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Interim Insights – Susan Myers

by Shannon Walsh


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Susan Myers is a Children’s Inspection/Improvement consultant, as an interim leader, she brings a wealth of experience and insight to the table. We sat down with Sue to delve into her experiences and glean insights in her dynamic role. Here’s what she had to share:

Why did I begin interim work? 
I had been working full-time in permanent roles for over 30 years. There was something comforting about the stability and consistency this brought. I certainly enjoyed being part of something that gave me a sense of belonging. I quite literally wore the brand and felt very proud to do so. I was ambitious to progress my career and also had a young family to care for, so being close to home and having set working patterns were important too. 

Ten years ago, I moved on from my post as a senior manager in a local authority to work for Ofsted as an HMI inspector. This role, in addition to the wealth of experience and understanding I gained about practices, offered me the opportunity to travel across the country, work with different teams, and meet new people. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and learned so much about what works, how practice impacts outcomes, different leadership styles, and gained a deeper understanding of how teams operate. Six years and 42 inspections later, I left Ofsted to return to practice as an AD in a local authority. For the next two years, I worked almost every day, long hours, and some weekends. I loved the job, but it left very little time for anything else, and I knew I needed to find some balance. I left full-time employment in January 2020 and have been working in interim roles ever since. 

What do I most enjoy? 
I really enjoy meeting new people, being able to work with different local authorities and teams, discovering how they do things, and sharing ideas from other places. It's rewarding to problem-solve together and see if any of the ideas and thoughts I bring might work in their context! Sometimes I arrive at a service where staff are experiencing difficult times, coping with a lot of change, or facing tricky situations. 

I enjoy being able to help steady the ship and rebuild the confidence of staff teams. I like to share my experience and knowledge with others, plus my library of tools, resources, and materials that I have gathered along the way. I enjoy the teaching and coaching part of my role, particularly with new or aspiring managers. I enjoy the shorter-term work as it enables a real focus on getting the job done, solving some of the big issues, and then preparing the ground for permanent senior managers to come in and develop longer-term plans.

Challenges and Leadership Style
It's a challenge knowing that I have a short time to make a difference, so planning and pace are key. It's a fine balance between making the necessary improvements as soon as possible but taking staff along with you, helping them to develop the plan and implement the changes. It's a challenge to work at a pace that suits each individual team, giving them a chance to get to know me and to question, unpick, and understand the rationale for any new ideas. 

I often arrive at a local authority where they are nervously awaiting an Ofsted inspection or have recently had a difficult inspection. It can be challenging to work with a team to help them deal with this and use the emotions of anxiety or disappointment, etc., to take action to improve. They often have a long history, stories of what happened years before that they need to tell. I try to help them move on from this but take the learning with them. Sometimes permanent members of staff have a negative view of interims, seeing them as not fully committed, not sticking around, not caring enough, or not working hard enough. Some people have had poor experiences with interim managers who they see as making very little difference or, alternatively, coming in and causing disruption without fully understanding the situation. 

My leadership style is to get involved, be present and listen to what people have to say, work hard, and quickly try to build the senior team in a fair and balanced way. Interim leadership is also about preparing for a permanent leader to arrive. My goals are often around getting systems, data, protocols, policies, and standards in place. Knowing what Ofsted will measure allows me to ensure these things are quickly visible. I support staff, communicate with them, and try to build confidence in existing managers so that when I leave, they ensure that business continues smoothly. 

Why are interims recruited? 
Some of the reasons why I was recruited as an interim include: a DCS left without notice, and the LA needed to have somebody in post and didn’t want to recruit internally; to step in if a service needs to be improved, working with staff to create and deliver improvement plans; to make some radical changes to a service, such as a restructure; an AD was promoted to DCS, and she needed to have an AD urgently; there is a gap in knowledge and experience on the senior management team, and I was appointed to support and develop them; to cover long-term sickness. 
Interims can hold the fort while recruitment takes place, steady a service that has been through a difficult time, and often bring tried and tested methodology and a track record of success. 

What difference have I made in organisations?
As AD and DCS in three different authorities, I have led the service to improve, either from inadequate to RI, RI to good, or good to outstanding. I have often used associates to come into services for a short time to do specific short-term pieces of work. I have put systems in place that have reduced costs/spending. I have introduced clear practice standards, performance cycles, and quality assurance systems. Importantly, I have improved communication and relationships in the services I have worked in and developed collaboration and leadership styles in the management teams.

What were the drivers to appoint an interim in my current role, and is this a good way to solve problems? 
My current role is an additional resource for the AD, DCS. I do not have line management responsibility but am tasked with improving the service in preparation for an upcoming ILACS inspection. I am working closely with the senior management team on the SEF and on the learning/development plan for the service. I am helping the team to use their data more effectively and to ensure they have good quality assurance processes in place that lead to learning. Interim staff can be part of a solution to a problem. When used well, they can bring a fresh perspective, create new energy, and should always leave a service in better shape than when they arrived. 

What makes a good interim? 
Someone who can quickly build relationships and get people on side and energised. Someone who shares their ideas so that the team becomes stronger when they leave. Have a clear, time-limited plan for progress, including encouraging existing staff to step into leadership roles with support. A good range of skills, knowledge, and experience so that staff trust their ability and can learn new things. Can understand the process of change and where a particular service is in the process of change/improvement. Can quickly see existing strengths and build on these, alongside the most important things that need to change. Can work to build bespoke plans that are specific to that service. Someone who can hand over to a permanent leader, preparing reports and next-step plans before they leave.


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