A short-term HR post can leave you with many challenges to face. But unlike
potential full-timers, you can work on simply delivering the goods
In my experience of undertaking a number of senior interim HR assignments, organisations
are normally seeking someone overqualified for the job in question, bringing
with them the experience of different organisations and industries.
Unlike a permanent appointment, where a few gaps in experience may be
overlooked if a candidate is considered to have future potential, an interim
manager is expected to hit the decks running and make a contribution within
hours or days. No luxury here for growing into the job.
Prior to starting the assignment the client will expect the interim to clearly
understand their role and the expected deliverables. For example, is the
organisation expecting a steady hand on the tiller, until a permanent
appointment is made? Are they expecting a strategic input and a challenge to
current ways of working? Or do they merely want a technical input to a clearly
Occasionally the remit is not absolutely clear and an experienced interim
can often help the client articulate their expectations.
Having established a clear remit, the interim will be expected to quickly
assess the project and establish their credibility with other HR professionals
and line managers.
Being overqualified for the task in hand normally provides few difficulties
in assessing the project and establishing credibility with other HR professionals.
The crucial ability is that of gaining credibility with line managers, which of
course is the perpetual one facing all HR professionals.
In my experience, thinking and acting as a business person first and an HR
person second is the answer, also remembering that as an experienced interim,
you can often give some valuable insights and examples of best practice to line
managers – few in my experience will readily ignore such a contribution.
The ability to assess the culture of the organisation quickly is a vital
skill in the early stages of an assignment. As the average length of an interim
assignment is three to six months, you are not going to change the organisation
to suit your style; rather you have to assess the organisation’s style quickly
and adapt your ways of working in order to achieve the optimum results.
However, once your credibility has been established the client will often
seek your opinion on various aspects of their organisation, when interesting
perspectives can often be provided to those willing to value your experience.
Especially when operating at a senior level the client values the fact you
are not part of their system and therefore have no interest in playing the type
of political games played in some organisations. You have no historical baggage
in that organisation and no vested interest towards any particular position or
function, your objective is to deliver results rather than try to impress.
In summary, the prime expectations of a senior HR interim are:
• Overqualified for the task in hand.
• Ability to establish and understand the organisation’s remit.
• Quickly assess the project and actions required.
• Establish your credibility with line managers and other HR managers.
• Adapt to the organisation’s culture.
• Provide fresh perspectives and ideas.
• No vested interests or political allegiances.
By Roy Nicholson Freelance consultant and interim manager