The Fixer: Working With Clients Through Failure
I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of HTI’s owners and COO, John Knight to discuss what it means to cultivate a lasting relationship with clients during difficult situations and circumstances.
John has grown a reputation as “the fixer” because of his natural ability to work hand in hand with clients through challenging times; he has a unique strength for creating longevity in partnerships even when tensions arise and situations seem bleak.
Originally from Ft. Myers, FL, John Knight graduated from Stetson University in Deland, FL where he majored in Business Administration.
After graduating, John began working for a contract engineering recruiting company which specialized in the recruitment of Engineers. After a few years John was recruited to work for a manufacturing staffing and recruiting firm. During his five-year tenure, John recruited for and managed the Upstate territory before moving on to co-create HTI, Inc.
What is your main objective as Chief Operating Officer?
The role of that position is really to manage operations according to corporate KPIs. Meaning more broad-based, corporate level responsibilities such as making sure succession plans are in place. In case, heaven forbid, there’s ever a situation that would cause us to have some gaps. Then make sure our entire operations are in conformance with policies and procedures and things of that nature.
Herb, our CEO, advised me that you would be a good person to talk to about delivering results under pressure, especially for our clients. So, what do you define as “under pressure?”
In my case, what Herb’s really alluding to is examples of accounts we’ve had that when I come in, it’s really to either A try to turn it around or B if it’s not able to be turned around, sustain it as long as possible so that we can continue to keep people employed while we manage the transition.
By turn it around do you mean the relationship? The operations?
I think it’s more the operations side. You know, you can go in and you can repair relationships. I always say if you have a good relationship, you live another day. I think for us to get into that situation where we’re not performing, at that point, the mindset of the management team is that HTI is not doing a good job. It’s hard to change that perception and it takes time. Hence, my effort to remain tied to the account to give us that time.
So, what’s the biggest challenge of working with a client under those circumstances where you’ve got the perception of a tarnished reputation, and you’re trying to come in and change it?
Hmm… the biggest challenge… Well you have to understand challenges are layered. For example, the recruiter might be challenged to produce a number of untold applicants to backfill a lot of positions with a high turnover rate. The Account Rep is on-site, dealing with the managers who are upset by unfilled positions and constant turnover.
You have to figure out which area is under the most scrutiny and address that wound first – like a triage.
I remember one manager (in the early days of HTI) we worked with was particularly challenging because he was so hard to get close to in order to really understand his wound. He would speak to you however he wanted, he didn’t care if you were male, female, or a VP or President.
He was a very difficult person, but he prepared me for the next troubled client.
How do you define success in a time of crisis?
I’ll give you a for instance… Well… there’s so many different options.
A recruiter can have success by making better placements and reducing turnover.
The on-site representatives can have success just by developing relationships, knowing and communicating your data, and being ready to defend your data. I’m a firm believer in data. You’re unlikely to change someone’s perception of you with lip service.
So, if we improve our performance, we improve our metrics. Then you can use that to defend yourself. That’s been my experience in the past, where if you can improve your performance, then the data speaks for itself.
With that in mind, what is the objective in these types of situations?
The first thing I do when I go in is, I ask a lot of questions, and I’m really trying to get to the root cause of the problems. Since I don’t deal with the day-to-day of servicing that account, it’s easier for me to come in and look at things from a different perspective.
I have a document that I use as the basis for an action plan. In most projects there are essentially 4 buckets that you can identify all the problems and circumstances. The 4 buckets are:
- Employee Relations/Leadership Environment
Now there are sub-components to these, but for the most part, if you deep dive those 4 buckets and do a 5 “why” analysis, you can fix everything.
The challenge is do you have the time to fix it, and do you have the money to fix it. Now there are some instances where the odds are stacked against you, and you know within a month you’re going to lose the client. In those circumstances, keep the client for as long as you can and leave on good terms because you never know when you’ll be invited back.
So what you’re saying is there’s a right way to fail?
There’s a component of success in every failure, but it’s how you actually fail.
I think an example of that is clients or accounts we’ve “lost” in the past, are still viewed as successes because we left on good terms, and we have the opportunity to go back. And I am happy to say in a majority of the cases, we are invited back. Success is in the eye of the beholder.