A-Z of Interim: Q is for…Questions?

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Image: © Thinglass | Dreamstime.com

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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Image: © John Black | Dreamstime.com

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!

I is for…Interim

© Vlue | Dreamstime.com - Rubiks Cube On Open Book PhotoIf you’ve been checking out my twitter feed, you will know that I recently had the extraordinary pleasure of being awarded ‘UK Interim of the Year 2014’.  Apart from abject surprise (I was in a shortlist of 20 accomplished nominees), followed by very real excitement (I won, I won!) it’s now back to reality. Still, I’ve spent the last few days thinking hard about what makes an interim.

I’ve been doing this now for almost 7 years, and while I’m always honoured if clients ask me to go permanent, interim is a deliberate choice. It gives me flexibility, the opportunity to work with multiple organisations and – assignments allowing – a fairly decent income bar the odd tax bill!  However, it’s not for everyone, so if you are considering this as a career path, here’s my advice:

1. Look before you leap!

It can be tempting to think of interim as a ‘stop gap’ when facing redundancy, or a change of scene if you are bored with your current employment. Resist the urge! Interim Management is a well developed discipline and it’s not for dilettantes. It can be very rewarding, but it can also be demanding, demoralising and difficult. Career interims are used to having gaps between assignment, and while such breaks may be necessary – see my post ‘H is for Holiday’  –  you need to be prepared to work hard to secure that elusive first assignment. And the second… and the one after that. You get the picture!  You also need a sufficient financial cushion to allow for bench time, especially if you are trying to establish yourself.

2. Be in the know!

It’s worth talking to interim providers, and those in the know. Here in the UK,  providers such as Alium Partners  and industry bodies like the Institute of Interim Management (IMA) offer courses on how to market yourself and what to consider when becoming an interim. Remember, when you become self employed, you will need an accountant to help you navigate the IR35 legislation, you will most certainly need professional indemnity insurance, and you definitely need marketing or web expertise.  Unless you are a super human with high capability in all these areas, you will have to invest in outside help. Getting your teenager to help you with twitter doesn’t count!

3. Expect the unexpected!

As an interim, the only constant is change.  Be prepared for client briefs to be vague.  For golden opportunities to be less than shiny close-up. For the assignment of your dreams to vanish because the sponsor leaves the organisation or they get bought by someone else who doesn’t see the need for interim. You will be expected to be problem solver, multi-tasker, and therapist on the Monday you start.  Tuesday you will be expected to make and take the decisions that no one else wants to… Hours can be long and clients can be fractious. You will have to meet organisational resistance with persistence, stakeholder cynicism with compassion. And you will always need to know when to exit the building.  I know, it’s sounding like the North Face already!

However, like many interims out there, for me the positive aspects almost always outweigh the negative. Being an interim means you can be an objective guide, helping management navigate knotty organisational problems. You bring experience of multiple organisations and specialist skills to companies who genuinely need your help.  And you get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve made a real difference.

 

 

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!

C is for…Client

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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:

Choose wisely…

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!