N is for…New Year’s Resolutions

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If you are one of the estimated 2 million people who participated in Dry January, you are probably relieved that we are well into the New Year and that you can begin quaffing once more. If you are an interim still looking for an assignment, perhaps there is not so much good cheer as there is fear that a sluggish market means you never work again.

Personally, I find the New Year a really good time for professional reflection. My own ‘new’ year usually starts in December – as that is the time that I’m wrapping up projects, and setting financial goals and business resolutions for the 12 months ahead.  So far, so good…except that this time round, pressing personal commitments meant December and January were a write-off, and I was unable to kick-start my grand plans for 2016.

Which is why I find myself in February contemplating my working life and feeling somewhat as though I’m several steps behind. Of course, moaning about it, isn’t going to propel me forward any faster. So, below is a taster of the action I’m taking.  I hope this inspires those of you who might also be experiencing the February funk:

Goal Clarity. I’m using this time to be really clear on my goals for 2016. As a career interim, I’m pretty well established, but it’s still helpful to know where I want to go. I’ve set myself an earnings target (see my previous post M is for Money ), and some non-negotiables – i.e. location, type of role, working patterns, etc. This way, I can easily evaluate any opportunities which arise – saying  ‘yes’ to the ones that are a good fit, and saying’no’ with confidence, but without regret to those that don’t.

Networking. Also known as getting out and about!  I am a great believer that networking should be a compulsory subject in high school, but for those of us who only learnt this business skill later in life, here’s the word: never underestimate the power of a good conversation. If you have been in regular contact with your interim providers or former clients, then this shouldn’t be that hard a task.  But if you are stepping into an interim role for the first time, it can be a bit daunting. Please resist your introvert urges to hide under the duvet! Reach out to providers and people in your network, attend industry events. Talk, ask questions. Be open and approachable – assignments can be found if you tackle your search in the right way.

Brand coherence.  Think you are a person and not a brand?  Think again. Clients who buy interims purchase more than what’s on your CV.  You want that fabulous shiny new assignment?  Then walk your talk and be the person they want to hire. This month, I’m using my time to refresh my website, update my blog and make sure that my social media profiles (linked-in, twitter , about.me) not only reflect who I am professionally, but also why clients should engage my services.

Action is the antidote to despair. Focused activity might not help you find an assignment immediately, but consistency of momentum has a funny way of generating luck.

Have you made any professional resolutions this year?  How do you deal with downtime? Comments and answers on the blog, please.

M is for…Money

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Warning: Today’s blog might be slightly controversial.  After all, I’m talking about money, which is nearly always a loaded subject, but no more so, when it comes to negotiating fees for your next interim assignment.

Whether you are an experienced interim or just starting out, having ‘the talk’ about day rates, length of contract and expenses can either be a necessary evil or a very necessary negotiation. But make no mistake, it is a negotiation! Of course, it all begins with knowing what you are worth and what the client is prepared to pay.

Colleagues in permanent roles are often staggered by interim day rates – perceiving the interim to be an expensive organisational option.  I admit, this career path does have it’s financial perks, but here’s the thing….

As an interim, I’ve said sayonara to job security. On average, I can expect to work for 9 months of the year – long term contracts are not always a shoe-in!  I am frequently required to work away from home – at distances which mean a daily commute isn’t feasible, so several nights in a hotel are part of the gig. That’s time away from my family and friends not to mention home admin, laundry and the like.

If I take holiday or sick leave, it isn’t paid for by my employer.  Neither is down-time. Any career development is funded by me (assuming I have the opportunity in-between assignments).  Lets face it, leisure time is in short supply when you are actually working!

Most assignments have a break clause that favours the client, so as an interim I bear the risk and uncertainty of a project which could change scope or be canned mid-way through the assignment if sponsorship changes client-side.

For many clients professional indemnity insurance is a pre-condition of signing a contract, and then there are accountants’ fees and other general operating costs which go with interim territory. All expenses that need to be factored into the day rate you set.

So, how can you respond to clients or critics who question the ‘cost’ of interim, without necessarily understanding the value?  Here are my top tips:

Tip #1: Be really clear about your value proposition as an interim. If price is a reflection of value, make sure that what you offer to a prospective client (skill set, experience, specific expertise) delivers something they cannot find from within the organisation.  The key here is to demonstrate why they should hire you, and why you are the best at what you do.  It’s not enough to be average when you are asking for an above-average day rate.

Tip #2: Know the marketplace. Day rates in Investment Banks are not the same as those in Local Authorities, so be realistic about where you are pitching price-wise. It’s worth talking to interim providers to get a feel for what the going rate is, but if you are making a direct approach to a client, don’t be shy in asking them what their budget is. Actually, best to understand if they actually have a budget!  Within reason, never be tempted to simply lower your rate because the client/interim provider asks you to. All this means is that they can’t sell you at the rate you are charging, not that you aren’t worth it. Those who insist on ‘cheap’, will always be cheap (and probably don’t understand interim), so don’t short-change yourself. Exit gracefully.

Tip #3: Be prepared to negotiate.  I know, this seems like a complete contradiction to Tip #2 but consider this. If you are too rigid on price, it may be a long wait between assignments. Unless you are a leading industry expert, with clients beating down your door, every conversation you have about fees will be a negotiation. Personally, I have in mind a ‘rate range’ which flexes depending on the assignment.  There is no upper limit!  So, for example, shorter and riskier assignments carry a higher day rate than those which guarantee 12-18 months of work. You could, if appropriate also negotiate on expenses and working from home to compensate for a slightly lower day rate.

Money is simply paper and metal.  In the UK we are culturally programmed to avoid conversations about awkward subjects like money. I say it’s time to get over that. In the end, you will only get what you have the courage to ask for.

How do you deal with day rate conversations?  Do you have any negotiating tips for other interims? Answers on the blog, please. 

L is for…LinkedIn

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If you’ve been following this series, you will know that social media savvy is a key skill-set for the 21st century interim. Now more than ever, your network determines your net worth.

LinkedIn is one of the older social networks, but they’ve evolved to become the premier network for business professionals.  A recent study by US-based think-tank, Pew Research, found that LinkedIn is ‘the only major social media platform for which usage rates are higher among 30- to 49-year-olds than among 18- to 29-year-olds’. Clearly, using digital resources such LinkedIn isn’t just something reserved for graduates and second jobbers, it’s a must if you are serious about carving out a successful career as an interim.

So here are some top tips:

Tip #1: Your picture is worth a thousand words…

Or... in the case of LinkedIn, well worth the number opportunities it can generate. You are 11 times more likely to get a profile view if you include a photo. And, while you don’t necessarily need to go for the traditional head shot (mug shots are to be avoided) make sure that your photo is well composed and reasonably up-to-date. The point is that your should create a visually appealing image, which conveys the message you’d like to send to prospective clients and connections. It should say ‘hire me’, not ‘hide from me’.

Tip #2: Think of LinkedIn as a shop window…

British reserve won’t cut it here!  Those hiring want to know what you are good at, so use your LinkedIn profile to showcase those skills, activities and recommendations that you can’t fit on your CV. Need more convincing? Members who list their skills on LinkedIn receive an average of 13 times more profile views than those who don’t. Polish up your profile by building a comprehensive list of professional skills.  Tell your network about your achievements, projects and awards.  A well crafted profile makes people want to know more. So, show more…

Tip #3: Connect with care…

I will say this only once!  LinkedIn should not be confused with Twitter or Facebook.  It is not a popularity contest to see who has the most connections.  Randomly connecting to people you don’t know is a complete no-no, and hugely irritating for the connections you have targeted. Just as you would take your time to build connections in the real world, focus on connecting with people you trust for professional support.  Personally I don’t LinkIn to people I don’t know or haven’t worked with in some professional capacity. There are a few exceptions – other professionals in the same network as me or interim providers or business connections who make time to write a personal message.  However, I regularly refuse requests from transactional recruiters who are too lazy to find good candidates for themselves and simply want to mine my connections.  You actually think I’m going to say yes to a spurious, low-grade opportunity and open my address book to you? One word. Block!

Tip #4: Be seen and heard…

If you are serious about using LinkedIn as a tool to raise your professional profile then, like any other social media platform, you need to be active. Yes, even when you have landed that next dream gig! This could be as simple as keeping your contact details up to date, or making sure that your latest assignment is described in detail.  Where possible, get fresh recommendations as this allows interim providers and prospective clients to get a positive view of your strengths and capabilities.  And, feel free to share interesting articles or join a discussion in one of the many groups that exist.  LinkedIn helps to create a professional digital footprint, which builds your personal brand – vital if you are a self-employed interim.

How do you use LinkedIn?  Has it helped or hindered you in finding that next assignment?  Comments on the blog, please.

K is for…KLOUT

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Do you have Klout?   And no, I’m not referring to that meeting where you went 6 rounds with a particularly difficult CEO.  As regular readers of this blog will know, the 21st century Interim has a good grasp of all things social media. So, once you’ve mastered the basics of Twitter, Linked-In and Facebook, it’s time to get really serious about your online presence.

Founded in 2008, KLOUT is a website and mobile app that uses social media analytics to rank it’s users according to their online social influence. Eh? Social Media Analytics?  Yes people, that’s the technical term for the practice of gathering and analyzing the data from those clever algorithms which power search engines like Google. It’s most commonly used by brands to identify customer preference, in order to find out what they like, and then sell more stuff!

Klout uses analytics to measure the size of a user’s social media network.  A social ‘aggregator’, it works by correlating the content created and measuring how other users interact with that content. In other words, how influential you are online. Your ‘Klout Score’ is a number from 1 to 100. In case you think this isn’t really important, here are some other numbers:

  • Over 200,000 businesses use Klout across the globe
  • Each day Klout analyses around 12 billion social signals
  • There are over 620 million ‘scored’ users. That’s the population of China’s top 15 cities!

Klout is rapidly becoming the global standard by which both brands and individuals measure their social influence. So how does this relate to being an interim?  Well, every time you post on Linked-In, enter a search term in Google or tweet, you are creating social media content.  So far, so Google+…However, it’s not just your contribution to social media that matters – increasingly your influence – i.e. your Klout Score – is an important factor in your job search. Creating and sharing content is a means of marketing your brand as an interim.  But, by providing useful content you are effectively increasing your visibility and establishing thought leadership.  And engaging with your online network can put you front of the queue when opportunity comes knocking!

For example, my Klout scores indicate that I am in the top 1.0% of people talking about Consulting, the top 0.2% of people mentioning Management, and the top 1.2% of people whose topic du jour is Leadership.  As an interim specializing in Transformation, it’s important that I’m seen as an expert in the fields that matter.  The app also lets me see which of my tweets and blogs have garnered the most interactions, so I can keep track of the content that is genuinely connecting with people in my network.

Savvy companies are also actively using social media as a means to vet potential candidates. Yes, now really is the time to unfriend your former client on Facebook and restrict all professional connections to Linked-In!   Of course, an arbitrary number isn’t necessarily going to indicate whether you are worthier than another person with similar skills and background, but it can give you the edge.  In life and in business, we all want to know whether the people we interact with (and their digital persona) are credible and can be trusted.

As with all internet based tools, the decision whether to use Klout is entirely up to you. I find it useful, but I’d love to know what you think?  Comments on the blog, please.

Business Transformation: Why technology changes nothing…

Image: Dreamstime 2014As an undergraduate, I had an art lecturer who  was into Bauhaus – the artistic movement, not the band!  Founded by the architect Walter Gropius, the Staatliche Bauhaus was all about creating a ‘total’ work of art, in which all artistic disciplines would eventually be brought together.

It’s got me thinking about the technology end of business transformation. Very often, technology is sold as the ‘total’ work of art that will bring everything in the organisation together. Want people to collaborate? Invest in collaboration software!  Want your employees to be more productive? Give everyone mobile technology so they can work on the train! Want to change the company?  Change the technology!  You get the picture…

In case you think this is some sort of Luddite rant against all things IT, let me be clear. In and of itself…technology is neither good nor bad. It just is. A fact of modern business life. A tool. As the way in which companies interact with their customers shifts, the technological landscape must rapidly flex to accommodate new ways for commerce – helping organisations drive value, grow profits and respond to market demand at lightning speed. Which brings me to one of the fundamental challenges with technology. In and of itself...it changes nothing. And yet…it can change everything.

For Gropius and his cohort, Bauhaus represented a practical opportunity to extend beauty and quality to every home by means of well designed industrially produced objects. For change-savvy organisations, technology represents a practical opportunity to derive business benefit and streamline operations by means of well designed systems and software. So… what makes the difference between truly transfomational technology, and the stuff that just clogs corporate arteries?

The three ‘ologies’…

Psychology. In my experience, the secret is to start with the psychology. Yep.. you heard right. The abstract people bit! Lets face it, large scale business transformation is only achieveable by bringing people, process and technology together. Clever organisations do this by creating a shared ambition for change. They tell a compelling story and create a future that truly involves their employees. They consult widely, and then spend sufficient time buttoning down the scope and setting expectations. Everyone involved in making the change happen is clear about what is expected, and what they can expect.

Methodology. Bill Gates is famous for saying ‘The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.’ Clever organisations look closely at their existing processes to understand where inefficiencies lie. They conduct a detailed gap analysis to establish what is missing from their processes, what can be re-engineered, discarded or left as is. They do this more than once!

Technology. Creating a shared ambition for change, then using technology to facilitate and incentivise new processes or ways of working is a far better approach than using IT to beat people over the head in order to make them shift. Of course, some degree of change resistance happens in most organisations. Poor execution of technological change simple exarcerbates this. I’ve lost count of the number of pitched corporate battles I’ve witnessed when ‘those guys in IT’ get it wrong. Notice, it’s not the technology that is wrong, it’s the people implementing it. Well communicated change, underpinned by well conceived technology can change corporate fortunes. Or it can change nothing.

J is for…Jobhunt

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Being an interim has definitely got it’s perks, but there is one inevitable aspect of this lifestyle choice that must be addressed. Job hunting. Unlike those colleagues who reside in the world of permanent work, interims often find themselves in one of two modes: 1) Working like a whirling dervish to deliver on assignment…or …2) not working, but actively looking for the next assignment so you can deliver like a whirling dervish…

Realistically, you should expect to have anything between 3 and 5 months as down time between interim assignments. Of course, if you’ve been following this series you will know that building and maintaining good client relationships is vital if you are to maximise your income potential and avoid prolonged periods on the bench.

In spite of this, there may well be times when the transition from one project to another is protracted and serious searching becomes the requirement if you are to keep yourself in beer money.  Here are my top tips:

1. Job-hunting is a job!  You wouldn’t dream of showing up late to a client meeting wearing inappropriate clothing. Just because you’re back at home, there is no excuse to show up late to your laptop wearing pyjamas!  Schedule time to job-hunt.  Decide up-front how much you want to invest in the process, diarise it, and stick to it.  It’s far too easy to get distracted by the laundry or the gardening or Candy Crush..that way madness lies!

A sensible rule of thumb is to set aside 4 hours, 3 days per week.   This gives you a spare 2 days to schedule meetings or interviews, and sufficient time to make calls, adjust your CV and reach out to your network via email. Of course, if another pattern works for you, then do that!

2. Focus your efforts.  A week flies by, especially if you are waiting to find the next piece of work. As time goes on without a contract in the offing, you might increasingly feel pressure to find something, anything.  It’s tempting to want to pursue every opportunity you spot, but being discerning pays dividends. Ernest Hemingway urged us ‘never to mistake motion for action’ and he’s right – just because you are doing lots of things, doesn’t mean they are the right things.

Focused activity will yield results, but you must be very clear on what you are looking for, and what you will say yes to.  If Enterprise Architecture is your bag, for goodness sake stop applying for jobs as a sous chef! Same things goes for blanket bombing your CV to every interim provider in town.  You are a professional interim, not a mailshot. Target your search and build strong relationships with a small number of providers who operate in your field. And be realistic. A very small percentage of the job market for interims is advertised.  Using your personal and business network wisely can be a good way to be in the know when the right thing comes along.

3. Practice intense self care. Desperation isn’t a good look on anyone. Extended periods of unemployment can make you feel undervalued and underconfident, so it’s important that you build in ‘me-time’ when you are job searching. Repeated rejection is demoralising, and you need to be strong of mind and heart to persist – and ultimately – to secure the next piece of work.   A good support network helps, but using the additional time  to do something fun can lift your spirits, help you maintain equilibrium, and make you appear more rounded in interviews. Personally, I relish my down time – in my 7 years as an interim, I’ve been able to renovate a crumbling wreck, pursue my creative hobbies (printmaking and pottery) and begin training for a 10k race.  My running ability is totally remedial but at least it gets the blood flowing to my brain while I’m pounding the pavement!

Job hunting can be tough, but it needn’t be tiresome. How do you do it?  I’d love to know what your top tips are.  Answers on the blog please!

Lisa Bondesio is a career interim. She She delivers common sense and change consultancy to clients in times of transition. When she is not working she can be found on the coastal reaches swinging a sledgehammer!

Business Transformation: Are you the hammer or the nail?

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Perhaps the title for this post should be ‘Why organisations resist change’ but in today’s pacy business environment, change is the standard against which the business agility of companies is measured. In the words of the Borg, ‘resistance is futile’. Yet change doesn’t happen easily.

Despite reports of the upswing in the UK economy, the financial pages are littered with examples of organisations who failed because they couldn’t or wouldn’t change. In reality, business transformation occurs because a) there is a burning platform and the business must change to survive; b) external forces such as competitor activity, technology or customers require it; or c) the board genuinely want things to be different…(see reasons a and b above!)

Of course, business transformation is not something binary, nor is it transactional. People matter, and if your aim is successful corporate evolution, it’s important to have the right people making the right changes at the right time. Change is relatively easy if you are the one inflicting it. Not so much if you are on the receiving end. Which is probably why some organisations resist change so successfully, by the time the burning platform is in sight, it’s too late to call for rescue.

So how do successful organisations bring their employees along with them? Much as the CEO might want to embed change by dint of a strong personality, stakeholder engagement is key if you want the change to stick. But is it enough? Tempting though it might be to adopt a hammer approach, your people aren’t accessories in a hardware store!

Really transformational business change targets leadership, but also engages people across the organisation, while making sure that organisational structure and key enabling processes such as performance management align with the future vision for change. As well as making a rational case for change, stellar organisations also create the ’emotional’ case – to enable people to connect with, and buy into, the new reality they are facing. Their leaders become role models of the change – not simply paying lip service, but actually demonstrating the change they want to see – in everything they say and do. Most importantly, they stay focused and stay the course. Change is inevitable. Failure to change, doesn’t have to be.