The Diary of the Secret Interim, Part 3

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The Diary of the Secret Interim, Day 49: Challenging the Status Quo.

It is now two months since Eton Bridge Partners placed our man in a role as a Divisional CFO. In the latest of his series of blogs, he shares more stories that illustrate some of the differences between life as an interim and being a permanent employee within a business.

He moved into the interim sphere on an initial six-month contract – but time is flying by in what is clearly a challenging environment at a business in a state of flux.

Please note: This is ‘The Secret Interim’s Diary, Part 3’.

Click here to read Part 1

– Click here to read Part 2

Day Forty-Nine

You know how you normally get a ‘settling in period’ in a new job? That blessed time when nobody knows who you are, nobody has your email address and nobody knows what you do – leaving you free to get on your learning curve and put some important stuff in place?

This is the spell when you can get to know the sector and the business you have joined. You develop relationships and build the trust that will become the foundation of all the work you do in the new position, rather than having to focus on 100 emails an hour.

That never happened.

Right from day one, I was on the receiving end of a million and one requests. The essence of them seemed to be: “I don’t know the question… but can you give me the answer?”

As I said in one of my previous entries, I think it’s in the nature of an interim position to justify your presence right from the start.

It’s become clear in my first two months that there are a lot of other new people here in senior positions. Not many have any history with the company and the sort of experience that makes you the ‘go-to guy’.

Allied to that, I’ve always found that when there isn’t an experienced head of department in areas like property and facilities, the finance director tends to be the person people go to.

I think it’s fair to say I’m getting a better tune out of pretty much everybody in the finance department. Out of a team of 15, there’s maybe two who need more focus.

Sometimes people under-perform because they’ve been badly led in the past, so I’m keeping an open mind. But I do think a certain level of annual turnover of staff is healthy.

I’ve realised there’s a few strong characters in the department and I make sure I catch up with them every once in a while to keep them on side.

From experience, strong people can be your biggest advocates – as well as your biggest detractors. If you bring them into the loop, there’s less chance they will be damaging to the business.

I’m pushing the envelope on transparency and communication between my team and the wider business.

There’s a perception that finance sits in the corner and just looks at numbers. With better communication, we’re more connected with what the company does.

It makes it mean something to them. People can align staff to the numbers rather than simply working in a vacuum.

The business I’ve joined is in the process of morphing into a global matrix organisation. That can cause problems when people are used to working in silos.

Sometimes people look simply at the functional side, for instance, instead of taking a commercial perspective into account. If you want to put in new systems, there has to be a commercial case for doing so.

There have been occasions when people have come to me with an idea and I’ve had to say: “Hold on – we need a programme manager to look at this.” There needs to be a proper financial analysis.

At times I’ve had to be strong and say: “We need to carry out deeper due diligence and can’t do this right now.” That can be a tough message to deliver when you’re an interim – especially when the company is going through a long period of transformation.

I am focussed on challenging the status quo so the business doesn’t revert to old habits. I am keen to get everyone onboard to a new way of thinking which will benefit the business as well as the people in it long term.

Wish me luck!