A-Z of Interim: Z is for …Zzz!

dreamstime_s_480247

ID 480247 © Kts | Dreamstime.com

It’s the end of the year and here I am, at the end-point of my blog series A-Z of Interim. If you’ve managed to stay awake through all my previous posts, good for you!

If not, pull up a comfortable pillow and … zzz.

This post is about sleep. Not getting enough can seriously impact your performance and yet many of us stumble through busy working lives without sufficient nightly rest.

If workplace wellbeing is the new black, then sleep is the new self-care.  Much as I would like to follow Arnold Schwarzenegger’s advice to ‘sleep faster’, I am definitely one of those people who need at least eight hours of shut-eye. In fact, one of the reasons I love travelling for work is that – after a long day with clients – I get to go back to my hotel and curl up early.  Not exactly glamorous, I know!  But essential. 

Why should this matter to an interim?

Well, research demonstrates that not getting the requisite number of hours per night lowers your immunity to infection, affects your mood and impacts your concentration. Sleep deprivation raises your blood pressure and blood sugar levels, causes inflammation in your body and increases the chance of an early death.  Not really conducive to being a badass interim, is it?

Still not convinced? Sleep also promotes the formation of neural pathways which help us to process new information.  Sleeping less than five hours per night compromises decision making processes and creativity.  Not to mention, making you short-tempered and prone to mood swings.  A recipe for over-whelm and under-par client-side.

Personally, I like to be firing on all cylinders when on assignment.  So, I try to prioritise sleep with the same diligence I handle client commitments. I have a sleep tracker at home.  I take melatonin to avoid jet lag when travelling across time zones.  I ensure that when working away my digs are within brisk walking distance of my client – fresh air helps clear the mind, and also promotes sleep.  Of course, I don’t always succeed, but my rule is to aim for about 70-80% compliance. It evens out over time.

Now, where did I put my pillow…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Image: ID 132079350 © Mohamad Faizal Ramli | Dreamstime.com

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: W is for … Well-being

dreamstime_m_104737202

ID 104737202 © Adonis1969 | Dreamstime.com

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: S is for…Skills!

dreamstime_xs_38990260

Image © Yarruta | Dreamstime.com

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: P is for…Personal Development

dreamstime_s_13689876

Image: © Alain Lacroix | Dreamstime.com

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

opportunityblog

Image: Ronstik | Dreamstime.com

 

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…

N is for…New Year’s Resolutions

dreamstime_s_62296102

© Mikhail Mishchenko | Dreamstime.com

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.