Clients are your life-blood as an interim. Good client relationships ensure great recommendations and contract extensions. Bad ones can damage your professional reputation and your wallet – Indemnity Insurance, anyone? Here’s my quick-fire guide to building and managing client relationships:
This is one of the harshest lessons I’ve learnt in my time as an interim. When you’ve had an extended period of down time, it’s tempting to take the first assignment that comes your way. We all have bills to pay. In tough markets you will at times make choices to keep your children in shoes and preserve the roof over your head.
Be warned! Choosing the wrong client can be as disastrous as having no client, so if you have doubts – whether it’s about client fit, culture, scope of assignment – listen to your gut, and just say no! Badly chosen assignments are a bit like Brussels Sprouts – they leave a bitter taste! Trying to do something you are not suited for can damage your reputation, erode your confidence and impair your ability to secure future work.
Act like a diplomat, deliver like a demon…
As an interim you are expected to be experienced and objective. So, while you are probably over-qualified for the assignment, it’s implicit you also have the sense not to get embroiled in the organisational politics of your client. Now, I’m not suggesting that you simply nod like one of those plastic dogs you find on the dashboard of a white van, but it’s important you remain neutral.
CEO a little combative? Colleagues about as useful as a chocolate teapot? Suck it up, sunshine! As an interim, you are there to deliver, deliver, deliver – not pass judgement of the relative merits of the Executive team, unless you are in HR and that’s the brief. Picking the wrong faction will return to haunt you, especially if the client in question ends up in another organisation.
Think like a CEO…
One mistake many interims make is thinking they are simply there to do a job. Well, yes and no. Certainly, you’ve been hired to fulfil a specific brief, but to stand above the herd, to build rapport and trust; you need to put yourself in a CEO mindset.
Good CEOs are also single-minded and clear about the outcomes they require. Good interims share the same clarity of purpose and go to work with the outcome in mind. In practice this means being clear who your client is, not just what’s reflected in their title. It also demands that you are crystal about the deliverables of your assignment and the expectation of your client.
Great CEOs also take accountability when things go wrong. Great interims are no exception. If things go awry; communicate immediately and openly. Take visible steps to fix the problem, even if that means transitioning off the assignment. Your clients will respect your integrity.
And finally, the CEO is accountable for creating value for shareholders by setting the vision and strategy, and then delivering real results off the back of that promise. As an interim, you are tasked with creating value for your clients. Very often it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it that cements the client relationship and ensures a good outcome for all.
Lisa Bondesio is the founder of Chiridion Consulting. She provides common sense to corporate clients in times of transition and specialises in business change, strategy and stakeholder engagement. Her favourite clients are those who pay on time!