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Interim managers must invest in their own development

Written by: Anthony Lewis is director of Tile Hill
Published on: 16 Jan 2020

As we move into 2020, it is likely we will continue to see the public sector move towards a more flexible set of employment methods. As the expectation on length of tenure decreases in permanent roles, and interim placements increase in length, the difference in employment methods are not as great as before. Add to this the implications of IR35 and we will continue to see more people having a career that moves between interim and permanent roles. I believe this is a positive thing.

Often, as an interim, you are hired to do a certain task, and hiring managers are looking for evidence that you have done this previously in a similar organisation. Organisations are buying experience and hopefully, a shortcut to an end goal. What this means for the interim manager is that they are often hired to do a similar job each time, using a similar management style and trying to apply the same methodology. This can make an interim in specific areas of demand very popular with a rich stream of work to go after.

But, can this be limiting in the longer-term? Those who have consciously moved into interim management will still have career ambitions and aspirations. For many of the interims we engage with, they still want to progress their career into more senior roles but, when becoming self-employed, lose organisational support for learning and development. This means both the financial support and the personal development conversations with your manager.

The lack of 360-degree feedback, or exposure to other leadership development tools, combined with being asked to do a similar task in each interim assignment can lead to a risk that areas of strength, or a certain leadership style, can start to become amplified and areas of development might not be addressed.

Some interim managers have developed very strong behavioural and leadership tendencies that indicate a preference for doing things in a certain way and this can be powerful when deployed in a short-term contract. But there is always a need to ensure you are ‘marketable’ for the future and constantly developing your offer and style of working.

Being an interim can be a very lonely place as you are often brought into an organisation as the solution, and without an internal support network, you have fewer people to lean on. A good interim recruiter will provide emotional support and should regularly be in touch during your assignment to offer help and an ear for listening. However, this isn’t the norm across the sector and also doesn’t offer much in the way of professional or technical support.

Over the last few years, I have had multiple conversations with interims who want to return to permanent employment. I believe this is good news, but it does highlight the need to ensure that you are continuously investing in your own career and personal development, asking clients for feedback, and working with colleagues to ensure you are continuing to advance yourself towards your end goal. For some interims, this means remaining in interim management, and the focus of this development should be on understanding best practice in a range of sectors through your professional membership bodies or how to get the best out of your experience and leadership style for the types of assignments you are taking on.

For those interims who always have an eye on returning to permanent employment, there is a definite need to ensure you have a mentor or coach you can engage to develop conversations with; someone you can trust to hold the mirror up, support you and help nurture and develop your talent.

You need someone who will help you develop a broader awareness and understanding of leadership styles and how to retain the flexibility to deploy them – or just someone you can download to and share ideas with – something that isn’t always possible when on assignment.

There is no reason a career coach should only be used for those in permanent employment. The main factor that prevents interims from investing in their development is financial. But, set against the need to develop your business and continue to develop your offer, the cost is minimal. And, when thinking about your longer-term career ambitions, it is a necessary and vital investment.

Anthony Lewis is director of Tile Hill, a provider of executive recruitment in the public sector.

Anthony Lewis