Posted Jun 03 ,2020
I suppose the question I get asked the most is – “Why did you become an interim?”. The answer to that question is probably different for virtually every Interim Manager out there. For me, I wanted to take more control of my career and to try and redress the lack of work-life balance I had in my life at that time.
Like most Interims, I had spent the vast majority of my early career in permanent operational roles, working my way up through organisations to Senior Management positions in different organisations, and it was this journey that very much laid the groundwork for my eventually career as an Interim. During my career I have always had a thirst for knowledge, a need to know as much about the job as possible, to be the “best in the room” when it came to my specific area of knowledge and expertise, and I believe that it was this mindset that I was able to carry into my eventual move into interim / contract work.
My personal story of becoming an interim is based around two friends of mine who had very different work and career mindsets, and this played an important part in my movement into interim management.
One friend couldn’t understand why I would give up the relative security of a permanent role when I had a wife and six children to provide for. This thought process was based upon the misguided principle that permanent roles offer long term security, and I already knew this wasn’t the case, having been made redundant twice during my career. This friend wasn’t happy in his career and was always complaining about his bosses and the company he worked for.
My other friend couldn’t understand why I wanted to stay working in a permanent role and stay with the same company for a long period of time. He told me that his entire outlook on his career had improved significantly since he became an interim and de-bunked the idea that being an interim doesn’t provide you with long term financial security. He was doing really well, working for companies I’d always dreamed of working with and was extremely positive about his long-term career outlook. This friend said something I have never forgotten, and it was the single most important thing anyone has ever said to me career wise.
“What are you afraid of? – if you jump, the safety net will appear”. That is exactly what I did. I jumped. I left a perfectly good job, with a large global organisation to move into the world of being a contractor, and it’s the best career decision I have ever made.
For the first time in my entire career I felt like I had control over that career, and I felt that I had more control over the life I wanted to lead, about the professional I wanted to become and about the husband and father I wanted to be. That might sound quite profound for some, but that was my experience.
Firstly, you are engaging with someone who understands the short-term impact they need to bring to their client. They understand that this is a short-term gig, with specific objectives and deliverables. You are getting someone that thinks differently and is very single minded about delivering on their objectives. They are someone that expects to be judged on their performance daily and responds to the pressure of that expectation with an improved level of performance.
Interims understand that they are filling a gap until a permanent member of staff can be found to fill that position, or that they are there to do a specific piece of work to achieve a specific outcome for the client. They understand that they are responsible for creating a department that is efficient, effective and well run in readiness for when the permanent candidate takes over. They are there to turnaround performance significantly, delivering step-change improvement rather than incremental improvement.
Interims must be engaging and excellent at stakeholder management, but they also must understand that they are there to “tell it like it is”. The client has engaged you because they want to know what is really going on and what can be done to improve performance. They expect you to leave the position or department in a significantly better position than you found it in.
It is this element of being an interim that I find the most compelling. I love the freedom to be able to be open about the current state because I am not trying to play the politics game and protect a long-term career position within the company I am working for. Demonstrating what is currently going on, and the reality of what is actually happening can be sobering for clients at time, but that is what they pay you for. This is the starting point to engaging with staff and being able to deliver true performance improvement.
Interim management has not only allowed me to work with some of the biggest organisations in the world, it has allowed me to develop my knowledge and skills to a level I didn’t think possible when I first became an interim 13 years ago. I have learned as much from the clients I have worked for than they have learned from me. I am continuously learning about the skills I have and the skills I don’t have that I need to improve.
I have achieved some great results for those clients, but in the whole of the 13 years I’ve been an interim, I’ve had an amazing time and enjoyed my work on a level I never achieved during my permanent career. I’ve been challenged to solve problems and develop solutions and I’ve enjoyed the pressure of being the person in the hot seat, that everyone is looking to for solutions to their problems.
I haven’t been the expert on everything within the organisations I’ve worked for. The expertise I’ve been able to bring as an interim has been around identifying problems and working with the staff within those clients to achieve the objective. As an interim you are not expected to know everything about everything, but you are expected to make the most of the resources you have at your disposal to deliver on your objectives, and that includes the people you are working with.
An interim should leave a client in a significantly better position than when they started, but they should also leave behind a legacy of knowledge, a way of working that continues to deliver improved performance, an engaged workforce that will continue your good work when you are gone, and people who understand that constantly challenging the way things are done should just be “Business As Usual”.