For the vast majority of us, when we entered the workplace, finding a permanent role was the goal. We were sold the promise of a fair salary, job security, career progression and professional recognition. If we worked hard, the expectation was that we would be rewarded financially and the quality of assignments we worked on would improve.
Unfortunately, many of us have found this not always to be our experience. Job security isn’t something we can take for granted and, many of us have found ourselves bogged down with office politics and needing to invest more and more time in “playing the game” instead of focusing on delivering meaningful work.
I believe these are some of the reasons we are seeing more people considering entering freelance work and, at a senior level, becoming interim managers. Yes, interim managers can command high day rates which, of course, makes it an attractive proposition, but there is also the appeal of being brought into an organisation with a clear brief to deliver a project. You go in to get things done.
But, it’s fair to say that it’s not a career for everyone. For some, working on short-term contracts can feel too risky and smacks of instability; for others, it provides much needed flexibility and increased intellectual stimulation. So, I’ve pulled together a list of five key questions that I encourage people to ask themselves before becoming an interim manager:
1. Are you itching to ditch the office politics and focus on delivery?
More often than not, interim managers are brought into organisations to deliver a specific project or deal with a particular business scenario. You have a timeline and clear objectives which gives much needed focus and little time to get involved in the minutiae of office politics.
For some, working in such an environment can be alienating. The very nature of being on a short-term contract means that you’re not as embedded in the organisation. But for others, it means more time to focus on the purity of the work and an inbuilt way to address issues from a position of neutrality.
2. Are you a good communicator?
In essence, you’ll be an outsider coming in and telling permanent staff how to do things and/or what changes need to be made. As you can imagine, it’s a situation which needs to be handled with a certain finesse. Communication skills really are key. And those skills will need to be adapted to fit the culture you’re working in.
You’ll need to have the ability to offer instruction in a way that enthuses and encourages people to get on board, have excellent management skills that enable you to engage your team quickly, and be able to influence - as you’re going to need to shape processes, and get others on board, quickly.
3. Do you thrive on variety?
People suited to interim management can find permanent roles stifling because even at senior level there is a lack of change. The beauty of interim management is that your role, and the specific challenges, change regularly. Most interim contracts run for between three and 18 months, providing you with plenty of opportunity to explore new organisations, meet new people and tackle new and exciting problems in a way you just don’t get if you stay in the same job for a long time.
Some people thrive on such change while others see it as far too risky. Indeed, lack of income security can put some people off the interim route. However, with public sector organisations increasingly relying on the expertise of interim managers, in many cases there is more demand than supply and the risks commonly associated with contracting (and being out of work for long periods) are reduced.
4. Do you want more autonomy?
To a greater extent you’re your own boss as an interim manager. You can pick and choose the projects you get involved in as well as decide whether to move straight from one project to another or to take a break – particularly useful if you have other family or lifestyle commitments you want to concentrate on.
However, whilst you do have the luxury of picking and choosing, this does means that you’ll need to be adept at marketing and selling yourself - as well as networking. Without making use of those skills work might be quite scarce.
5. Are you an expert in your field - and are your skills are in demand?
Organisations don’t always have permanent staff members with the right skill-set to tackle specialised projects. For example, we place a lot of interims who specialise in social care in local government. Another emerging area is the demand for regeneration and development skills and infrastructure delivery experience as the government prioritises house building and economic growth. When such important parts of the public sector are in crisis or when new priorities arise, bringing in an individual who has experience of tackling similar problems, significantly reduces the risks and increases the chance of success. When the implications are great, you need an expert.
As a result, you’ll need to ensure that you are a specialist in your field - and that the skills you do have are in demand.
If you’d like to find out more about becoming an interim, please give me a call on 020 3371 1780 or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Institute for Interim Management (IIM) has also produced a good and comprehensive guide to becoming an interim manager, giving advice on how to set up as an interim, routes to market and the personality types that thrive in this type of work: iim.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Guide-to-becoming-an-interim-manager-2014-04.pdf.