Ian Clark: “Your focus should be on making people better”

Your focus should be on making people better. Yes, you need to make decisions, and your role will involve a strategic element, but at the same time it’s about improving performance, and the best way to do this is by making those on your team better. Quite often your role is more akin to a […]

Your focus should be on making people better. Yes, you need to make decisions, and your role will involve a strategic element, but at the same time it’s about improving performance, and the best way to do this is by making those on your team better. Quite often your role is more akin to a sports coach, trying to get the best out of people, and picking the team is a very small part of the job.

I had the pleasure to interview Ian Clark. Ian is Head of Americas at niche IT staffing firm Frank Recruitment Group. Originally from the UK, he now runs the company’s entire US operation, using his 15 years of experience in recruitment to help drive the organization’s ambitious growth strategy.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? What got you into recruitment and why did you stay with it?

I saw an ad online after graduating and called to enquire. I was really sold on recruitment right away and joined the following week as an intern. It’s an industry that rewards hard work and ambition, and if you’re a motivated person then you can really thrive. I enjoyed being in such a fast-paced environment and quickly progressed to become a Director, managing 70 people.

I moved to America in 2016 to open our Philadelphia office, then when Tampa opened a year later I managed that as well, and as soon as we opened a third office I moved up to managing our entire East Coast operation. Recruitment feels unique in that it’s a sales environment, yet there’s also the strategic element of placing the right candidate into the right role, then the satisfaction of getting it right and seeing the results of it.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I moved to Philly without having ever visited the place! I knew the opportunity to progress was there and despite having no idea what it would be like as a place to live, made a massive life decision based on little more than a hunch. Thankfully it’s worked out quite well! I’d have much rather regretted having moved here than sitting at home wondering what might have happened. I sometimes see people sitting and waiting for the perfect opportunity, but that so very rarely happens in life, you’ve got to take chances and make them work for you.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I remember early in my career, being given the chance to impress a new client. I promised I’d take them to lunch, told them what a great time we’d have and that it was all on me. We ate a very expensive meal and while they excused themselves towards the end I decided to be extra smooth and settle the bill discretely, having added a very nice bottle of wine to the tab first as a little surprise. As I got up to pay, I realised that I’d left my wallet in the office and was going to have to get the client to pay, despite my earlier promises, and with a very expensive surprise addition to the bill.

It was mortifying, but it did result in me being able to take them out again to make up for it and I closed the deal, albeit after I’d paid the bill! I probably could’ve blustered my way through the situation, but I think showing a human side and some humility helped, that’s the lesson I’d take away from it. I think honesty is a vastly underrated sales tool, and showing your vulnerability can instil trust from a customer’s point of view. So when the time comes to get a customer to sign, they know it’s not just about you pushing something that’s not right for them. Not knowing something, or making a mistake, is perfectly acceptable, but getting caught out lying about it causes damage that can be impossible to rectify.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to talent today?

Communication is essential. I’m always very hands on with people and like to be involved with them. I hear of people having a one-to-one on an annual basis to evaluate progress and I really don’t get how it’s possible for that to be your one interaction with an employee with regards to their performance or concerns. I think it’s far healthier to be checking in with people regularly, to raise any issues, and make sure they feel comfortable enough for that to be a two-way conversation.

When you’re approachable and have a good dialog with your team, then you remove yourself as a potential issue. You also open up an employee’s options when there’s something else bothering them that may cause them to quit.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

There’s two things that you need to incorporate. The first are the actual tools to allow them to collaborate; the systems and platforms that allow a more streamlined process, particularly if they’re based in different locations. These are so specific to different businesses and even departments, that it’s important to do your research on this. Get opinions from everyone who’ll use them to see what they need from a system as well as what they expect. Once you’ve canvassed everyone, that’s the time to start shopping around — speaking to vendors before you’ve properly gathered requirements puts you at risk of favoring something that won’t offer the solution you need.

It’s also vitally important that you help foster a culture where working together is encouraged. Even in the hiring process, look for examples in someone’s work history where they’ve contributed to a team and been effective doing so. It’s such a difficult skill to teach, so going for a high value candidate with little experience of collaborating can result in taking time for them to adapt. You can bring someone’s skill-set up to date if there’s areas of weakness, but if they lack the soft skills needed to work in a team, you just can’t instil those into someone as easily.

Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)

  • Be reflective around your own performance and what you can do better. This should be done as a part of your working day, with time set aside for it, rather than just thinking about it on your way home.
  • You’ve got to be your biggest critic on your failings. I remember getting some unwelcome feedback early on in my management career and it came as a real shock. Looking back, it shouldn’t have, and I should’ve been able to see it coming. Now, I scrutinize everything I do: nobody is a harsher judge of me than myself, and very few surprises come my way as a result.
  • Give praise, but only when it’s deserved. People like a pat on the back, but they can also see through someone being insincere. We all know when a “well done” is actually deserved.
  • Your focus should be on making people better. Yes, you need to make decisions, and your role will involve a strategic element, but at the same time it’s about improving performance, and the best way to do this is by making those on your team better. Quite often your role is more akin to a sports coach, trying to get the best out of people, and picking the team is a very small part of the job.
  • Ultimately though, I think you’ve got to be consistent in your approach. You should always embrace new ways of working, but you absolutely can’t just lurch between ideas. People need to know where they stand.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think many areas of the workforce still struggle for fair representation. Whether that’s race, sexuality or gender, I find discrimination in all forms abhorrent. I’ve worked incredibly hard throughout my career and it’s unthinkable that the opportunities that have been available to me may not be to others for reasons that aren’t based solely on ability.

I’d extend that movement beyond just the workplace. There’s much to worry about for the planet’s population going forward, it’s an interesting time politically, but if we could rid the world of discrimination I think we’d be in a far better position as a starting point.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I really like to live by “regret the things you have done, not the things you haven’t.” It’s a quote that has served me well in my working life, and I’m fortunate to be working with a company full of ambitious people who follow that mantra. We do a lot of research before making decisions, but sometimes there’s an element of the unknown and I’m never afraid of that. I’d rather take risks, and if I fail? Hold my hands up and start again. I think when you have that sort of positive attitude, even when things don’t work out, you still have a way of making a success of the decisions you’ve made.

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