MyPeople Meets is a series of articles featuring influential business people answering questions about what motivates them, their views on organisational values and high performance cultures along with personal insights on why they do what they do. This month, we meet Clara Wilcox who is the founder of The Balance Collective, a return to work and coaching consultancy that helps empower parents to find satisfying careers.
Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do…
I’m Clara Wilcox, a mum of two and wife to one Brummie, who is obsessed with books. I’m the Founder of The Balance Collective, a career, return to work and confidence coaching consultancy for parents. I am also co-Director of Nurture Networks, a non-profit community whose mission is to bring people together from all walks of life.
What were the main drivers that have contributed to your career journey?
I’ve always been very interested in what makes people tick, why they make the decisions they make and why they behave the way they do. It was the driver for choosing my degree, Psychology and has continued throughout my career to date. I discovered recruitment during my university studies and made sure I found an organisation that matched my inquisitive nature and specialised in a particular sector, rather than one that just wanted to put ‘bums on seats’.
After the birth of my eldest child (I have two girls) in 2006, I couldn’t make the balance work and moved from my branch manager role into a not-for-profit student and graduate employability project in 2007. My career grew from being consultancy-based and I became the project manager in 2011. I returned to the role in a part-time capacity in 2013, after having my youngest child. However, I started to get an entrepreneurial ‘niggle’ after struggling when I returned to work despite being in a very supportive environment. If I felt that way, with flexible working, a job and team I loved, and a well-being focused culture, how would others feel?
That’s when The Balance Collective was created. The consistent thing throughout my career is the drive to help others develop a career that is fulfilling and enjoyable on their terms.
What inspires you to succeed every day?
Hearing the stories of other people always inspires me. From a mum taking a leap of faith to restart her career to someone bootstrapping a new business and seeing their versions of bravery and hearing the steps they’ve had to take. I hope that the stories I share of my own work can also do the same for others. I’m sure it goes without saying that my family, especially my girls, drive me to succeed. Success for me is being able to write my own job description, show them that work can be fun and provide them with everything they need and a little of what they want.
What is the most meaningful part of your job?
This is an interesting one to answer. It’s summed up in our tag line ‘Creating careers to enjoy not endure’ and it’s the meaning behind everything I do at The Balance Collective. I want people to feel like they are in control of their careers and therefore their lives, to feel valued and maintain their well-being. How this stems from what I do? Well, that changes from CV reviews to quite emotionally driven confidence coaching,
What makes an organisational culture stand out?
Throughout my career I’ve been in and out of a wide range of different organisations as a consultant and those that stand out are the ones that accept that mistakes happen. Their risk appetite is one that wants people to learn from their mistake, to understand how they occurred and use that information for improvements; rather than having a finger pointing blame culture. These organisations are the ones that have open minds about talent development, resource planning and product and service development.
What does High Performance Culture mean for you?
High performance culture means several things to me but it always starts with heart. For something to be mission driven, with ethics and value placed on both the outcome and the people that deliver it. It’s a culture that understands that organisations employ and engage human beings, with changing needs, ambitions and a range of talents instead of viewing them simply as assets or resources. A high performance culture is output-based, rather than a presenteeism attitude, and is open to taking calculated risks and failing fast!
What feedback would you give to the worst manager you’ve ever had?
The worst manager I had was very intimidated by the strength of the characters and the intellect of people in the team. This person seemed to recruit for those very traits, then systematically work on trying to break down these personalities traits then systematically worked on trying to break them down to become clones of themselves. Feedback I would give today would be to ask what this person thought the role of a manager was and ask for very specific targets and personal development goals to work against – to help us both monitor what was actually going on.
What has been the pinnacle of your career so far?
My book, which I self-published in October 2018. Like far too many before, my family has experienced the loss of a baby, twice. Since starting my own business, I have been speaking about it more and the impact it has had on my career, my priorities, mental health and how my life is being lived right now. Over time, the talk became blogs, and the blogs became a book idea. It felt like a risk to put all this down in such a permanent way and it’s not just the content that could be open to criticism, but the writing style itself. However, it’s out there, adding to the conversation about loss and raising money for the wonderful bereavement charity that supported us. Whilst I don’t want to be known as ‘The Baby Loss Coach’, I can’t underplay the massive impact that this experience has had on why I do what I now.
Which company value do you feel you’ve most aligned with in your career?
I would say it’s growth, personal growth, hitting targets, challenging and expanding the range and the rate of how the work I do makes an impact. I have to feel like I am making progress, however small or slow it may be to others!
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt?
As a manager, your staff want you to be human. It is really easy to walk the ‘company line’ and become a teflon version of yourself. I have overseen some areas of change in my previous roles, and made the mistake in my early management days of not letting my team know how this was personally impacting me. Staff need to know that you understand the implications of things beyond the ‘politics’, and it’s OK to show your vulnerabilities too.
Most influential person you’d like to meet and why?
Brene Brown – I love her work and the way she takes some really fascinating academic studies and writes about them in a way that is so relatable and applicable in life. She touches on the topics that so many people (and organisations) want to stamp out, and highlights that to have high performing, innovative cultures, we need to be vulnerable.
Who is your biggest sporting hero and why?
I think anyone that undertakes regular sport is a hero to me – from grassroots to professional. I am not a sporty person and I’m in awe of the physical challenge and lifestyle commitment it takes to do so!
What is your favourite podcast?
I will be honest, whilst I have been a guest on many a podcasts, I much prefer reading. I don’t have a favourite podcast but, if I had to pick, it would be anything where Brene Brown is a guest!
To download a PDF of this interview click here
To find out more about The Balance Collective click here