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By Verne Harnish
Louise Thomson, RN, was ahead of her time when she founded Caring for You, a nursing agency headquartered in Victoria, Australia, with a vision of “putting nurses first” in 2004. Thomson, known affectionately as “Louy,” grew the business to more than AUD 50 million (which converts to about USD 34 million) and expanded into four states in Australia, with 4,326 nurses on her roster when she passed away suddenly about a year ago.
Her daughters Grace and Belle Thomson–both RNs who’d been part of the business since working the call center in their teens–took the helm under the company’s succession plan. As they made the transition, they turned to the Scaling Up platform, which their mother had started using in June 2020 to grow the agency. To get up to speed quickly as joint CEOs, they worked with Scaling Up Certified Coach Herb Cogliano—and have doubled revenue to close to AUD 100 million in the past 12 months. Amidst industrywide staffing shortages, they’ve brought on more than 7,000 nurses and tripled their internal staff to 150 team members. “Herb has been a guiding hand for us,” says Grace.
Here is a look at how they achieved rapid growth while they and the company went through a season of grief.
Putting nurses first
At the time Louise Thomson founded the company, she was a young mother who was frustrated that many nursing agencies failed to prioritize the wellbeing of both nurses and patients. She built a culture that took this seriously. Nurses were not “guilted” into taking double shifts when they had already said they are not available—and there was a strong companywide policy against contacting them if they had already said they were not available. She knew they needed time to recharge with their families. “It only takes one dosage error, and there are severe consequences,” says Grace.
Overcoming the talent shortage
Now, with the agency experiencing a growth spurt since Covid, her daughters have staffed up, primarily through referrals from their top nurses. They’ve started a “Refer a friend” campaign, where the most dedicated nurses get business cards to hand out.
“Nursing isn’t a profession you usually associate a business card with,” says Grace. “The idea is: ‘Hey, my agency is really great. Here’s my card. Here’s the website.’ They can go ahead and use that as a physical reminder to someone that they had that conversation so they will hopefully apply with us.”
They also have a “member success manager” to support the nurses, the members of the agency. “If a member is having a bad day, she gives them a call,” says Belle.
To reward staff and external team who live the firm’s Core Values—such as thrive, perseverance and integrity—they hold an annual awards ceremony. This year they held the event at a well-known hotel and introduced the Louy award, which recognizes both an internal staffer and an external team member who represent all six of the Core Values consistently. They awarded a prize of AUD 5,000 to the staffer and a brand-new car, a Kia Picanto, to the external team member, a nurse. Many nurses log hundreds of miles driving to their assignments.
“We made it a real glitz and glam night—half the room was dressed in sequins,” says Grace. “We got up on stage, recognized each individual that had been nominated, and allowed that person to come up on state to receive their award.”
All of this attention to the “People,” side of the company has made it a talent magnet in an industry known for burning out the best workers. “The quality of our staff is what makes us so attractive, not only to clients but also to members,” says Belle.
Setting a bold strategy
With Cogliano’s guidance, Grace and Belle have worked on their One-Page Strategic Plan, developing a strategy for continuing to scale. Initially, they focused on increasing the diversity of the work the agency did. To that end, they began to expand the firm into new areas, such as mental health—where Belle, who is also a psychologist, has expertise. In the past 12 months, they have also worked on setting up a registered training organization, to provide vocational education and training courses.
When the duo first filled out the plan, their one-year goal was filling 5,000 shifts a week. With business booming, they have greatly exceeded that goal, quickly reaching 7,000 shifts a week and now, 16,000.
As they built out their team, Grace and Belle realized that they needed to put more systems in place to continue to execute on their goals seamlessly. They turned a keen eye to the processes in the company, restructuring the workflow in key areas of the business that were getting jammed up. “A lot of it had to do with very organic growth in some departments,” says Grace.
To make the most of their team’s talents, they completed the FACe (Function Accountability Chart). That allowed them to eliminate bottlenecks caused by overloading individuals on the team.
“When we first looked at it, we had a few of our executives sitting in multiple seats,” says Belle. “We all said, ‘Oh–that’s awful!’” What is funny is a soon as we wrote it down, things started to change.” They’ve since rewritten the document to redistribute certain responsibilities to others on the team, and found that the changes are sticking.
With business surging since Covid, cash has not been a challenge for Caring for You, so the joint CEOs are continuing to invest in growth—including their own as leaders, as they work with Cogliano, who has encouraged them to embrace their natural leadership style.
“Belle and I have learned a lot from his humble approach,” says Grace. “We’ve learned that nothing every needs to be achieved by force or being the loudest person in the room. Often being the steadiest, calmest voice in the room is what make a difference.”
With that approach to leadership working so well for them, it will be exciting to see what’s next for this people-centric company.