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How to be an
Interim Manager

How to be an
Interim Manager

Is it time to take the plunge?

Considering the move to a portfolio career is a huge decision and one not to be taken lightly. With many factors to take into account, we know that sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start.

At Solace, we would like to support you in your research, if you’re in this early phase, and provide you with insights into what’s in store when moving into the interim/consultancy world. We also want to ensure that you feel in a position to present the best version of yourself to the market, as authenticity is key to you shining through in your portfolio career.

Where better to start than to hear from your fellow peers who have ‘been there and done that’.

We’re pleased to share with you our latest conversation with one of our valued associates, Ann-Marie Barlow.  If you’re preparing to take the plunge into interim or consultancy, take a look below at some brilliant advice, lived experiences and learnings from Ann-Marie’s journey so far…

In conversation with...

Ann-Marie Barlow

Ann-Marie is an organisational development specialist who has spent her career leading and delivering change in complex organisations.  

She has held a range of high-profile management and leadership roles in organisations ranging from 400 to 6,000 employees – so has lived experience of the challenges organisations and leaders face.    

Ann-Marie nowworks with organisations and leaders across a wide range of industries to help them to lead change and maximise theirpotential throughcoaching and organisational development interventions.   

What was the main factor or pull for you when considering the move to interim & consultancy work?

I had spent a large part of my career working in Dorset and had found myself in my dream role, seconded to Head of Organisational Development in a brand new unitary. Knowing this secondment was temporary, I realised I would have to make a difficult decision in the not-too-distant future: stay with an organisation had invested a lot of energy in, but perhaps move back into a role I knew wasn’t going to fulfil me, or take the difficult decision to leave that organisation and venture into an unknown territory for me, freelancing. I decided to move towards interim and consultancy work after taking some time to reflect on my career. I realised that I was energised by project work and complex challenges, and my success over the last 5-6 years had been where I had had the most exposure to this type of work. I had also worked with several interims and consultants that inspired me, which made me consider a career outside of a permanent role.

What factors do you need to consider in preparing for a new assignment?

  • Do your research, and find out as much as you can about an organisation’s achievements and challenges before you start.
  • Recognise that you are likely to be presented with a range of challenges and priorities. Take time to listen, but it is paramount to make sure you have a clear brief in terms of your objectives.
  • Focus on relationship building early on. Maybe do a bit of a stakeholder analysis.
  • Be mindful of internal pressure vs external pressure. As an Interim, you are with an organisation for a finite period, which can be motivating, but it can also make you feel like you need to move too quickly.
  • The pace and diversity of interim and consultancy work means you might not get the opportunity to focus on your development. Your experience and approach will be what leads to your success, so make the time to keep this up to date. Record your achievements and lessons learned.

When becoming an interim/consultant, did you find you had to adapt or change your style (if at all)?

As an interim, my number one piece of advice would be to be aware of situational leadership. You may need to flex your style according to the challenge ahead of you, and this might mean stepping out of a leadership style that is more comfortable for you. Having a mentor, coach or some form of professional supervision can help you work on this. I’ve reached a point in my career now where I’ve realised if I’m the right person for a contract or a project – it’s down to my experience and approach, so I need to be the most authentic version of what I can be.

What success factors do you consider important in starting a portfolio career?

My freelancing journey began in the middle of a global pandemic! On reflection, I had underestimated the impact the pandemic would have on recruitment. I had envisaged that the next part of my career would mostly be interim work. In reality, I spent the first six months solely on coaching and consultancy work. This was a lightbulb moment for me as it helped me realise that having a portfolio of work is the right path for me. Success factors for me are;

  • Build good relationships with a few key agencies who will connect you to opportunities including those that might not be advertised.
  • Find a peer group who are in a similar position and are also moving into a portfolio career; I was lucky to find this and we often support each other with advice and share goals for accountability. This sense of community has been really helpful.
  • When possible, consider doing some pro bono work. Not only will you gain experience and grow your network, but you will also be adding value to your sector.

The effects of Covid 19 have impacted us all in one way or another, have you seen a significant change to interim & consultancy opportunities during the pandemic?

When I started to consider interim work 2-3 years ago, I was pretty much accepting of the fact that I would be living out of a suitcase for most of my week. Due to the pandemic, however, that hasn’t been the case and I’ve been able to demonstrate that I don’t need to be in the office every day to have an impact. This has been an unexpected benefit that has increased the amount of opportunities available to me. The market seems to have embraced the “new normal” and I am seeing lots of exciting opportunities available.

How do you feel the recruitment process differs for interim or consultancy roles? Have you had to adapt your approach?

Whilst the recruitment processes do slightly differ I’ve experienced fast-paced recruitment, where you are expected to start a contract or project almost immediately, right through to longer stages of recruitment and sometimes long gaps between communication. I remember at the beginning not wanting to commit to exploring too many opportunities, in case they all landed at once; I didn’t want to let anyone down. On reflection, that hasn’t been the case, so my advice would be not to limit yourself or restrict the number of opportunities you explore.

As an interim, your online & social media presence is key. What are your top tips for building an online presence?

Building an online presence takes commitment, but it doesn’t need to be exhausting. My number one tip would be to focus on being authentic and building authentic relationships; think of your social media presence as an insight into you and maybe less of a ‘marketing campaign’. Here are some tips that have worked for me:

  • Think of your ideal client and then the challenges you know they are facing. Share or find free articles/tips/resources that speak to their challenges.
  • Don’t be afraid to share your vulnerability; share some insight into challenges you have faced in the past.
  • Think about how you can introduce some variety into the types of content you post.
  • Have a look at any data that might be helpful for you, for example, popular times to post so that you are timing your content with the times people are most likely to be online.
  • Get to know people offline too. I have learnt so much from people by just having a half-hour virtual coffee with them, and it’s also helped me to build authentic relationships with my connections.

Find out more about our Associate network & virtual coffee mornings...

If you’re new to the world of interim/consultancy, or considering taking the leap to a portfolio career, contact our Consultant – Talent Acquisition and Development, Gemma Stevenson-Coupe to talk through registering with us at Solace:

We’ll also be holding virtual coffee mornings for new interims and consultants where you’ll be able to network with other interims/consultants and hear from an experienced Solace Associate like Ann-Marie. If you’re interested in attending once you’ve registered as a Solace Associate, just let Gemma know.