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.

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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

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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

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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: 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. 

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!

 

 

 

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!

D is for…Data and other disasters

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Picture the scene…

Hardworking interim slogs over strategically significant report for very important client (aka ‘Mr. Big from Cleethorpes’).  Suddenly, there’s a strange noise from the laptop. Pfft!  Whirr! Zut!  You know this is bad because the screen has gone blue and the reboot isn’t working.  You know this is bad because ‘Mr. Big’ wants his report by 9 am tomorrow, and you can feel your stomach churning as you begin to realise all your data has gone puff along with your PC…Sound familiar?

This very nearly happened to me.  I’ve used a bit of artistic licence, but if you know what happens when technology goes bad, you will know it’s both costly and debilitating to lose every single byte of data from your laptop or mobile.   In my case it took two weeks and serious money to recover the documents from my hard-drive, replace the laptop and purchase new software.  

The working life of an interim is one of self-sufficient intensity punctuated by moments of down-time.  Put some of that down-time to use and create support and disaster recovery systems that will help you run your business even if something terrible happens.  And if you don’t have down-time, hire a virtual assistant (VA) to do it for you.   Large organisations take this stuff very seriously, and so should you.

Some things to consider…

Safe as houses! How secure is your data?  Are your documents regularly backed-up onto a secure, external hard-drive or saved to the Cloud?  How quickly could you recreate your annual accounts, invoices and client documents if your laptop malfunctioned or was stolen?  What would it cost to replace your office equipment? Never mind iTunes, have you backed up the contact list on your smart-phone?  There are several low-cost applications on the market that allow you to do all of these things.  Peace of mind is priceless!

I.C.E., I.C.E., Baby. Nowadays most people have an I.C.E. (In Case of Emergency) number plugged into their mobile phones.   If you operate as an interim, you are more than likely working solo, so it’s advisable to have key contacts like your accountant, clients or next of kin listed in an accessible place.  If you got hit by a bus on your way to that assignment, how would your clients know where you were at on the project?  Do you keep detailed notes?  Is your filling system easy to understand?

Life happens.  Events such as debt, disease and divorce also qualify as disasters. At least two of them will seriously impact your earning power as an interim.  Are you managing your cash flow so you have enough saved to cover a longer stretch of unemployment?  Does your health insurance provide an income if you are unable to meet your client commitments due to illness?   Do you have a strong network of friends who will support you in times of emotional stress or personal difficulty?  Do you have a hobby that can provide an outlet when times get tough? 

Don’t forget your business support team either: IT specialists, financial advisors, accountants and virtual assistants can all help to smooth out those minor irritations that become major headaches if they aren’t handled properly.  Just because you work for yourself, doesn’t mean you have to do it yourself!

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. She backs up her data religiously!