Interview: Sarah Tanburn

30 January 2015

Opportunity in the interim: Sarah Tanburn gives the benefit of her experience

Sarah Tanburn is a management consultant and interim manager with more than 25 years’ experience holding senior strategic leadership, organisational transformation and service delivery positions in the public sector. She has held roles as diverse as Director of Environment and Regeneration at a London Borough to Director of Enterprise and Tourism at an English seaside town. Here she tells how she has managed to combine a successful career as an interim with her desire to travel the world.

What inspired you to become an interim after holding a number of successful permanent roles earlier in your career?

It was the flexibility that really suited me. It meant that I could go off travelling for six months of the year.

I also enjoy the variety, the challenge, the potential to make a rapid impact and the fact that that you are always learning.

For me, partly because I have always been flexible about roles and location, I’ve always been able to generate enough income to be comfortable.

The only time I felt slightly unnerved was in 2010 when the public sector was facing the Comprehensive Spending Review. I had been travelling, and when I returned it took about 11 weeks to get work, but by the end of that time I was as busy as I had ever been.

Under what circumstances might an interim be brought in to an organisation?

Usually it’s one of three things:

Either they have a gap that they are not ready to permanently fill or they need to cover during the recruitment process, which can take about six months for a senior post.

Secondly, they could bring me in because they have a particular project that needs to be delivered, often a transformation project.

Thirdly would be as a troubleshooter to sort out a particular problem.

Do you think interims are better suited to delivering certain projects, like change programmes, than permanent staff?

I have had many excellent permanent colleagues who have achieved great success in this field.

At the same time, I would say that an interim is able to bring a sense of distance that is useful. They might be able to apply lessons learnt elsewhere or offer a new way of thinking about an issue.

They can also take the nasty decisions and deliver the nasty messages, leaving the permanent management without blood on their hands.

What gives you the most satisfaction in your role as an interim?

I’m always pleased when I walk away from an assignment seeing that the organisation is healthier and more resilient than when I came to it. Generally that does happen and, judging by the amount of referrals and repeat custom I get, the clients agree.

Have you seen more opportunities for interims over time?

I think over the whole of my career I have seen some growth in the number of interim positions, but if you want these roles, there is an increasing demand for flexibility.

In local government we are facing enormous cuts and there is always pressure on rates and pressure to find internal solutions.

A lot depends on what happens at the election in May, but the demands adult care put on the system are so great that every other area is going to be seeing challenges.

How important is it to work with a good interim provider?

I’ve had some very good results with Odgers Interim and I think they are particularly good at getting under the skin of the client and understanding what they need.

I’ve had several roles through Odgers that have been a three-way success: good for the client, good for me and good for Odgers.

They have a good understanding of the market and how it is operating and they keep in touch, while some agencies just drop you in a role and forget about you.

If you had one piece of advice for someone considering making the switch to interim work, what would it be?

You need to start thinking about yourself as a business.

On average you will work for around two thirds of the year, so work out how much you need to earn, then work out how much you are going to have to charge to achieve that.

Is that a deliverable charge out rate in the market? If it isn’t, then think again, either about your financial target or your interim ambitions!

Find out more about Sarah’s career by visiting http://www.workthewind.com/


Comments

Kate Sargant at 30/01/2015 13:14 said:

Thanks for this, Sarah, useful and motivating.

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