A-Z of interim: V is for…Volunteering

ID 51484113 © Catalin205 | Dreamstime.com

Change happens in increments.

Which is probably why it’s taken me about three years to commit fully to living – and working – in Belgium. It’s not easy saying ‘cheers‘ to a cherished interim career in the UK, and ‘aangenaam kennis te maken‘ to an unknown future in a flat, foreign land…even though I’ve relocated to one of the nicest cities in the world and have never had a bad business lunch – the cuisine is truly great!

The trouble always is that just as I mentally commit to becoming gainfully employed in Belgium, some wonderful assignment pops up and whoosh, I’m off. This year work has taken me to Berlin, Tbilisi and New York. My laptop is well-travelled!

So when my assignment concluded and summer rolled around, I decided to take some time off before deciding how and where I wanted to establish myself. Instead of pounding pavements in Brussels, I decided to put myself to the test and volunteered to work for two small local charities.

No good deed goes unpunished, or so they say…

Here’s what I learned:

Double Dutch! Belgians are amazing. They speak three languages so they switch fluently between French, Dutch and English to accommodate visitors. I’m now at the point that my husband and I confuse waiters in restaurants by speaking Dutch to them, and English to each other. Still, I felt I needed more practice. So, I transcribed textbooks for blind and partially sighted children at De-Kade. After 300 pages of religion, I know know more about Dutch Jesus than I will ever need to, and after 650 pages of Dutch grammar, I can safely say that my language skills are ‘redelijk goed’.

Using your skills to help others is fun. My hobby is photography so I also volunteered to photograph toys for the Speel-o-Theek, a toy lending library for children and adults with disabilities. They are updating their website and needed 2000 good quality shots to advertise their catalogue of games, puzzles and educational toys. I approach my shoots with the same mindset as my assignments. Get in, do a great job, and leave something good behind. This time, I even have the photographic evidence to show for it. It feels good to help people who appreciate what you do.

A change is as good as a holiday. I love being a change agent, but I must admit after 17 years of delivering complex transformation, it was useful to switch gears for a few months. It’s given me the mental whitespace to plan the next stage of my interim career. It’s given me a feel for Belgian culture, because I’ve got to know people who wouldn’t normally be in my professional orbit. And it’s allowed me to take that first, scary step to find work in another country.

If you’d like to know more about the charities I’ve supported, you can follow the embedded links in the blog.

And yes, I’m job hunting, so if you’d interested in how I build and deliver transformation programmes with real staying power, please connect with me via my professional profile, here: Lisa Bondesio

A-Z of Interim: Z is for …Zzz!

dreamstime_s_480247

ID 480247 © Kts | Dreamstime.com

It’s the end of the year and here I am, at the end-point of my blog series A-Z of Interim. If you’ve managed to stay awake through all my previous posts, good for you!

If not, pull up a comfortable pillow and … zzz.

This post is about sleep. Not getting enough can seriously impact your performance and yet many of us stumble through busy working lives without sufficient nightly rest.

If workplace wellbeing is the new black, then sleep is the new self-care.  Much as I would like to follow Arnold Schwarzenegger’s advice to ‘sleep faster’, I am definitely one of those people who need at least eight hours of shut-eye. In fact, one of the reasons I love travelling for work is that – after a long day with clients – I get to go back to my hotel and curl up early.  Not exactly glamorous, I know!  But essential. 

Why should this matter to an interim?

Well, research demonstrates that not getting the requisite number of hours per night lowers your immunity to infection, affects your mood and impacts your concentration. Sleep deprivation raises your blood pressure and blood sugar levels, causes inflammation in your body and increases the chance of an early death.  Not really conducive to being a badass interim, is it?

Still not convinced? Sleep also promotes the formation of neural pathways which help us to process new information.  Sleeping less than five hours per night compromises decision making processes and creativity.  Not to mention, making you short-tempered and prone to mood swings.  A recipe for over-whelm and under-par client-side.

Personally, I like to be firing on all cylinders when on assignment.  So, I try to prioritise sleep with the same diligence I handle client commitments. I have a sleep tracker at home.  I take melatonin to avoid jet lag when travelling across time zones.  I ensure that when working away my digs are within brisk walking distance of my client – fresh air helps clear the mind, and also promotes sleep.  Of course, I don’t always succeed, but my rule is to aim for about 70-80% compliance. It evens out over time.

Now, where did I put my pillow…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Power talk!

Image: ID 96660940 © Nipon Temsakun | Dreamstime.com

Words can be powerful. Nowhere is this more apparent to me than in Belgium, where I’m on the hunt for a new assignment. It’s proving challenging, but not because I lack the expert skills and experience of a transformation professional. Pas du tout!

In this tiny country, being trilingual is the norm. There are even secondary school education programmes where scientific subjects are taught in English, history in French and Maths in Dutch. Geweldig! I’ll wager good money that the average Belgian teenager speaks English and Dutch better than their UK counterparts.

It may sound like a cliche but Britons are the worst at learning other languages. In a recent survey by ESOL, 62% of people in the UK speak only English, and only 38% can make themselves understood in another tongue. Compare this to the 56% of Europeans who speak one other language, and the 28% who speak two! Half of EU citizens can hold a conversation in English.

At my level of seniority English is usually the business language of choice. Still, I feel at a disadvantage if I cannot express myself in fluent Dutch or French. I spent 6 months learning Dutch and practicing it as often as I can. It’s not perfect, but after 2 years I can describe what I do and how I do it and I’ve got to the point where Flemish Belgians do not switch automatically to English when they hear me speak, though they do make fun of my accent. I’m following an evening class in photography and make presentations in Dutch, so ‘ik spreek nederlands’. French is another story.

All of this has got me thinking about how important language is. Of course it’s possible to create cross-cultural rapport without the benefit of bilingualism, but somehow putting yourself in someone else’s shoes by being able to communicate in more than one language goes a long way – both personally and professionally. Shared vocabulary makes for greater connection, which is much needed in the digital echo-chamber we call work.

A-Z of Interim: Y is for … Year End!

Top view of pen,sunglasses,a cup of coffee and notebook written with Year End Review on wooden background.

Image: ID 132079350 © Mohamad Faizal Ramli | Dreamstime.com

How was your interim year?  Did 2019 bring wonderful clients, successful assignments and career satisfaction? Or are you still wondering if Santa mixed up the delivery last Xmas?  I’ve certainly had my share of brickbats and bouquets over the last 12 months.

Which is why I’ve learned to finish my year by reviewing what’s worked, ditching what doesn’t and setting intentional goals for the next year. Also known as a Year-End-Review.

Earghh! I hear you say. I know, it’s tempting to be thinking about festive cocktails and canapés at this time, but doing the preparation up front can put you a step ahead when the mistletoe has faded.  Besides, a new decade is snapping at your heels!

So, how do I do it?

Grab a pencil and paper. Yes, I know that is a bit analogue but trust me on this, writing things old-school style gets it out of your head and into reality.

Look back, not in anger! Review your last assignment.  Think about what you delivered, how you interacted with the client. What are you most proud of? Where do you think you could have done things differently?  Was it satisfying, or just a means to pay the bills?  How did you get the work? What was your day rate? Dig deep and list everything you can think of.

Edit, then eliminate.  Stop wasting time on the activities that don’t support success. As an interim, your personal brand is an important factor in generating that next assignment. Word of mouth recommendations are a wonderful thing, but sometimes not enough. Interim Providers can be a useful way into a business, but are not the only means of securing work.   Ask yourself if you need to create a sales pipeline in a different way.  Do you need to do more networking?  Do you need to adapt your offering?  Do you need to polish up your look – in real life, on social media? Out with the obsolete!  Be ruthless with ways of working that no longer serve you.

Intent and action. What goals are you going to set yourself for next year?  Do you want to have more consistent assignments? Do you want to add new skills to your interim toolkit? Do you want to earn more?  Be expansive and set yourself some gorilla-sized goals.  Sometimes as interims we are so busy delivering that we don’t think about a bigger future. The consequence is that we keep our goals (and our souls) small.  Here your only limit is your imagination.

Of course, having big goals is great, but with greatness comes the responsibility for  action. Nothing ever grew in a garden because the gardener sat on the fence thinking about plants. You need to get your hands dirty.  Write down all the steps you are going to take in the next 12 months. Review your list regularly and flex your plans as your circumstances change. Dream, then do!

I’m curious, how do you plan your year?  What are your goals for 2020.  Answers on the blog please. 

 

 

 

 

 

A-Z of Interim. X is for … X-factor

Check marks. Marker drawing series in Vector Format. Color can bID 73096510 © Promesaartstudio | Dreamstime.com

I’m not sure who actually said ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ – the more things change, the more they stay the same – but they were definitely onto something.

Although organisations can vary wildly in terms of structure, process and culture, when it comes to implementing business change, the challenge remains the same.  How do you create lasting transformation?

Is there an ‘x-factor’ that elevates transformation programmes, creating lasting benefits and sustainable change?

As an interim who uses her expertise to build and lead change programs with staying power, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’!  Successful change arises from a combination of factors rather than a single, elusive element.

Here’s what I know:

Do, don’t delegate:  You don’t delegate change.  Transformation only happens when you establish clear ownership and commitment to change across all levels of the organisation. Savvy leaders do this by modelling authentic behaviours which provide the foundation for change. They create a compelling narrative which acts as a lynchpin, connecting individuals and teams to the change.

Stay focused: The road to transformation is long, and it’s no place for monkey mind!  It can be all too easy for leaders to get distracted by short term results – a.k.a. the next shiny thing on their corporate agenda – instead of staying the course. To get the prize, keep your eyes on a prioritised set of changes, and make sure you have assigned clear accountability for specific actions during implementation.

It’s not a part-time, pastime: I’m called in when things transformational have tanked. Sometimes it’s because the fanfare surrounding the initial announcement of change has faded. Often it’s because the people responsible for implementation have not been properly engaged. Very often it’s because change is considered something you can do on top of your day job. Erm, no… Successful transformation relies on sufficient resources and capability to implement change.  Have the right people, doing the right things. Hire in capability, if needed, but don’t forget to coach and support your own teams so they can build their transformation muscles.

Bend and stretch: External events and corporate disasters can derail even the most meticulously planned transformation, so make sure you bake in a degree of flexibility, should you need to adjust or re-calibrate your plans. Change sticks in places where it can be sustained, so craft plans that are practical and results oriented. Your chances of success will improve exponentially.

 

 

A-Z of interim: W is for … Well-being

dreamstime_m_104737202

ID 104737202 © Adonis1969 | Dreamstime.com

I was talking with a former colleague the other day. She was recounting her recent experience as an interim at a company with a culture that she described as ‘going back to the 80’s’. And not in a good way…

Evidently, this kind of “work till you drop dead, crush your (work) enemies, trust no one” style of working still exists. Eh? At this point I’m thinking, W is for What the flamingo!!?

Needless to say, the culture was toxic and the teams and individuals she worked with operated in one of two modes: high-anxiety or super-stressed. Not much of a choice.

Now don ‘t get me wrong. I’m realistic. I know that as interims, we are never brought into a client if everything is going swimmingly and nothing needs to change. We are fixers and do-ers. We use our expertise to bring solutions and steer a way through in difficult times. We work hard. Long hours, challenging clients and complex organisational problems can be the norm.

Which is exactly why you owe it to yourself – and your clients – to ensure you stay well enough to work well.

‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office’ said no one’s gravestone, ever!

Workplace stress and burn-out is rising significantly – In a recent article, the US Institute of Stress, cites 42 worrying workplace stress statistics. And the European picture isn’t much brighter. In a recent study, ‘The workforce view in Europe’ highlights Polish, British and French workers as having the greatest amount of stress, compared to other countries.

Wellbeing isn’t something woo-woo. As far as I’m concerned it’s an essential tool for today’s interim. Just as you would ensure you service your car regularly to keep it on the road, making sure you have good foundational health habits – sleep, exercise, hydration – prevents you from being another interim casualty languishing in the lay-by. We all know we are sharper, more productive and generally better human beings when we take care of ourselves. 

My advice…? Take the time to switch off on weekends by switching off your phone, getting outside or indulging in your favourite hobby. Make sleep an important priority. Carve out time in your working week to walk, or think or read. Whatever energises and inspires you.  And for all you A-types out there, I’m advocating the 80/20 rule.  Work hard, and remember it doesn’t have to be hard work, health-wise.

A-Z of Interim: U is for…Unexpected

fullsizeoutput_ffb
Image: Lisa Bondesio | 2019

It’s always good when you get the ‘Miracle Fish’ in your Christmas Cracker!  Place the cellophane fish in your palm, and its movements will indicate your fortune.  Spoiler alert! If the fish is motionless, it is a dead one! Great party trick, but not so great for helping you navigate the unexpected…

Unexpectedness, is definitely something to be expected in today’s workplace. Whether you work as an interim or not. For instance, 2018 for me was a year where a fantastic new client and assignment came out of left field, thanks to a personal recommendation from one of my Linked-In network.  I’d like to say this was expected. A carefully plotted opportunity as a result of meticulous networking and a solid business plan. Nope. It was the right thing at the right time. Unexpected but good!

2018 was also the year where another personal recommendation led to a complete waste of my time and effort.  An unscrupulous potential client who shall remain nameless, but who will not be forgiven for assuming that 1) I work for free… and 2) it’s okay to steal someone’s ideas and pass them off as your own. I’d like to say this was expected. That I trusted my gut like I should have, and said ‘no thanks’ at the outset of the conversation. Nope. I thought they would behave professionally. They didn’t. Unexpected, and bad business karma besides!

Both these occurrences have me thinking about the best way to flourish in times of great uncertainty. If you choose to work for yourself, you do choose a path less travelled. Less secure. Less certain. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless you crave 9-5 and a regular pay-cheque until you reach a pensionable age. In that case, this probably isn’t the blog post for you!

Of course, there are some things you can do to mitigate the vagaries of living in an age of unexpectedness.  Here are my top tips:

Don’t take it personally.  Unless you yourself have done something hugely unprofessional (see paragraph 3, above) – losing out on an opportunity, having projects stalled, cancelled or just generally petering out is actually not about you. Trust me, it’s not. It’s usually about stuff you cannot control, so don’t waste time and valuable energy ruminating over what went wrong or why the other candidate was better qualified.  Chalk it up to experience, learn and move on!

See the unexpected as an opportunity to do something different, differently. Even the most skilled professionals experience a cosmic butt-kicking at least once in their career. Whether it’s a long period prospecting for new assignments without pay-off, or a change in the direction of your assignment which means you and the client must part ways gracefully. Be graceful. Accept the challenge. Shift your mental gears and figure out a new way of dealing with the circumstances. P.S. There is always a way!

Action is the antidote to despair. Comfort zones are great, but nothing much grows there.  In other words, don’t let discomfort keep you from continuing to move forward. Bad days, just like good days come and go. Of course, there will be times when – of necessity – you will need to pause and reflect, but camping out in a spiral of doom isn’t really the way to feel motivated. Keep taking action, because sooner or later opportunity – cunningly disguised as the unexpected – comes knocking.

Create your own safety net. Well-being is no longer in the realms of the touchy-feely. It’s a weapon against the unknown.  Your safety net could be financial – as in a 6-month cash buffer. Personal – as in a good network of colleagues or family who can support you. Physical – as in a hobby that gets you out of your head and into the fresh air!  All of the above? Or something else entirely.  Whatever it looks like for you, make sure you have one!

Fortune telling fish, or not…I’m looking forward to 2019. My wish for you is that it brings good clients, great work and even better achievements.  Happy New Year!