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Up Close with Clare Thompson

How growing and celebrating people inspire people and culture leader, Clare Thompson

We interviewed Total Synergy’s head of people and culture, Clare Thompson, and discovered that (from Olympic swimming hopes, to being an architectural technician, to leading HR functions for companies all over the world) helping, growing, and celebrating people are what drive Clare’s passion.

At the age of eight, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

Not many people know but I started competitive swimming when I was six years old, and I thought I would be an Olympic swimmer when I grew up.  I did end up getting into the national championships in the UK which was a massive achievement. I really loved being fit and healthy and getting into the pool but having suffered a couple of injuries my swimming career came to an end. I then decided I wanted to become a physiotherapist after having been a participant in my own rehabilitation.  

That never did happen, but I guess the obsession with sport was always about being really fit, healthy, and mindful when I was training, and pondering this as I got older I realised that I could weave some of that into a career where I could still give that to other people. 

Can you tell us about the journey of you career to this point?

I’ve been around the built environment industry my whole life. My Dad was a builder, my husband is an architect, and his dad is a builder. My first job was actually as an architectural technician in a small practice in my hometown in Shropshire – I guess family connections brought me there.  

I really loved the creative aspect of the role, but I didn’t really enjoy the technical side of things and as a result, I moved into more of an office manager’s role in the practice, and that’s where I started my life in HR 

I consequently made a move to London and started working for Parfums Christian Dior in their Head Office. I was promoted quite quickly into the role of EA to the CEO and HR manager. It was purely by accident that I ended up in that role because I had the most inspirational CEO who thought I had great potential and showed complete faith in me. As a result of his support and the confidence I gained from him, my role evolved into something much larger and I began recruiting and handling all of the general HR for head office. It was a fantastic experience and one where I grew exponentially in my career.   

I then met my husband, and we moved to New Zealand where I worked for a recruitment agency as their HR administration manager and a boutique agency where I focussed on talent acquisition for our clients. After having my first child I decided to set up my own business focussing on HR consulting and talent acquisition and successfully ran this whilst raising my family. 

In 2005 we moved to Australia where I continued to work for myself and then, through my business, I met the CEO of a cloud-based medical practice management software company. This was a pure SaaS start up and I was involved from inception right up to the point where they entered hyper growth where I moved into the business as their head of people and culture This was my first experience of a pure SaaS company and true hyper growth. It was a roller coaster as we grew exponentially over a period of 18 months with an astronomical hiring total of 96 people. The focus was also on putting in place the foundations of a successful people and culture function – it was exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time.  

Then I was introduced to Scott Osborne, and here we are. At Total Synergy!  

What is it about your role at Total Synergy that excites you most?

This role combines all of the things I loved about my previous professional experiences — The built environment, SaaS which is fast moving and exciting, and taking care of the people and culture through a company’s growth phase.  And most importantly, hopefully changing people’s lives for the better through doing that.  

It is exciting being able to be instrumental in building the culture at Total Synergy as we grow. The focus has to be on holding onto the elements of our culture that we want to keep as we move away from being a small business to being a bigger one. But also, being innovative in terms of attraction, retention, and development of our people. 

The international aspect and being able to focus on growing the team over in the UK, and the fact that our growth plans encompass the US are also exciting. All those things make it special, but fundamentally the people are at the heart of it – if you don’t have great people, you can’t have a great business. 

What are the three essential ingredients of good marketing that make it great?

1. Attracting the right people
You’ve got to put in the work in terms of growing your employment brand to be able to attract the right people in the first instance. All of our employee branding focusses on telling people why they should be here. It’s not enough to simply advertise benefits, you have to show the essence of the company – what makes it a great place to be culturally.  People want a sense of community, which we have. They want personal development, which we give them and they want a cause, and we support the AEC space which is amazing.

2. Growing your employees
We then focus on our retention strategy – what can we do to retain these amazing people. You have to ensure that you have all of the key: elements personal development, an opportunity for people to feel like they really contribute, a focus on health and wellbeing, flexibility, and psychological safety. We want our people to feel like we really look after them so they feel, happy, and supported.

3. Celebrating people
You bring people in, you look after them, you grow them, and you celebrate them. That’s the whole employee life cycle. Being able to celebrate people on the way in, celebrate them while they’re with you, and celebrate them on the way out is really important. Too often companies fail to celebrate people on the way out and forget that every person that leaves the building is an ambassador for your brand. You should never forget that.

What’s your vision for the future in this role?

At Total Synergy, we’re growing. We’ve already got some really good foundations in place. My vision for our future is building on that, growing our employment brand to ensure we attract the right people and ensuring we have all of those elements in place that I talked about earlier.   

We want people to feel like they can be themselves and bring their whole selves to work. We want a lot of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the business. We want it to be safe within the business for our employees to be sincere, to grow, to make mistakes, and to take risks. You should always be keen to try new things and not be fearful of making a mistake, particularly as a company grows. If you’re not scared of mistakes you end up being agile and innovative, and that’s what we want.

Can you give us a snapshot of a great day for you?

A great day for me speaks of connection. I might be interviewing somebody telling them the story of TS in the morning, mentoring somebody through their personal development at lunchtime, checking in randomly to see how somebody else is going in the afternoon, and then celebrating someone on Yammer at the end of the workday. It’s all about connection for me us celebrating and growing our people. That’s cool.

Have you got a superpower? What is it? If not, what would you want it to be?

I think I have really good intuition when it comes to people. I can generally tell within 30 seconds of speaking to somebody where they’re at. Listening is the absolute key, so maybe you could say my superpower is having huge, listening ears. The other thing is that I’m very human. I’m authentic, and I get to know people and I love that because it makes people feel comfortable and able to be themselves.