The Interim Assignment: what do you need to consider?
Interim assignments are often fast paced, full on and challenging, with interim executives frequently being looked to as experts within their field. Zoe Spalding, Resourcer, spoke to several of our interim managers about their top tips for making an interim assignment successful.
Clarify and agree deliverables:
Establish a clear set of objectives required to deliver the brief – what exactly does the client need and how are you able to deliver this?
You may be required to help the client identify and set the objectives upon starting the role and you may need to be prepared for these objectives to evolve as you get further into the assignment. Be confident in communicating any changes, progress or challenges with the hiring manager and team to ensure everyone understands the progress.
Research and understand the requirements:
Researching the client thoroughly prior to starting an assignment can help you build up a picture of any issues, changes or requirements the client may need.
Either prior to, or shortly after commencing the assignment, obtain organisation charts, board reports as well as any other documentation detailing changes or plans implemented to date. You may consider undertaking a preliminary diagnostic detailing your findings upon arrival and then agreeing with the client on their expectations and priorities for your assignment. Be clear if your findings do not match with what you have been briefed on.
Setting up introductory meetings with the hiring manager, stakeholders and wider team is useful for understanding where a project is at, who leads on which aspects, as well as building a sense of approachability and trust with existing employees. These meetings are an opportunity to acquire knowledge from a diverse range of people within the organisation and will provide details about the challenges and opportunities relating to the assignment, as well as giving an indication on what has or hasn’t worked previously.
Challenge and support:
Interims can often bring both ‘high challenge’ and ‘high support’, using your expertise to make recommendations from an empirical base. Draw insights from prior experiences to identify strengths and opportunities, as well as areas of vulnerability that need to be addressed.
Trust and rapport:
Central to a successful assignment is building trust and rapport with the hiring manager, stakeholders and wider team - be approachable and non-egotistical. Whilst interims are often brought in for their expertise and guidance, taking the time to meet and actively listen to the team, join meetings and being visible can make for stronger relationships. Whilst many roles may have a hybrid element, and can be delivered remotely, being visible can be beneficial when motivating a team, delivering difficult messages or introducing a sustainable action plan.
During the assignment
Be flexible and manage ambiguity:
Interim executives may need to adapt quickly to assignment changes, assessing progress and be flexible in working patterns – embracing hybrid working where appropriate. They may also need to continually work with the client to assess what is needed from the role and adapt the deliverables accordingly.
Maintaining an approachable and professional attitude:
Interims often need to integrate into or lead an existing team quickly and effectively – being humble, respectful and empathic to concerns or worries of existing employees is likely to help gain their support and trust quicker – which can help motivate others.
Displaying optimism, drive and enthusiasm can also keep energy high in the team, though it is important to ensure team members are not burnt-out trying to reach goals. See our Top Tips on Management Styles here.
Understand what is being asked and deliver:
Whilst deliverables may evolve through the assignment, it is important to understand what is being asked of you – clarify objectives. Liaise with the hiring manager, stakeholders and wider team, understand the stage of the project, what is going well, what needs amending and be clear on what your understanding is of the deliverables.
Ensure you don’t over promise and underdeliver. Be realistic in what you can achieve in the timeframe you have – if deadlines need amending, communicate this with the executive board and the wider team.
Communicate and listen:
Be clear, concise and professional in all communication, ensuring the team understands what is required of them, communicate progress, changes and next steps clearly. Remaining approachable and promoting an open communication style could help encourage employees to share their views, ideas and suggestions more freely. Clear communication is also key when broaching more difficult conversations or when suggesting changes.
Active listening is also key when building trust and promoting open communication. See our Top Tips on Active Listening and non-verbal communication here.
Each interim assignment provides the opportunity to learn new skills, work with new individuals, experience different industries and organisational cultures. Have fun, learn new ways of doing things that could also help in your next assignment.
Legacy and staying committed:
Interims are often brought in to identify and solve an issue, implement a project or deliver an element of change, transformation or turnaround. Understanding what will/won’t work for an organisation and the strengths and weaknesses of the team can help when assigning project deliverables.
Ask the team what support they need to deliver – and help them to achieve this. Greater engagement and investment from the existing team can help with ensuring that longer term success of the project and that it continues to be successful after the interim has concluded the assignment – ultimately leaving the client in a stronger position.
Word of mouth can be an influential tool when securing the next assignment – and leaving a client well, with a thorough succession plan can contribute to leaving a positive legacy. Despite a nearing end date, it is important that your focus and drive stays with the assignment until the last day, and you do not switch off early.
Towards to the end of the assignment:
Ending an assignment well is an important part of any interim assignment, it can open doors for future opportunities and impact word of mouth. We asked several interim managers what their tops tips are when concluding an assignment.
Think about the legacy you are leaving behind, not only have you delivered the brief but that you have done so in a way that goes over and beyond what was expected.
During your assignment, it can be important to consider succession planning and knowledge transfer – what does the team / client need to succeed longer term, what infrastructure do they require to achieve stability and how can you help them reach this?
Leaving a thorough handover as well as ensuring documents and records are easily obtained can help the transition when an interim executive leaves. Consider organising meetings with the team, stakeholders and the hiring manager to brief them on the deliverables met, any challenges encountered as well as any potential risks or deadlines to be aware of.
Next steps and availability:
When is the best time to start thinking of your next role and actively approaching the market?
Most interim roles require a quick start date, whilst you are likely to keep semi active on social media platforms, such as LinkedIn throughout your assignment, you may think of increasing this and engaging with executive recruitment firms and your networks as your role ends.
Think about what type of role, client, and deliverables you are looking for next, are you willing to travel, are you looking for a certain number of days per week?
Ensure that your CV and LinkedIn page are up to date and align with each other.
It can be useful to ask for a handful of testimonials / recommendations at the end of the assignment that could be added to your LinkedIn profile. Keeping a copy of these can also be helpful for quick provision to future clients / executive search firms.
Rest and recuperation:
Interim assignments can be full on, with little time for “down time”. Think about and plan for some relaxation between assignments – this could be a short as a week or longer, but it can be important to allow time to decompress after a busy assignment before launching into the next one.