Interim Insights: A conversation with Francesco Elia
We speak to Francesco Elia about his experiences of interim management. Francesco is currently working as an Interim CFO for a Social Housing company via Odgers Interim and our Consultant, Annaliese Rogers.
Francesco, why did you decide to become an interim manager?
I had been working for a large G15 housing organisation for around 7-8 years, it was towards the end of the credit crunch that I saw there was an opportunity in the market for senior financial professionals. This was triggered by new subsidiary models and lack of capital grant funding, coupled with the government asking organisations to create more subsidiary through diversification.
I also wanted to work for myself and to be my own boss.
What qualities do you believe are essential to be a successful interim manager?
- As an interim you are not just representing yourself, but also the client, the sector and the interim network.
- Different organisations will have different cultures and working styles. Maintain your own brand and standards in each assignment, and limit taking the practices or culture of one organisation to another where it may not suit.
- Interims are an expensive resource. We are generally asked to cover a role for a specific reason, so we need to add value from day one.
- Being courageous can mean being prepared to say what people may not want to hear or to challenge CEO, the wider executive board or your peers. This should be undertaken with respect and grace.
What steps did you take when setting up as an interim manager?
One of the biggest challenges in the transition into interim management can be the apprehension around leaving a permanent role. Upon deciding to pursue an interim career, I contacted several people about types of opportunities on the market.
Securing the first interim position can also be a challenge. It is important to develop a clear brand and good reputation. Once people realise you are in the interim market, you will find agencies and other contacts in your network will be in touch with opportunities.
During the early stages of your interim career, it is important to remember that you are only with each organisation for a relatively short period of time, and whilst you need to gain the respect and trust of your colleagues - you are not a permanent staff member. At times, it may be tempting to stay on at the organisation if they offer you a permanent role. Remember the reasons you have chosen to be an interim manager and ensure you are doing what is right for you.
What do you think is required to deliver a successful interim assignment, including building successful client relationships?
There are two main aspects to increasing success in interim roles, these can be split in to before starting the assignment and during it.
Before starting an interim assignment
- Read and research the organisation – who are the internal and external stakeholders, who is the CEO and executive board and what are their skills and experiences. Look at what the client’s visions, values and strategies are, what do the board reports or business plans state, are there any issues published online, are there any regulatory issues.
- It can be beneficial to also research the local economy and local authority.
- This prior research will help you hit the ground running. It may also be worth asking if documents can be sent to you prior to starting an assignment.
During the assignment:
- Deliverables – what is expected of you. Some interim roles may not be clearly defined upon starting, and the client may require your expertise and knowledge to help define these.
- Priorities – what are the time frames the deliverables are required in.
- Trust – this is key to a successful assignment. Be open, approachable and communicative. Also demonstrate active listening and avoid making assumptions or judgments.
- Deliver – ensure you deliver your deliverables, if deadlines need amending be clear on why this is. Communicate regularly with the executive board and the wider team on the process of the assignment.
Are there any mistakes or learnings that you have experienced in your time as an interim manager, or is there anything you would do differently if starting out again?
A key learning for myself was avoiding the assumption that all clients operating within the same sector are the same. Whilst clients within a specific sector, such as social housing, may have the same fundamental elements, each client is different, even if they operate under the same local authority.
Whilst you can apply the knowledge and experience you have gathered in previous roles; it is important to invest time learning about each client as if it is your first time working in this area. Treat each client uniquely.
What are the positives and negatives you have experienced as an interim manager?
- Change – ability to do a job for 6-9months then move on can be energising.
- Making a real impact – as an interim you can change the way organisations behave and operate.
- As an interim you do not have a permanent team – in each new assignment you need to establish the team’s strengths/weakness, as well as building trust and relationships.
- Seeing the input but not the output of your deliverables. Often the interim will set up the changes that are required but may not be there when the outcome of these is met.
What are your top tips for those starting out on their interim careers?
Being an interim can be incredibly challenging so think about why you want to be an interim – are you driven by the head or the heart?
Be structured and organised. There may be times where you may undertake more than one assignment at any one time or be working with multiple stakeholders. You may also need to undertake a lot of your own admin – such as hotel or travel bookings.
Be professional and operate with high standards. Your brand and reputation need to proceed you.
Whilst you will need to be courageous and confident to challenge, do not get embroiled in the office politics.
For more information, please contact Zoe Spalding.