Terrie Hillier, an interim manager at an NHS foundation trust, describes the advantages of not being employed in a permanent position and shares her tips for success.
I felt unfulfilled in my last permanent role and had met people through my own HR network who had made a lifestyle choice to work as an interim. They appeared to be enjoying it immensely, so I decided to follow suit. What I like most is the fact that you can effectively run your own business, work in a variety of different situations and consequently add to your skills more quickly than if you were in a permanent post within one business.
I have had assignments at a number of NHS trusts and all of those have involved an element of change. This has involved a huge variety of tasks, from looking after commercial relationships with service providers, such as porters, cleaners and maintenance, to dealing with more complex employee relations issues with clinical staff. I’ve also managed important merger issues such as TUPE transfers and rights of employment matters. The roles can be very technical and it’s great to utilise my particular experience and skills, including my masters degree in personnel and development. My Chartered Membership of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development also provides a level of credibility and accountability that employers often find reassuring.
But, while qualifications are important, it is specific experience that is essential. Employers are looking for interims that have direct experience of a particular issue – change management and restructuring, for example. They also look for solid proof of return on investment, so being able to show that you have added value to an organisation’s bottom line – and being able to quantify that – is crucial. Interims are, by their very nature, at a senior level in an organisation and so employers have to be sure that they are getting “bang for their buck”.
One of the best things is the variety. For example, even though I am onsite at one client, I have also been working for another client on a very complex disciplinary hearing. My assignment with that client had finished, but I was so involved with the issues that I have been called back to present the management case report at the hearing. You can sometimes be doing more than one role at a time and have to be able to juggle priorities, and switch your mindset accordingly.
You also have to be comfortable with the variety, which means hitting the ground running, so a sharp focus is vital. Be tough enough to cut through some of the office politics that can often slow processes down. Flexibility is obviously also important – you may be working on your own or as part of a team, remotely or in a busy office – and you have to be comfortable with each and every scenario. In order to really get to grips with an organisation quickly, it’s important to have a high level of natural curiosity coupled with an analytical nature so that you can assess situations – and their potential challenges – quickly.
Relationship with consultancies
In my view it’s crucial to find a good specialist consultancy that can source the right roles for you – I have never found a position without one and often use Venn Group, which has a specialist division dealing with the NHS. When they contact me about a role I know that it will be a suitable match for my skills and experience – and it will be one that I am interested in. Often, an agency will go the extra mile to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision, so it’s worth building a good a relationship with them.
Life as an interim does have its downsides. Sometimes it can be lonely, and sometimes it can be difficult not feeling truly part of an organisation. But, for me, the benefits of being in control of my own destiny, adding and building on my skill sets and having the satisfaction of seeing specific projects through from beginning to end definitely outweigh the disadvantages.
For more information on interim management, read our feature Is it a good time to go interim?