The range and number of interim assignments is growing exponentially – below we feature just a few examples of interim success. Stephanie Sparrow reports.
Building a skills framework
- Organisation: Woking Borough Council
- Reason for using an interim: New venture
- What the interim did: Implemented a behavioural and skills framework
Recruiting an experienced and flexible interim HR adviser has helped Sandy Makhlouf, a senior HR adviser at Woking Borough Council, to put a complicated project in place.
In January 2007, Makhlouf started designing a behavioural and skills framework for the council’s 600 employees. Crucial people management issues such as performance management, learning and development, recruitment and selection are now linked to the framework, which is in turn part of a bigger change programme being introduced by the chief executive.
“The framework is a tool to help employees understand the behaviours and skills which are essential to their role. It is empowering staff and is a critical theme of what we do,” says Makhlouf.
However, it soon became clear that HR would need extra resources to focus on the project.
“We were already fully committed in-house,” she says. “So we decided that I would manage the project: the interim and I would work hand in glove.”
The detail and responsibility of the job meant that Makhlouf needed to recruit an HR generalist who had experience of project working. She approached the flexible recruitment specialist Capability Jane. The consultancy places experienced senior executive women looking to return to work after a career break or those wanting more flexible working arrangements.
“Its mission statement is to use skills and promote work-life balance and our remit fitted well,” says Makhlouf. “Our organisation is keen to promote flexible working and we were able to offer a senior appointment for a three-day week.”
Makhlouf came up with a job specification which included a requirement that the interim had experience of adapting HR policies and providing training sessions and workshops.
She interviewed potential staff against a set of competencies and was clear that she was looking for a good communicator who was also self-sufficient. “There would be no time for hand-holding,” she says.
The successful candidate, Caroline Stacey, had been out of the workplace for 18 months due to family commitments, but had previously worked for a blue-chip industrial company in many areas of HR including project management, benefits and reward.
“What was needed here was the ability to introduce something new,” says Stacey. “The skills framework is a significant change for the organisation part of my role has been to increase understanding through one-to-one meetings with managers and briefings to staff.”
Makhlouf was pleased that Stacey was able to get on with the job immediately.
“It’s very rare that you see a candidate who fits the specification so closely. Caroline seemed to be in tune with us straight away and was able to show that she could make a difference immediately to the organisation,” Makhlouf says. “She quickly assimilated into the team because she had experience in the skills that we needed.”
The interim appointment has been such a success that Stacey’s original six-month contract has been extended by a further 10 months.
“We had a detailed project plan and added to it,” says Makhlouf. “Caroline is working with us until the end of September 2008 because she will be briefing managers and embedding the framework into how we manage people.”
Organisation: Volkswagen Financial Services
Reasons for using an interim: Turnaround
What the interim did: Implemented a new HR structure
Employing an interim has helped Graham Wheeler, the managing director of Volkswagen Financial Services, to reshape the HR department and its interaction with the business and its 450 employees.
“We were thinking about how HR sat within the business and we were looking to recruit [a permanent position] but we were aware that it would take a long time to find a permanent person,” says Wheeler. “In the meantime we were looking for continuity and the time to rethink how we wanted to manage people within our business.”
Wheeler asked recruitment agency Proactive HR to help and within 48 hours it had provided him with 15 CVs to consider.
After a series of one-to-one interviews he chose Bill Wyper to work as head of HR on a six-month contract. Wyper had 20 years’ experience as a board director, which appealed to Wheeler.
“The key is to employ an experienced person and give them a clear remit. Then they get on with it,” he says. “We actually employed a person who is over-qualified but we couldn’t afford to take someone underqualified.”
In terms of setting out the requirements of the job, Wheeler says it is no different from employing a permanent member of staff.
“Don’t employ an interim unless you are clear about what you are asking them to do,” he says. “All of our employees have a list of specific objectives and we had one of these for the interim too.”
Wyper’s remit was to structure processes and policies, to come back to the board and recommend changes, and then be responsible for implementing them.
He changed the roles and responsibilities of people in the team and downsized it from 10 to eight people.
“I integrated HR into the business but I made the HR business partner report both to line managers and to me,” Wyper says. “I brought in what I would call high-impact HR and I actually reduced the cost of HR to the business.”
Wyper is a classic example of an interim hitting the ground running. “Within two weeks of my arriving the HR team had mapped the process, identified the performance measures, agreed these performance measures with the business and accepted target performance levels from the business.” They presented these measures and targets to Wheeler on his tenth working day.
Support and guidance
After implementing the HR plan, Wyper has seen his role change into one of support and guidance. His six-month contract has finished but he will stay on for a couple of months to help a recently-employed incumbent settle into a new position.
This was Wyper’s first role as an interim and he has really enjoyed the experience. He will keep in touch with colleagues when he moves on.
“I didn’t have to worry too much about relationships or politics as long as I delivered the result,” he says.
- Organisation: Aegis (London)
- Reason for using an interim: Change management
- What the interim did: Support a growing business and help with the transition from outsourced to in-house HR
Associated Electric and Gas Insurance Services (Aegis) is an international mutual insurance company. At Aegis (London), operations director Sarah Davies describes her role as being responsible for diversifying and growing the business when the market is right.
She identified people practices as core to business growth and last year decided to shift from an existing outsourced HR function to an in-house specialist via an interim HR manager.
Davies approached recruitment company Interim Performers and interviewed the candidates personally. “I’d developed a job specification based on what we wanted to achieve here,” she says.
She appointed Angela Sherring in June 2007 on an initial six-month contract. “Angela impressed me because she had project experience around issues such as performance management,” says Davies. “And she asked us the right questions.”
Sherring feels that an interim role like this requires a lot of self confidence. “I’d worked with heads of department and trade unions in my previous permanent role,” she says.
“This gave me confidence as well as the skills in influence and negotiation which you need to make change happen.”
Davies set out what she wanted Sherring to deliver. “I had a clear view of what we needed but it took a specialist like Angela to build the programme. She brought HR expertise to my vision of what I wanted for the company,” she says.
In the early stages of the contract Sherring worked on performance management issues, followed by recruitment and induction. The job evolved further and she stayed another four months.
“The contract was extended because we needed extra time,” says Davies. “Her role grew bigger as we developed areas such as putting learning and development into the performance management process.”
Sherring was then able to put plans for soft skills development in place. Previously, there had been a sole emphasis on technical skills. She also got involved in growing the workforce.
“I really enjoyed my time here,” says Sherring, who is now taking a short break from interim work to study and travel. She points out that the mark of a good interim is not just how they start and continue the job, but how they leave it.
“The leaving stage is a responsibility as well,” she says. Sherring prepared documentation and held meetings with the incoming permanent HR manager to ensure a smooth transition. “Interim work is about your name and reputation,” she concludes.