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Maximum value and minimum pitfalls – These are the steps to make an interim placement a success

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You’ve identified the need. You’ve partnered with a recruiter to identify the interim with the right skills and experience for the project. You’re satisfied they’re a good cultural fit for the organisation. Now you just leave them to get on with it, right?

If only it were that straightforward…

Making sure an interim placement delivers maximum value to the organisation depends on preparation and decisive actions from both the interim and their sponsor in the company.

In this blog, Marcus Shah and Lizzy Caselton, from Eton Bridge Partners’ Interim CFO & Finance practice, share learnings from a recent discussion with Martin Nilsson, a FTSE 250 Divisional CFO (who has hired numerous interims for finance-related functions) and Lawrence Wolman, a career FP&A/Commercial interim who is part of Eton Bridge’s trusted network.

Together they explored how to ensure an interim is set up for success.

4 Ways to Help an Interim add Maximum Value from Day 1

1. Prepare the ground internally

It may seem obvious, but communication is key. If an interim arrives and their presence comes as a surprise to the people with whom they are going to work, what follows is an avoidable discovery phase that will be time-consuming and frustrating for all concerned.

Identify the people within an organisation who need to be involved to make the project a success, and task them with a directive to make it happen.

The key sponsor should disseminate the information across their team that:

> a defined project is getting underway;

> a person with specialist knowledge and experience is coming in to work on it/lead it;

> the expectation is that they will receive the help they need from permanent members of staff.

2. Ensure the interim’s technology requirements are met

Devoting time ahead of arrival so the interim can access all the technology they need on day one is a consideration that is all too often forgotten.

It is unsettling and irritating for a new arrival to discover they do not have immediate use of a desk, a laptop, or shared drives.

As Lawrence eloquently put it: “My motivation and focus are about delivery. I’ve been brought in because there’s an acute need. I know what the deliverables are and I want to get on and make progress and show I’m worth the money I’m being paid. I’m an expensive resource and if I’m twiddling my thumbs and not adding value, there’s a sense of embarrassment.”

3. Be clear where the new arrival sits in the organisational structure

Achieving buy-in can be a struggle if the piece of work the interim has been hired for is pitched at the wrong level of an organisation.

For instance, if the interim’s assignment is at director level, and they are reporting directly to the CFO, that should be clarified to everybody affected by their presence. Doing this helps the interim to get traction with the people whose assistance is required to complete the task.

4. Be sure you’re hiring an interim to solve the right problem

One of the worst mistakes an employer can make is to bring in an interim to address a problem without confronting the fundamental reasons why that problem has arisen.

If certain individuals or teams are underperforming, that problem will not be cleared up simply by the arrival of an interim. Indeed, it is fundamentally more challenging for an interim to succeed in such a scenario.

4 Ways for Senior Interims to Make an Instant Impact

Interims, especially at senior level, tend to be autonomous self-starters with plenty of relevant experience. However, there are still things they can do to ensure a smooth embedding process.

1. Learn quickly how to be a success in your role

One of the actions an interim should take in their first days in a role is to identify the people, systems, and processes that will help them to deliver on their objectives.

Who are the key people that impact upon the deliverables? What are the systems you need to work with? What are the processes you need to develop?

As well as working out who your go-to people are, it is also useful to identify quickly those who will be most obstructive. If you are in a position only for a few months, referring everything up to the Board is not practical; it may be you have to put a workaround in place, so do this quickly.

2. Establish a rapport and demonstrate your value

You may have been recruited as a senior resource, but if you roll your sleeves up, kick off the project with a sense of urgency and become engaged with your new colleagues, you will be perceived to be adding value.

On the other hand, if you sit back, direct people, and simply expect things to get done, it plays poorly with the rest of the team.

Emotional intelligence and an ability to read a room are valuable tools. It is good to have a strong sponsor, for instance, but do not be too political and over-use the threat of the boss to get things done.

3. Do not use your day rate as a weapon

Interims are sometimes viewed as second-class citizens by permanent staff, and there can be resentment over the rates that senior interims command.

There have been instances of interims not being sensitive to this; this kind of approach is not conducive to a healthy relationship.

4. Ask for feedback – and offer it too

When you work as an interim, you are engaged to complete a specific task. It is desirable to know if you are on target, so regular liaison with the person to whom you report is advisable.

It is valuable to share with them your current and planned activity, asking for any concerns and surfacing issues along the way. As the dialogue progresses and the mutual understanding deepens, the view of the assignment can evolve constructively.

As Martin puts it: “Permanent employees now have continuous appraisal, a 360-degree feedback loop. Why on Earth wouldn’t you do the same with your most expensive high-impact resource?”

Interim hires are an ideal way for a company to flex its human resources around specific projects or to see them through periods of restructuring. Taking the time to do the groundwork and manage expectations throughout the placement will help set both parties up for success.