Cheese moving or the art of keeping up to date

Riding down a local street recently I noticed that one of my favourite local businesses had closed down.

I say favourite, but the truth is that I rarely visited the little DIY shop because I generally shop online nowadays. It’s just easier to order a widget at 11.30 at night after a day working than it is to make a special journey into town.

The closure made me sad, partially because the business had gone, partially because I liked the atmosphere and partially because I saw it coming from a long way off.

Years ago I would visit to get that hard to find bolt and the brown coated owner would fish in the back of a shop, finding just the right thing from a myriad of unmarked wooden drawers as if by magic.

We’d chat about life, the universe and everything. And business.

Convinced that the internet was a fad he refused to think about online retailing, eschewed email, closed on Wednesday afternoon and answered the phone in a gruff manner.

In short I loved it because it was just like shops used to be in my youth.

But I didn’t buy there much.

The closure reminded me of Spencer Johnson’s excellent book “who moved my cheese” the parable of change and more importantly people’s reaction to it.

I could see that my beloved owner had decided that changing markets didn’t exist and if he stuck it out long enough then things would return to ‘normal’.

Well that doesn’t happen and it provides us business owners with a timely reminder that we need to be prepared to spot and adapt to changing markets.

A professional interim? That’s just a temp isn’t it?

If you are thinking about employing someone to complete a specific project or to steady the ship for a while then you may be considering employing an interim manager. But many people think that an interim is simply a posh name for a temp.

In fact there are a whole series of skills and attributes that an experienced and successful interim will bring to the table that make an interim professional much more of a value add proposition.

The first skill that you’ll probably see when you meet up with an interim is the ability to produce clarity. It’s likely that the first evidence of this will be before the assignment even begins as a good professional interim will want to examine exactly what you want to achieve from their appointment.

It may feel a little like you are being grilled but it’s all in a good cause. Being able to put some clarity around what it is that you actually want and what would be best for your business will make it much more likely that you’ll achieve a successful outcome.

The second attribute visible will be honesty.

This may sound a bit odd, because we usually expect that our hires in general and our financial specialists will be honest but I’m talking about a specific type of honesty here.

If the role looks like a non-starter then a good professional interim will tell you so. They will have plenty of experience and will be able to tell whether you are being unrealistic or not.

A great interim is probably identified as much by the roles they don’t take as the ones they do.

They’ll be honest about the skills they have and whether they think they can achieve what you want, they’ll be honest about whether you are being unrealistic with budget, timescale or outcomes and they’ll be honest about the resources that will be needed.

Again this may seem brutal, but the plain fact is that everyone needs to be on the same page from the start otherwise there will be upset along the way and there’s no benefit in an interim telling you that something can be done when it plainly can’t. It may give you a nice warm feeling but in the long run it will end in tears.

A great interim manager will have superb analytical skills. They’ll be able to tell very quickly where the problems are and what the skill levels of the employees are like.

An interim manager is most likely to be a high level, seasoned executive. They are not the sort of person to turn up with a host of problems and expect you to solve them. A great interim will come to you with a clear explanation of the issue but they’ll also have a selection of solutions for you to choose from. These will either be methods they’ve seen work elsewhere in their career or they will be solutions that they’ve worked up specifically for your business.

That having been said it is likely that you’ll only get to see the major problems that need addressing at a high level. An experienced interim manager is ‘fire and forget’. You can give them a task to complete and they’ll do so with the minimum of handholding or management, only coming to you or the board when they have something that requires further input.

One of the key attributes of a successful interim is their ability with soft skills.

An interim doesn’t have a long time to work out who is who and then build relationships. Instead they will be able to understand people’s places in the organisation very quickly and will then form effective business relationships very quickly indeed.

Communication is often crucial to the success of a short term role. Being able to effectively communicate at all levels of the organisation means that the interim is able to obtain accurate information quickly, analyse and then disseminate to the right people in the right way.

Building a great team, even if it is an informal one is another key skill that a superb interim has mastered. The experienced interim manager understands that they are just one person and consequently they won’t be able to do everything themselves. Instead they are able to bring colleagues along and leverage their specific knowledge and resources to achieve things that one person alone could not manage.

Starting and leaving a job every six months or so can be an emotionally difficult concept, as can the highs and lows of a project type role. An experienced interim has seen this all before and tends to be emotionally stable and resilient so that they are able to take the ’slings and arrows’ with good humour and a sense of perspective. Many people assume that their interim will get upset at the end of a contract but this isn’t the case. It’s just something that the interim accepts as part of their way of life.

A typical interim executive will be completely goal oriented. They’ll have built their career on achieving what the client needs quickly and effectively. Indeed their future roles depend on their track record, so getting a great result for you is all important to them. Having someone who isn’t thinking about their career in your organisation or the politics of the firm but instead are totally focused on the task in hand is incredibly powerful.

Finally your interim manager will bring the skills needed to complete whatever task you have set them but they will also bring vast knowledge of other companies and sectors allowing them to add value to other parts of your organisation. In fact executives often find that their interim becomes more of a sounding board for ideas as time goes on.

Hiring an experienced professional interim manager can be amazingly powerful for a business that needs to complete a project or is in a period of change. The skills that they carry with them and the knowledge that they bring to bear allows them to add significant value to their clients.