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Five Things High Performing Interims Do Differently

by Dino Christodoulou


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Five Things High Performing Interims Do Differently

There are many things to consider when becoming, and operating as, an interim professional. However, being considered a high-performing interim that consistently achieves outcomes, creates trust, builds relationships, offers fresh ideas and challenges themselves is what will make you stand out from an ever-growing market.

So, I thought I’d share my best tips on how to demonstrate the impact you can have when seeking a new interim assignment.

1. Prepare an impactful cv and compliance pack

Your CV is one of the most important things to consider as a prospective client will make a decision on whether to meet with you based on it. It could be 'make or break', so getting it right is vital. It is your shop window, and a chance for prospective clients to quickly understand your value proposition to them and their particular issues.

A CV is a great opportunity for you to provide a summary of your background, experience, and achievements – ultimately, this is your chance to sell yourself as an interim that has the skillset and experience to ease the pain of a prospective client. Bear in mind that a CV submission for a permanent role versus an interim role is different. For interim managers, you should focus on impact and outcomes, using impactful language that focuses on measurable and tangible information. When writing about a previous assignment, be clear about what you were brought in to do, how you did it, and what the outcomes were.

Also, the layout should be an ‘easy read’ – Profile, Key Skills, Key Achievements, Employment, and lastly, Education & Qualifications. By using this format, it’ll allow you to tailor the first page of your CV on a case-by-case basis. My advice would be to highlight specific experiences for the position you are applying for. A more generic CV could weaken your proposition against those who have focussed theirs. Your recruitment partner should ask you for this in order to give you the best chance to stand out!

Compliance packs! Speak to your consultant about the required information and documents for both inside and outside IR35 roles when you first engage with them. This will include information such as personal details, referees, and limited company/ umbrella company information. By having all this to hand will allow you to move at pace (which is a key factor in the interim market) once an offer has been made. And don’t be surprised if your recruitment partner wants to take references before submitting you for a role. Our clients expect us to have vetted candidates before submission, and it enables us to advocate for you much stronger if previous employers have sung your praises.

2. Be flexible and clear about what you can and cannot do

Interim professionals should be a breath of fresh air for clients. This means being open and honest about what you can offer, and where your strengths lie. They want you to provide professional advice and feedback from your own experiences about what can realistically be achieved, and for you to work with your client to help solve their specific issue. Even if this means you suggest an alternative course of action that doesn’t result in you securing the piece of work.

If hired by the end client, the chances are you’ll be parachuted into an organisation to solve a problem for them. So, landing quickly and being able to get to grips with things is vital, especially when there are capacity or capability issues within a given team or organisation. On other occasions, you could be providing BAU cover to an existing post in the structure or focussing on significant change, transformation and improvement work in a project/ programme-type capacity. What we all know is that BAU is never a ‘steady state’ and that all interim managers will need to be adept at operating in VUCA environments.

3. Differentiate between providing a service and being an employee

Typically, when starting a new permanent role, you will be asked questions such as ‘what will your first 100 days look like?’, however, this time period is drastically reduced in an interim role, as quick wins and results are the key drivers. You may also be familiar with conversations around cultural fit when applying for permanent roles, however, as an interim, the conversation will be around ‘cultural add’ and how you will work with the existing teams to deliver against the task outlined. This may require different styles of leadership depending on the team, the resource levels and the expected outcomes. As such, leadership judgement is critical and at times it may require you to make unpopular decisions if they are to the benefit of the organisation over the short, medium and long term.

Overall, you will benefit from being focused on agreed targets and objectives. Clients have hired you to get them from A to B, and you must be the one to do this with a clear vision and effective decision making. Clients value your independent and professional advice, so make sure you offer solutions and provide an effective service to ensure they achieve their outcomes.

4. Agree realistic targets and objectives

Tying in with points two and three, you are being brought in to solve a problem and hired based on your experience in the required area. Sometimes you are there to add capacity, but often it is to add capability. Therefore, know what can and cannot be achieved and refrain from overcommitting yourself. Set clear, and realistic objectives with the client and focus your attention on delivering against them. You must take accountability for the outcomes, be committed to positive change and care about the long term impact on the organisation.  

At times, you may need to challenge and push back on the client’s expectations. They may want to extend the brief, they may change the brief, and you need to be clear with the client about how this might impact the initial outcomes they asked you to deliver. Whether that is dilution of your time against the initial priorities, a change that means you can add less value to them, or a course of direction that you do not professionally agree with. Providing honest advice and feedback to the client is expected, if it is done in a professional and appropriate manner then it will be well received and ensures you can provide the best value and outcomes for your client.

5. Ensure a good reputation

Ultimately, a good reputation comes down to two things, firstly, do you achieve what you set out to achieve? and secondly, are you a pleasure to work with whilst doing this? If you can answer yes to both, you are doing the right thing.

You should also factor in that your decisions should be made with the client in mind, rather than your own ego and reputation. So the focus will be on long term sustainable solutions that meet the brief, leaving the organisation in a better place than when you arrived.

Don’t just take my word for it though. I spoke with two highly experienced interims who gave their views on what makes an interim stand out.

Jan Rowley, Place Maker, Place Shaper and experienced Regeneration Director:

When searching and/ or taking on a new assignment, I ensure to select the right role and organisational culture which reflects my skill set and knowledge. My advice is to be clear about the brief and make sure that the client shares the same vision of what success looks like, and spend time with people and listen to the people you’re working with, supporting them in understanding what you have been brought in to achieve and explore with them what the challenges are.

It is important to demonstrate positivity and to champion the organisation you are working with. Reflect on the value you bring and know when to move on. Commit to the agencies which provides the most support and recognises your skills and knowledge.

Vivien Knibbs, experienced Housing Director:

‘Be honest with yourself about your skills and strengths when choosing roles - this will give you the best chance of success both in getting it and in delivering it.

Ensure you have clear objectives, what are you there to do/deliver and how will success be measured. Often this isn’t provided so write your own and get them signed off early in the placement, accepting that they may change but it provides clear purpose and structure to your work. Linked to this, don’t forget to regularly feedback based on progress, success, and outcomes. You may not be asked for this but ensure you take the initiative, ask for feedback from them too - this will help you to pick up any issues early.

As an interim, you must hit the ground running on day one but never take what you are told at face value, don’t make assumptions, drill down and ask for evidence. There will often be more gaps and issues than you first think!

You can often arrive at a slightly chaotic situation with lots of things going on. Get up to speed on the key corporate documents and plans and use these as your framework for prioritising. Focus on what can be done in terms of quick wins and initial priorities then plan for medium- and longer-term actions even though you may not be around to deliver them as this gives a direction of travel and context for what you are doing.

The people in the organisation are the resource who will make things happen. Be friendly and positive, seek to engage with people and don’t jump to instant conclusions. Generally, there are lots of good, hard-working staff and it's often the organisation and systems that have prevented them from delivering.’

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