it's hard to play black and white and say you're not living up to it honestly.
How do you explain that one's aspirational, but the other ones are real rules? You're creating potential conflict at least internal, mentally, emotionally. Don't set the bar too low either. We don't want a show up to be the goal or value. These are things that, again, are yours and not everybody's going to agree with and that's okay. It's still what we hold as important.
How does an owner know the values? It might be easy to somewhat of an exercise to come up with, but how does someone know that they've got it? When they are happy with it, that's it, but sometimes you can feel uncomfortable.
There are three or four questions you can ask. One of them is, “Will I spend money on it to fix it or to train? Will I confront someone else in the organization about it? Would I fire somebody who refuses repeatedly to get on board with it?” Along the lines of the spend money, would you also forego money? If you had a client or a company that wanted to hire you that wasn't in congruence, wasn't aligned, was in conflict with your values, would you still take that? If the answer to any of those is no, then it's probably not a core value. Maybe, it's nice to have. Nice to haves are great, but they do not core to who we are as an organization.
Those questions bring up the whole idea of, “How do you use these?” One of the cool things about them, once you have these three pillars, these three pieces in place is you use them in your decision-making process. They become the first questions to be asked when you have an opportunity or when a strategic partner or an employee comes to you with this idea, this program, this thing we want to do. Does it align with our core purpose or higher purpose? Does it fit with our core and does it move us closer to our big ambitious goal? If the answer to any three of those is no, we're done. Move on.
If the answer to the three of those is yes, then we move to another layer of questions. That's when you're looking at, “How does it serve our target customer? Is it profitable if we're running a business? Is it process-driven versus individual-driven? There are other questions that you can get to, but I'm not worried about answering those until I know that it checks the boxes on the first three by weeding things out. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett say this, so many people who are very successful say this, but it's the things I said no to, not the yes. It's too easy for us to get distracted. There are too many opportunities. There are many things we could be doing. The path to success very often lies in our focus and persistent work toward a goal towards something, not running around to all the different things.
It's cool how you lay it out because I can consider taking these things. The vision, the values, or the higher purpose, the values and the goals. We start weaving that into interview processes.
That's another way to use them. You're connecting people. Your job postings, you're going to surface that. Hopefully, if you've done that well for the right people. This is also key. For the right people, it should be inspiring. Not for everybody. That's fine because if they self select out and they're not aligned with your vision to start with, you didn't have to spend your time and effort. You're spending time and effort on people that are attracted to your purpose. You layout the core values and not tell people what they are. I'm a big advocate of reorganizing your interview questions to answer how aligned people are with those values.
I have a scoring system aligned with the poster child as opposed to not aligned with whatever. There’s a number scale that we came up with that we can rate on each one of these. We have the questions to answer whether or not basically their past behaviors. That's the other thing. We're not asking hypotheticals, “What would you do if?” We're asking, “What did you do when?” That's evidence-based as well. People's past behaviors are more predictive of future behaviors than somebody's answering the question the way they think you want to. If they're telling you the truth about how they behaved in certain situations that they were confronted with, that'll fall into this realm of your core value number one or core value number three. You start to get a sense of their behaviors and how well they are aligned, with that value.
You can decide, based on that whether they would be a fit with the organization. We did two interviews, and clients do two interviews. The first one is solely focused on are they fit with the team? Are they inspired by the purpose? Are they aligned with the values? Behaviorally, we're looking for who they are before we're looking at their skillsets and stuff. That weeds out more people. You might be a lovely person, you might even be a great player, but if you aren't going to live by these behavioral values, then you're not going to be happy here and we're not going to be happy with you.People's past behaviors are more predictive of future behaviors than answering questions the way they think you want them to. Click To Tweet
This ends up being a real good test for all parties involved. They may not understand it quite the same way you do after years of practice or what have you, but if I send somebody away because they're not aligned with the values and they're like, “I really like you guys and I want to work with you,” you're not going to be happy. I've seen this before. We like you. This isn't a judgment about you as an individual. Are you going to be happy here with the team or are you going to contribute in the ways that we want? Are you going to abide by the same rules that we do? It doesn't mean it's the law. It means that it's important to us.
What a powerful position to be in to say, “We like you, but we can tell that this isn't going to work out.” To be able to forecast that as you interview many people. You've lived and worked through your core values and tested them so much that you can find the right person. I know that bears out with you guys because I don't know if you still do this, but I tell a lot of people that one of your filters for candidates was that they had to play team sports in the past.
Collaboration is a big deal.
Consider that to some people that might be like, “That's odd, but that would make you many decisions based on that one thing. That's how you figured that out.”
Not quite so hard and fast on that if they can come up with another area where they truly collaborated.
It holds tight to your values.
That's one of those things that were conditioned in school. Especially if you're coming out with a DPT, twenty years of schooling taught you that collaboration is cheating. As soon as you're out of school though, that's not true anymore. I want people to have the context of working together, helping each other, sharing knowledge, not being afraid to ask for help or ask questions. You’re not withholding information, but sharing and telling, “I made this mistake. I'm hoping the whole team can learn from it.” There's not a fear of repercussion there or punishment or getting it wrong. There's a, “This will help the whole team and ultimately help our patients, our customers or clients.” In doing so, can we avoid this mistake in the future? Can I help everybody else out? Those are things that are important to us in our culture. That's not everywhere.
That's a great example of holding to your values. Is there anything you want to add here at the end to inspire people to help people solidify their purpose, values and goals?
We're talking about the big ambitious goal, the eight to ten years down the road, then you can backward plan your three years, highly achievable goal, your one year, your quarterly, that type of stuff in your planning. I would encourage you to get working on it, but of all the things, if this is new to you and you're thinking about it, start writing it down. If you've been through this before, start writing it down and implementing it. I started working with a client and we were talking about this stuff and they're like, “We've done all this before.” I'm like, “What are they?”
The silence was the answer. “What is your purpose?” “I'd have to look it up.” “What are the core values?” They couldn't recite them. How are you using within your organization? That's not an answer to how you're using them. We use them in our interview process. We use them in our one on one meetings. We tell a core value story about somebody else. Every week, we bring them up in staff meetings. We have a theme each month. However, it is that you employ and use these in your organization. They must be used. We use them in our decision making. Fair enough. If they're not used, then they're more words on the back of a name badge or a plaque on the wall that nobody cares about. That's the other thing. They've got to be written down. They've got to be utilized in the organization. When I say used, I don't mean one time, I mean this should be your favorite ten or whatever.
It should look as part of the agenda on meetings. It's absolutely purposefully put in many different locations.
Those are more reminders. We're using these in our decision making. What marketing efforts are we going to do? What outreach are we going to do? What programs are we going to do? We ask these three questions first every time. They don't get dusty. They don't have to pull them off the shelf. They're well-worn and use as your favorite pair of shoes.
You start attracting those people. You don't necessarily have to filter them out, but sometimes they tend to start finding you.
The bigger and the more you live these and use them, the more that's out there. It's not employees and stuff that tell their friends or others. It's patients, it's referral sources. It's partners and vendors and other people that are like, “These guys, they know what they're about.” Maybe it's not everybody's cup of tea. That's fine. They know what they're about. I think you might like them. They start matching people up and telling them about you and vice versa and stuff. It becomes a lot more organic in large part because people know what you're about. They know what matters to you, and can be fairly powerful as well.
If people want to reach out to you and help them if they needed help establishing these or reestablishing these or any other business questions, how would they get in touch with you?
Thanks. It is SturdyMcKee.com. There's contact info there, my cellphone. Text me or call me. There are links to Facebook groups. There's a free Facebook group for business owners. There are all kinds of resources. Jump on there.
Thank you for your time. It is hugely valuable. I appreciate going into a little bit deeper into vision and values and its importance in our companies.
Thank you, Nathan. I appreciate it.
Sturdy is a business coach, entrepreneur and business owner who also happens to be a physical therapist and private practice owner.
He helps business owners make the world a better place.
He has a special place in his heart for physical therapist entrepreneurs and private practice owners.
My guest is Michele Kehrer of Chicago. She owns a clinic in downtown Chicago by the name of Balance Chicago. She is well-known for her work in vestibular physical therapy. Not only am I bringing Michele on because she's a successful niche PT business owner, but she's got an inspiring hiring personal story to share with us. One in which she has triumphed and while she has gone through those personal tragedies, she has concurrently developed an amazing thriving successful physical therapy clinic. Hopefully, her story not only inspires you but some of the successful actions that she has taken and now she coaches with other PT owners will help you think about what is most important in your life? What is the most important in your business that you should be focusing on the day-to-day? Let's get into her story. I hope you get a lot out of it. She's an incredible woman, an incredible business owner and an incredible physical therapist.
I have Michele Kehrer from Chicago joining me. I met her at PPS and she's got a great story and a great practice. I wanted to bring her on and learn a little bit about her and what makes her so successful. Thank you for joining me, Michele.
It’s my pleasure, Nathan.
Would you mind sharing with the audience a little bit about your story and what got you into physical therapy and specifically, physical therapy ownership?
I have always been the one that went through the door that was mostly unlocked. It’s a weird twist of fate of life and it began when I was five years old. I announced to my mom that I was just going to be my own boss which I'm sure made for raising a challenging child, but that wasn't my deal.
It’s the beginnings of an entrepreneur.
It was one of those things of like, “I'm going to be my own boss. I had no idea what that meant but that I knew I was going to be my own boss.” As you go through life, you just muddle through it and figure it out. In high school, I was a good runner and my path I thought was running, get a college scholarship, go ahead, get my degree in business and move on with life. I got sidetracked when I tore my Achilles tendon. It was wild. I was seventeen and I was arguably the most dramatic seventeen years old in the world. I was like, “I'm never going to walk again. My life is over.” Obviously, that's not true and I had this awesome physical therapist. She was so good and the more dramatic I was, the more she was like, “Little one, chill.”
At the same time, I had this weird marketing teacher and I made the assumption like, “He's a weird guy. I don't want to be around him. That must be all business.” There’s this woman that’s teaching me to walk and then run again and I’m like, “Who do I want to spend my life with?” That's how I diverted initially from business into physical therapy and I switched to athletic training. I had undergrad degrees in athletic training, sports medicine, and all that. It was fun working with the athletes, getting them better, and doing all that. I graduated and I started working in a physical therapy clinic in about fifteen seconds and there’s a rumble in my belly going, “You're your own boss.”
You realized that quickly that that wasn't going to work out for you as an employee.
I'm going to give it the old college try. My family doesn't get entrepreneurship for a long time. My mom thought that this was just a hobby and I was going to get over it. I tried to do that. I ended up opening up other physical therapy clinics for other people and going along that path until I realized that there was no other way. I needed to have my own practice. Before that happened, I got involved with the dizziness stuff that I'm doing now. I was working at a high school and I was managing a clinic and living my life. I had two kids go down in the same game with head injuries. The stuff they're doing around concussions is better, but this was literally ‘96 or ‘98 where nothing was being done. I was like, “I want to figure this out.” I went ahead and I was doing some research on my own of, “What are the best of the best of the things on the market and how can we send these kids back to play?”
Did you own the clinic at this time?As you go through life, you just muddle through it and figure it out. Click To Tweet
No, not yet. I was just managing someone else's.
How many years were you practicing before you decided to jump out and do your own thing?
It was a while. I graduated in 1994 or 1995 and I opened my practice in 2006.
You spent quite a bit of time as an employee. You started getting some experience around vestibular issues and concussions for a number of years before opening up your own practice.
I tried to go down the path and I was working with my boss at the time being like, “Can I buy into your business? Can I earn into your business?” It was exciting what we were doing and then that just never came to fruition. Once I realized it was never going to come to fruition, I went back for my Doctorate in PT.
While you were employed, did you start developing some niche care within that clinic?
That was the fun part. We were doing stuff that no one else was doing. We got a contract with the Department of Defense because of the stuff we were doing. We had all these fun things. I was talking to NASA about what they were doing and comparing it to what we were doing.
You weren't just an employee, you were developing a vestibular program, a dizziness program on your own as an employee before even starting off your own practice.
We were doing stuff that no one else was touching. People are doing vestibular rehab, they're doing what we were doing way back then. It's cool. The stuff that we do in my clinic is pretty much been developed. The route started back there with myself and that physical therapist and the doctors and then I've just taken and built on it. Now the protocols are all things you wouldn't see or do anywhere else.
Have you done some of the continuing education that's out there or have you mostly just learned stuff on your own over time via experience?The best thing is how we can help and fix more people that are suffering. Click To Tweet
That's the majority of it. It was being scrappy, and we took all the principles of what we know about orthopedics and how your body feels and apply them to your vestibular system. We're like, “Can you not fix dizziness or has it not been done?” That's how we started. We're just figuring it out. Like reverse engineer your inner ear system and those are where our protocols started.
Have you created your own training or continuing education program for other physical therapists or is that something that you simply do in the house?
Physical therapy practice owners are the ones, but they'll hire me to come and I'd love to travel so I'll go to their clinic. I teach them how to evaluate, how to treat, and how to have a vestibular rehab program in their center including marketing and all that other stuff. I like doing it in their center because I've got their employees and we can create the protocols that they'll be using in their center for them. It's what we do in Chicago, but it's also unique to their facility because everyone has a little bit different layout. Some have stairs, some don't and all of that. That to me is super fun to be creative with them in developing their own program that's based on my protocols.
You went from being intrigued by these football players that got injured to studying on your own and developing your own program. You might have mixed in a little bit of continuing education here and there, but you've worked out over time to the point where you started your own company that is mostly vestibular related. Now, you develop it to a point where you're introducing that into other clinics as well. How long have you been doing that? How many years?
On and off for about five years or so. My practice has been around for almost thirteen years.
To train another staff, is that simply a weekend? Is that three or four days?
If I go to someone else's clinic, what I put together is about two days, but they get a ton of pre-work like pre-reading to set them up for success so that we can dive right in. Like, “I don't want to have to go through anatomy and physiology. It’s boring. Read that on your own and then let's dive in and get gritty and get into how to evaluate and how to fix them.” The best thing is how can we help more people? How can we fix more people that are suffering because they're just suffering? If you've met anyone with dizziness, it's miserable.
I'm inspired not only with the work that you're doing for these people with dizziness. It's a wonderful pattern for other physical therapists who do have some specialty niches in that you develop that niche over time. As an employee, maybe you started creating and doing some of this research as a “side hustle” trying to develop your own program and whatnot to the point where you developed a program, a protocol, and then you started your own practice around that niche. Now, you've got such a well-established and well-run program that you're able to consult others and implement that same program into their clinics. For someone who's looking at a niche specialty practice, that's a great pattern to share with other people and that's why I'm so glad to have you on.
Thanks. It's so much fun. When you love something, it's easy. There's still the grind of having to create the manual and all that other stuff but the actual being in front of people and seeing how they go from like, “Dizziness is so scary,” or whatever someone's specialty is. Whether it's women's health or some other specialty, to see them grow from scary to excited to then empowered and being able to treat and help more people, that's what gets me jazzed up.
Tell me a little bit about it because you are so positive and you had some great success. There had to be a few bumps along the way when it came to business ownership. Am I wrong?When you love something, it's easy. Click To Tweet
There's that one time. It was the craziest thing. I opened my business. I did it exactly the opposite of how you should. I opened a 3,000-square-foot facility in the middle of Chicago with two full-time employees including myself. There are three of us on payroll and zero referral sources. We just hustled and hustled. It was so good. That first year of the excitement when the phone would ring, “Do we have a patient or is it someone calling the wrong number?”
I guess one good thing about extending yourself that much is that you had to hustle to make ends meet.
The first year is like the first year of any business. You're just hustling and figuring it out and keeping the lights on and there was this whole thing that happened. I was married and that wasn't going well. I decided to exit that. Two days later, my business turned a year old and then ten days later I found out I had cancer. To say brutal is putting it mildly but the beauty of having all those three things at the same time is I could never take one of them too seriously. I get bad news about cancer and then I'd be like, “Our numbers are down. I got to go mark it.” I'd have to be focusing on the business and then my ex would do or say something ridiculous. It balances that little triangle and it helped me keep perspective on every day. I've always been naturally optimistic, so I always find the silver lining like, “Where's the rainbow in this craziest typhoon?”
What was that silver lining at the time? How did you have multiple issues going on in your life? What did you look forward to or what did you see that was coming out of that was positive?
It was cool to see my employees develop and to see my dreams come true of taking these patients that everyone was saying, “You can't help a dizzy patient. You just can't do it.” To be able to do it and get them not just a little bit better, but my people get all the way better and back to their lives. It's so good. I have this one cute patient. She was adorable. Her name was Marian. Her husband had passed, and she was sad and scared like you would expect. She was in her 70s and she was on days that she was too dizzy to take the bus. I or one of my people would drive to her house, pick her up, bring her back, treat her and then on the way home if she needed to run errands and I didn't have a patient, I would take her to the grocery store or whatever. That's the stuff like. I was like, “This is what I'm here for.” This drama I'm in right now is a temporary thing and it's only going to make it so I'm stronger than I was before. It challenged me to go, “What do I believe in and who am I and is this business thing really what I want to do?” It encouraged me to double down, triple down, or quadruple down when the path is rough.
What's amazing and where it comes through to me clearly is it tested your purpose and you found it as you went through that. It's a great thing not just about you, Michele, but about physical therapy in particular and being a physical therapist is that you are able to focus on other people. No matter what's going on in your personal life, you can focus on others and you can help others and you get so much joy from serving other people. It's not just your patients, it's also your employees. You see them grow and you see them get excited. You see your patients get better and there is so much joy that comes from that. Sometimes what's going on in your personal life can be put on the backburner for a little bit.
When you talk about the employees when they're growing, I remember this. One of my employees came up to me and was like, “I'm pregnant. I'm going to have a kid.” That just hit me in my heart so much. I was like, “This woman trusts that I have my path together so much so that she could rely on this as her career to have a child. Through it all, seeing people get married, buy houses, invest in their future, invest in their life. That's what we do as entrepreneurs. We create a foundation and a springboard for people to create their own amazing.
I'm assuming that the cancer resolved because you're still with us and that's great to see.
I still have to fight round two though. I went to even free of cancer for eight months and it came back. That was defeating. The first time around I was like, “Stage 2B cancer, I got this. I'm going to be bald. It’s no big deal,” but then when it became stage 4, that tested my everything.
How long did you have to deal with that?The reason why we often don't do something is because it's scary. Click To Tweet
That was all of 2009. I was getting the diagnosis and then none of my doctors could agree on what should we do because they were like, “There's no reason you got cancer the first time. There's no reason you should have gotten cancer the second time.” The first time was very hard on my body that if they would have gone through a regular protocol, I wouldn't be talking. They had to get creative and that was just a crazy journey. It tested my resilience in being like, “Do I want to be here?” When you talk about finding your purpose and challenging your purpose and be like, “This is why I'm here.” That's when it got real.
I hate to be business-minded but what did you do with your business during that year?
Thank God, I had employees. I had an awesome office manager and I would go in and I’d be like, “Alma, what do I need to do now? What do I need to do tomorrow?” She would set it up and she's like, “I need you to do these things and this is what's coming down the pipeline.” This is how I have it handled.
Do you find that she grew a lot during that time simply by helping you through that experience?
The goal of cancer treatment and chemotherapy is to bring you to close to death as they can get you and then bring you back. Who I started was this live, vibrant, excited and scrappy to I couldn't pick my head up off the bed. There were days when it was just a struggle to even get up but if I didn't get up, we wouldn't have a company and they wouldn't get paid and that was a bigger deal to me. It was more important. That's where I had to find my real strength.
Coming out of that, did you come out of it with any different goals or ideas in mind of how you were going to run your business or your life based on that experience you went through?
Quite frankly, it doesn't matter anymore. We have bad days and sometimes those bad days turn into bad months. I still have those but it's different. When someone's crabbing about something, I don't have as much time for that. I have this joke that I was telling my friend like, “I don't do superficial anymore.” I don't talk about the weather, I have an app for that. I know if it's going to rain by looking at my app. I'm going to get gritty with someone and sometimes that's off-putting because I'm like, “Let's just talk about real life. Where are you struggling?” They were like, “I just met you fifteen seconds ago.”
As a business owner, what are some of the things that maybe you put to the side or don't consider as important anymore after being through that?
It sounds a little cliché. When someone is upset with another co-worker, I’m like, “Get in a room and handle it. Be an adult.” Let's just be adults now or like, “Call your mama. Your mama can help you but I'm not going to do it.”
You went through that experience and you learned a lot. What would you tell somebody who doesn't go through those kinds of trials? What advice would you give them especially maybe the new practice owners out there? What could they get from your story?Accountability is key, even in personal relationships. Click To Tweet
Find a mentor. Find a coach. Find someone that is bigger than you that's walked a mile in the shoes that you want to walk that you haven't walked in yet. It can be so lonely when you are a brand-new owner and even when you're a seasoned owner. You think that the problems you have are actually problems that no one else has had except for when you start talking to people. Get yourself with a network. Get yourself a team that's going to get you through those bad days that turn into bad months. Get support.
That's huge and that's one of the bases for my podcast because I have a little motto that says, “Step out, reach out, and network.” It's exactly what you're talking about. Find someone, a coach, a mentor by reaching out and have someone that can hold your hand or hold you accountable and give you some guidance or even just be a sounding board. Also, the network is important. The famous phrase, “Your net worth is your network or network is your net worth,” whatever that is. I think it's true because the people that you hang out with tend to be the type of person you become. Stepping out, reaching out and networking is infinitely valuable for the clinic owner because there's no one above you. You are your boss like you were a five-year-old little girl.
We, as owners, we are answering to the company, this entity. That's the one thing that I try to teach my employees and teach the people I work with. My responsibility is to Balance Chicago. I have to make sure Balance Chicago is healthy. When I started out, I had to make sure my patients were healthy, and my employees were healthy and now it's a bigger game as you grow. I have to make sure the entity is healthy. When you think about that mind shift, it makes the day-to-day a lot cleaner.
That's a paradigm shift that I had to go through, and I was grateful to learn from one of my coaches in the past. There's a hierarchy to your priorities and into your decision making. Number one is the company. We all work for the company. If the company's not there, none of this exists. After the company, honestly, it's the owner. The company needs to have the leader or director and that is the owner and after the company gets satisfied, then it's the owner and then the employees. Maybe you see this in some of the consulting that you do. A lot of new owners, maybe even older owners have that flipped upside down where they think, “I'm going to do what's best for my employees and then that's going to make me happy and that's going to make for a good company.” When that's not how it is.
That's the sticking point of the new person that's in business because they don't have any friends because they spent all their time at work. They're working on the business so then they look and go, “These employees that I have, they have to be my friends.” That's a dangerous little road to go down.
You've been doing some coaching yourself. What are some of the things that you are noticing amongst the owners that you're talking to? Are there familiar patterns that you're seeing or constant issues that arise that they're dealing with?
People can get stuck quickly in the negative. Some people collect stuff, but I collect mentors. One of my best mentors is Jamey Schrier and he always refers to the Google world and how we can get stuck in the Google world. It’s volatile, uncertain, complicated and ambiguous. It's so easy, especially in healthcare when you're dealing with insurances and personalities and all of that. What I teach first is get your head right. Get your mindset right. Start in gratitude every single day. When you're having a bad day that turns into a bad month, be like, “I'm so grateful that I have the luxury of being able to have a bad month on my terms.”
You can take a powerful position even in bad situations.
It's easy for owners to be like, “The world is happening to me.” We can look at like, “Where is the insurance?” We've gone from PQRS to functional limitation and now we're in MIPS like, “I can't. There are so many things.” I’d be like, “No, I choose to own a company that gets to deal with these issues so it's my universe so that I'm creating is by me. I am choosing it instead of someone's doing it to me.” Instead of being a victim, you're a creator.
It's easy for us to go to the victim mindset so I love that you start off, number one, with gratitude and then number two, taking the position of, “How am I going to be the creator? How can I create my environment?” That's immensely valuable because there's a lot of negativity that swirls around us whether that's from other people or the thoughts inside our head.
That’s going to be brutal in our head. We’ve got that inner critic.
As a clinical owner, is there anything you would have done differently whether it was starting up or going through your growth processes? Is there anything you would've done differently that maybe would be good advice for other owners as well?
Yes and no. I got to now and I'm so grateful that I have now. If I could give advice to someone, maybe start with some referral sources. Maybe have a marketing plan and beyond that though, do the things that aren't sexy. Put a foundation in your business, put in processes, get an HR manual, and get an HR person to help you out. Write out what you want people to do. The other thing I work with my people that I'm coaching and especially in my organization is, “Who does what by when?” Accountability is key. Even in personal relationships like talking to my sister like, “We're going to talk tomorrow at 3:00 PM about blah, blah, blah.” Go all the way through that so it's super clear. Getting clarity is another principle that we work with our owners.
We leave so many things left unsaid unfortunately and I don't know why. Accountability can be so difficult but if it's the one thing that we reign in, it can have such a significant impact on our companies and I like what you said, who does what by when. Many times, I would find myself delegating something or asking for something without giving a deadline and without putting that timestamp on it. I'd come back and I’d ask, “Where are you at on that?” People would say, “I don't know. When do you want it by?” I’d say, “I wanted it three days ago.” They didn't understand the urgency or what timeframe I was on. I was just expecting them to read my mind. Having that accountability is necessary.
It solves so much drama. The reason why we often don't do it is it's scary. I'm going to put myself out there and say that I need your help and give you a deadline as to when to do it. I could be encroaching on your day, I could be whatever and then you could not do it and now we both are failing. You look at it from the other side of the coin of being like, “This is what I need and this is when I need it, and this is why I need it.” If you don't get it done and we get to have a deeper conversation and we get to build our relationship and make it more solid.
I love all these mindsets that you have that make you so powerful and the energy comes through it. It's amazing. Were there any books that you recommend to other owners?
I am looking at 100 books. I love to read. If you're going to break what are my top favorites, Traction like the EOS system is a good place to start putting processes and if you don't know how, it’s friendly. My other favorite is The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership. It's all about being a good human. It's about creating your own world and you're responsible for your own world. It's amazing.
Who’s it by?
Jim Dethmer and Diana Chapman. If you check out their website, it's Conscious.is. Specifically for physical therapy practice owners, I love Jamey Schrier’s book, The Automated Practice. It's so easy and digestible. I met him in Las Vegas at PPS and I read almost the entire thing on the plane back to Chicago. It gave me so much foundation on what to do and how to do it. The tactical things specifically around physical therapy or healthcare practice ownership that some of these other books that are out there that are fantastic, but they don't have a spin that's specific to our industry.
I had Jamey on as a previous guest, and we talked about hiring people or hiring good people, but I don't remember him sharing that book title that. That sounds new to me. I'll have to go back and check that previous episode that I had with Jamey but I'll have to check out The Automated Practice.
My favorite thing about it is it's not complicated. It's super easy to digest and you can start implementing the stuff he teaches immediately and make huge gains in your personal life and in your practice.
One other question I wanted to ask, you have a niche practice and you do mostly vestibular work. What advice would you give to other practice owners? Maybe even their current employees who want to develop a niche practice. What advice would you give to them as far as developing a niche?
First things first. Start with the end in mind. What's your ideal picture? What do you want it to be like? For me, I love education and I knew that I love treating patients but if I'm treating patients, it's me trading my time being like, “I can only help one in one.” There's a finite number of patients I can help and that to me wasn't a big enough thing for me to uproot my life and do these crazy things. To me, I wanted to get so that I can teach people to help people. Every moment I'm spending teaching, those people get to go teach one-on-one and then we can build on that. Now, we have teachers teaching teachers. You could build and develop so that you can help. When you think about a drop that goes into the lake and the ripple effect, to me, that's what I want. Someone else may not want that but that's why getting clarity on your end purpose. If you have a magic wand, pick up your pen. Your pen is your magic wand. Write it down and where is the end of the year? What do you want to do a year from now?
The idea that you're going from being successful in what you're doing in your niche to now having significance and that your reach is expanding out to other people. Your ability to help is just magnified by the teaching that you provide other practitioners.
Check your ego too because it's so ego to be able to be like, “I’m the best. I can help all these people. Help other people? It’s such a better thing.”
I love that you spent the time with us, and I love the positive energy provided. If people wanted to reach out to you whether it was for questions regarding your vestibular work or the coaching that you're doing, how would they get in touch with you, Michele?
You can email me, Michele@BalanceChicago.com. You can check out our social media. We are on Instagram and we got all these things. We're hiring so just come and work with me. That would be great too and pick up the phone. I'm so old school. I will pick up the phone and call people and that freaks people out. They are like, “What are you doing, Michele?” It’s easier to have a conversation. You can reach me at the office, (773) 525-5200.
I know you're successful but share with the audience, how many practitioners do you have? Are you still in your 3,000-foot clinic? Where are you at now?
We just expanded. We went from this clinic in Lakeview down to River North which is the heart of Chicago and if you're ever here, come visit. I love having visitors. We were in this little clinic. It's about 3,000 and we have three physical therapists, two physical therapy assistants that are part-time who love Saturdays and a chiropractor and we're growing. In my dream, when I use my magic paintbrush, my pen, I want to be twice as big.
I'm sure you'll make it. I have no doubts whatsoever. Do you take all insurances or are you simply cash based?
We take the insurances that are in good behavior.
You've been filtering.
We don’t take the ones in bad behavior and then, of course, we are happy to take cash.
A lot of people might have some more questions for you and so I hope they reach out to you. I appreciate you being on the show.
This is so much fun, Nathan. I mean it, reach out.
They should and I hope they do. Thank you, Michele.
Michele played a key role in developing the protocols and equipment used by the few specialists working with neurological dizziness and balance disorders today. Her success rates, contributions, and ongoing innovations to this emerging field have built her reputation throughout the medical community. As an athlete herself, Michele discovered her calling and began on her career path as a result of sustaining a serious sports-related injury in high school. After working in a variety of settings with numerous sports teams while earning her undergraduate degree, she served as athletic trainer for Highland Park High School’s LaCrosse team while simultaneously treating patients at a clinic specializing in sports and vestibular rehabilitation. Now she is the founder and owner of Balance Chicago, teaches other clinics in her techniques, and provides coaching support to multiple PT owners across the country.