A-Z of Interim: T is for…Teamwork

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I’m writing this in an airport, en route from New York to home.  I’ve spent 2 – very full -days with a leadership team, facilitating a retreat which required us to move from strategy to implementation. So far, so very consultant.  But, here’s the thing…

This particular workshop was full of people with a strong moral diligence, and a passion for what they do in the world. High integrity individuals, each as different and unique as a snowflake. From a facilitation perspective, this could have been a disaster…but it wasn’t.

As I reflected overnight on how the first day had gone, what struck me most about the group was their absolute commitment to work together to resolve some very thorny organisational issues – without personal agenda, and with a collective commitment to the greater good of their organisation.

At this point, I should probably declare that I live with The Belgian (a.k.a. my husband) and we are partially based in a country whose political system exemplifies compromise for a greater good.  Give a little of yourself, get a lot for everyone. In short, team-work.

Which brings me to today’s post. As an interim specialising in transformation, I have to deal a lot with big egos and even bigger personal agendas. Both were absent over the last few days. How refreshing, I hear you say! Indeed.

Yet, I was not facilitating a group of meek, understated ‘yes-people’.  Far from it. Everybody felt able to express their opinions, concerns and perspective. Yet, everyone was prepared to roll-up sleeves and work together to reach an optimum solution. Team-work in action (a.k.a. ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’).  Thanks, Aristotle!

My point is, that as an interim – your ability to galvanise teams is critical.  I’ve lost count of the number of arrogant individuals I’ve encountered who think it’s ok to step into an organisation and deploy cultural and operational landmines in the name of transformation and then think that justifies their day-rate. Really? My point is, that as an interim – it’s wrong to assume you are single-handedly going to save the organisation. You are there to bring people together, to build a collective solution that works for your client, long after you exit the building. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

A-Z of Interim: S is for…Skills!

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What’s your particular interim superpower? Mine happens to be working with CEOs and their teams to help them navigate change successfully. Of course, I wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider – so while some of this ability might be innate, my skill in this area comes from a combination of graft and experience – a.k.a. hard work and multiple client engagements over more than a decade!

Although I make my living from change, I also am in the process of changing countries – swapping home life in the UK for wedded bliss in Bruges, Belgium.  To help in this adjustment, I’ve spent the last 6 months formally studying Dutch.  I’m pleased to say that I’m now about 80% fluent (give or take the odd verb) but this prolonged period of self improvement has made me think deeply about keeping current as an interim.  Is it really necessary?

The short answer is ‘Yes’.

Clearly, there is no substitute for experience, but in today’s interim market, it’s wise to remember that ‘old ways, do not open new doors’.  Here are my top tips for staying skilful and staying ahead:

Be relevant.  Do your skills still matter in today’s gig economy? Are you au fait with developments in your industry or discipline?  Once on assignment, it can be hard to make time to bone up on the latest trends – but it’s vital if you need to keep up with more than the Kardashians.  I usually read the business section of a quality newspaper at least once a week, with a focus on the articles that relate to transformation and business change.  Another option is to attend conferences or industry events. And if you really are short on time, why not use your commute to listen to a TED talk or podcast which speaks to your area of expertise.

Be portable. Just because robots are taking over the world doesn’t mean the future workplace won’t need people with super-powers.  I’m not talking X-Ray vision here! However, if your skill set is limited to an industry with a shortening shelf-life, you might need to re-evaluate. Where best could you use your ability?  What do you do that could be applied elsewhere?  What value could different experience bring to a prospective new client? Wherever you are at, its important to package your know-how in a way that fits more than one square peg.

Invest. The best thing about being an interim is that you really are in charge of your own destiny.  The worst thing about being an interim is that you really are in charge of your own destiny!  If you are not investing in yourself, how are you adding value to your clients? Outdated ways of thinking and doing are not going to build your credibility as a proficient professional. So, spend the time to read. Spend the money to learn more. Spend the effort to sharpen your skills – it could be the difference between being left behind and leading the way in the interim olympics.

And finally…

Stay Curious. When I was young, I was interested in everything.  My biggest worry was that all the mysteries of the world would have been solved by the time I became a grown up. Obviously we still haven’t found the location of Atlantis, but we have found life on Mars,so maybe wanting to know isn’t such a bad strategy after all. The point is, ask questions, be interested in what’s going on around you. You might just learn more than you think you already know.

I’m curious!  What do you think the top skills are in today’s interim market?  Do you think it’s necessary to reinvent yourself every so often?  Answers on the blog, please!

A-Z of Interim: R is for…Reputation

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‘You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well’. – Jeff Bezos

The founder of the world’s largest online retailer is on to something here. Being an interim requires all sorts of superhero skills. Doing difficult things goes with the day-job.  Nevertheless, one of the hardest things when starting out is building – and maintaining – a good professional reputation.

When you take the step from corporate life to independent contractor, you become less able to trade on where you worked before. On planet interim, it’s results that matter, not job titles! And, once you are up and running with that first assignment, it’s what you do, and what others say about what you do that builds your reputation and secures the subsequent engagement.

How can you create a professional reputation you would be happy to invite round to meet your nana, if it was a person?  Here’s my take on some practical steps:

Network. Never underestimate the power of a good conversation. It’s an old adage but still true: Business is based on relationships. So make sure you spend sufficient time cultivating contacts and building a real connection with prospective clients and peers.  Clearly, this is not about love-bombing every Linked-In contact you think you might know. It’s real life, not Tinder!  Network selectively. Consider where you can genuinely connect with like minded people, and remember it’s a two way process.  There is a give and a get, so be genuinely interested in the person you are talking to, even if they aren’t a headhunter.

Speakers’ corner? Do you have a ‘lessons learned’ case-study? Are you an expert in a particular field? Do you have a point of view that will spark debate? One of the best ways to showcase your talents (and your winning personality) is to be a speaker at Industry events. A word of warning, though. The ability to tell your story, and do so in an engaging way is likely to make you stick in the mind of your audience. A self-aggrandising sales pitch for ‘you, you, you’ isn’t the same thing.

Write it down.  If standing up in front of a bunch of strangers makes you want to emigrate to Antartica, how about writing, instead?  Social media has made it really simple to get your message out there. Creating a blog is fairly straightforward using packages such as WordPress and Blogger.  So why not use social media to show the world what you are capable of, professionally speaking.  And if your writing skills are not worthy of a Pulitzer, you can of course comment on other blogs, or join on-line discussion forums.

Keep your promises. Do what you say you will do. This is particularly challenging on assignments where the written job description/brief is pure fantasy. It happens more than you think, so if you get to Kansas and the red shoes aren’t working, then be professional, be pragmatic and make sure you – and your client – are clear on the expectation for delivery.  That way everyone goes home happy.

Start where you are. Every interim has a unique skill set. Whether you are a financial turnaround wizard or a change maven, you have something to offer your clients.  When you start out, it can be daunting. Especially when faced with other interims who are more experienced. Firstly, don’t compare yourself- it’s a waste of energy. Second, everyone had to start somewhere.  Find a way to describe what you do – this will become your sales pitch. Do it well – this will become the cornerstone of your reputation. Do it consistently – this is what builds interim tenure and helps to maintain your personal brand.

What do you think? Does reputation matter?  What advice would you give an interim starting out? Answers and comments on the blog, please. 

A-Z of Interim: Q is for…Questions?

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I’ve been a career interim for just over 10 years now (Time, where have you gone!), so I’m often approached for advice on starting out.  You will find lots of helpful, practical information at The Interim Hub and Institute of Interim Managers, but here’s my take on the things you need to know as a newbie. Ask yourself:

Q. Can I afford to do this?  I launched my interim career at the time of the global Banking Crisis. Hell, Yeah! I like the North Face, but I wouldn’t recommend this as a start-up strategy…

It can take a bit of time to find that first assignment (See my earlier post J is for Jobhunt) so I’d recommend you build up 3-6 months savings to tide you over when you first step into this field. Worrying about the mortgage is not conducive to ace-ing that interview. Building reserves to insulate you from the vagaries of the job market isn’t just sensible, it’s essential.

Q. Am I prepared to be flexible?  By my own reckoning I’ve notched up at least 600,000 miles (965,606 kilometres) commuting to and from client assignments in the last decade. Never mind the air miles, that’s enough to take you around the globe approximately 25 times! 

Are you prepared to spend weeknights in a crappy hotel away from your friends and family?  Are you prepared to get up at 5 a.m. on a Monday and spend 3 hours on the motorway getting to your client?  What about those global conference calls that start at 21h00 on a Sunday night? Very often the most interesting assignments are not local – you will have to travel, and far. Make sure this way of life jives with your personal commitments.

Q. Will I be able to start again?  I hate to break it to you sweeties, but when you become an interim, you are your own brand. This is not necessarily a bad thing! Yes, it’s super that you have worked at blue-chip branded companies, but when you step into the world of interim, you are not your big-cheese job title + swanky organisation. That stuff becomes irrelevant after two or three assignments.

You are you as an individual, which carries less kudos than you might think. You will – continuously – need to work on building and maintaining your interim brand. And yes, at minimum that means professional looking business cards, a current Linked-In profile, not to mention a polished, coherent CV.

Q. Tell me what you want, what you really, really want? So sang the Spice Girls, but this refrain is relevant because you will get this question in interview. There are many upsides to being an interim, but one thing is for sure – you don’t dabble!  Building a credible reputation takes time and more than one successful assignment, so you need to be truly convinced this is the life for you.

Be clear about what you are offering prospective clients – whether that is a skill-set or a particular industry expertise.  Providers can spot a generic CV at forty paces, so keep your offer focused. Also, be clear on what you will say yes to – in respect of day rate, type of assignment or location.

Never a dull moment!  And finally…If you do take the step to becoming an interim, I can promise you a life of excitement and derring-do. Well, actually no!  That last bit wasn’t true.  Making it exciting is up to you. Good luck.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever had as an interim?  I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comments on the blog, please. 

A-Z of Interim: P is for…Personal Development

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September 2016. A leadership workshop. I was having severe second thought syndrome. What seemed like a really great idea when I was taking a break between assignments, wasn’t such hot stuff now that I had a demanding client and a burgeoning task-list. Can I actually afford to use a billable day for myself?  Why am I sitting here when there are multiple, more important work issues needing my time? I actually paid for this? 

Sound familiar?  I’ve often remarked that work as an interim means fast-paced days with relatively little opportunity for reflection. Personal development? Well, surely that’s for people with time on their hands. Erm, actually…no.

As an interim, you choose a path that means you are your own currency. So stay current! People buy you on the basis of your experience, but they also hire you on the value you can bring to the assignment. Trotting out tired ways of working and outmoded thinking no longer cuts it in today’s working world.  That sort of old-school behaviour went the same way as the old-boy network! The harsh reality is that you will need to stay on top of developments in your industry, role or specialism if you want to thrive commercially. You will, as the Buddhists say ‘be called on to expand’. So why not invest in yourself to extend your professional reach?

Here are the top 3 reasons why personal development isn’t optional:

  • Deepening your knowledge, honing your skills and building additional expertise makes you marketable in a way that breathes success, not stasis.  Standing still is going backwards!
  • Broadening your interests to related fields can bring an entirely new network into your orbit, and the opportunity to meet new clients. Widening your network pays dividends if you maximise time building new connections and maintaining existing ones. 
  • And finally…using your time wisely between assignments can give you an edge in interview – and also helps to prevent desperation from setting in, should you find yourself adrift in sluggish interim seas…

What do you think?  Is personal development an optional extra, or a wise investment of time? Answers on the blog, please.

 

 

A-Z of Interim: O is for…Opportunity

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It was all supposed to be going so swimmingly…

2016 brought a new assignment, a wedding (my own) and a cross-channel commute home. It also brought additional stress and a severe case of shingles as my immune system finally called time on the frenetic interim lifestyle.

I said ‘sayonara’ to the assignment.  November was spent lying in a darkened room channelling a look that was somewhere between The Terminator and a deranged raccoon on account of the red eyes and anti-itch powder. Not exactly client-facing!  

Fellow workaholics will realise that enforced bed rest is not my thing. Neither is being ill. But this was an entirely different matter. There was no option but to endure, and no way to see an upside. Upside-down more likely!  And yet…there is always an opportunity to learn from the circumstances you find yourself in.

Henry Ford said it best. ‘Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently’. As the meds kicked in and my convalescence wore on, I had ample opportunity to think.  Which is why I am spending the first quarter of 2017 acclimatising to a new culture (Belgium), learning a new language (Dutch) and looking to base my business (and my assignments) closer to home.

As interims, one of our superpowers has to be that we can craft opportunity out of a piece of string and some sticky tape. That’s called change management.  Being flexible and open to changing circumstances means we can course correct when we need to. That’s called being entrepreneurial. And finally…knowing when to pause and when to act. Well, that’s commonly known as having Plan B. 

How do you define opportunity?  How do you deal with failure?  Answers and comments via the blog, please…

I am not a robot…Can AI replace the interim?

 

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Earlier this year, I had the good fortune to attend TEDx in Brussels.  The theme was The Deeper Future – drawing quality ideas and talented speakers from around the globe.  Topics ranged from food computers to outsourced love (you can now marry yourself in Japan), from craft beer (well, it was Belgium after all!) to a bank for the common good.

On the journey home, I reflected on the pace of change in the world that surrounds us.  Driverless cars, which once seemed the stuff of science fiction are a reality. Remote sensing devices replace traffic cones on the smart highways springing up between here and there. Nanotechnology is winning Nobel prizes.  And Russian billionaires are spending a fortune on trying to cheat death by uploading their brains to a computer.  Which got me thinking.  If Artificial Intelligence will replace the jobs of postmen and cashiers, what is the future for interims?  Will we go the way of the video store or the cassette tape?

There was a time when 2020 seemed to belong to another future, but in 2016 the future is here. In a recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report, it’s estimated that by 2020, at least 7.1million jobs will be lost, most of those is administrative or white-collar functions – something they describe as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’.  Furthermore they estimate that 65% of school children today will end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist.

Revolutionary or not, something disruptive in happening in the labour market, and it means a seismic shift in the way we view work – and working life.  In 2020, the jobs which are most sought after will require advanced Mathematics and Analytical skills. Enhanced sales skills will be in demand in order to sell the new technocracy…And yes, an ability to manage and implement change will be vital.  Furthermore, HR and organisational fluency will be a must to help people adjust to this new reality. Plus ça change…In the 80’s pushy parents were enrolling their 5 year olds for Mandarin classes and baby yoga, today it’s probably robotics and mindfulness!!

So where does that leave the career interim. Tempting though it is to develop a cloning app so I can be three places at once, I think the future is brighter than it might first appear…here’s my hypothesis:

 

  • The interim market will continue to grow as traditional organisational structures begin to give way to leaner, less top heavy corporations. So, being able to get in, and get things done will be the way to go.
  • Specialist skills and experience will be in demand – particularly in transformation, and technology. It won’t be enough to know your domain, you will need to learn more about what you don’t know and can’t yet conceive.
  • Softer skills – leadership, knowledge transfer, facilitiation will increasingly be in demand to help the old guard navigate the new order. Are you sure you can negotiate with a robot?
  • Interims will have to be in a learning mindset to add value to clients and assignments. Old ways of thinking do not lead to new solutions. Old dogs will of necessity need to learn new tricks. Interims will have to be agile of thought to stay current.

What do you think?  Will there be a role, or should we all be planning to retire?  Comments on the blog, please.  Clones and bots, not allowed!