Drawing the Line Closure and Starting Again!

Systems Model of Action-Research Process.

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As most regular readers of this blog will know, I recently retired, after twenty plus years as an independent professional executive and consultant.

Apart from receiving lots of well wishers on my retirement,  I picked up some interesting insights into the current state of the interim management market. Here is an extract from an experienced professional interim and a director of one of the three professional interim associations :

You will be missed, along with the hundreds of other interims who have given up, rather than retired

When I was thinking about a title for this blog I considered “Where have all the Interims Gone?”

Judging by my own professional network, many top-tier professional interims are still on the bench, after extended periods without an assignment, i.e. twelve months plus. Others have “dumbed down” their CVs, picked up auxiliary qualifications, like Prince 2 diplomas, and are operating in the contract market. Some have completely rejected the “interim” badge and are trying to market themselves as specialist consultants.

I have a message for the hundreds of professional interims who have “given up”. My message is really simple:

Draw the line, get closure from your professional interim career and start again!

Cynics would perhaps respond:

It’s OK for you, since you have retired, whereas I still have to work to put a crust on the table

My response to the cynics would be:

Get real! Do some market research, check out your own success rate and be honest with yourself. There is no point in living in denial. Look at the deteriorating  unemployment trends, especially for youth unemployment.  If that is not enough, start reflecting on the economic consequences of the demise of the Euro.

Personally, I have chosen to trigger my retirement, drawing a very solid line, to move overseas and to travel extensively for a number of years. I plan to write and may well look at professional or business opportunities again, at some stage in the future. For intellectual challenge, I am currently improving my Spanish, including regular conversation with native speakers – this is all part of a broad plan to maximize the benefit of an extended period in South America.

As I reflect back on my career, I have had to draw the line many times, close a period and start again. In effect, this is personal transition management. In the language of the legendary change management scholars, Chris Argyris and Kurt Lewin, it’s about “unfreezing”, intervention and “refreezing”. In my professional career, when faced with seemingly impossible challenges, I have practiced Lewin and Argyris’ Action Science and Action Research many times, like for example during my two-year intervention at UNESCO. To expand a little, I completed an applied doctorate in my late forties, leveraging my global, board-level, work experience in major multi-nationals, and whilst my doctoral research gave me deep subject matter expertise in Strategic Cost Management, it was the learning of applied tools, like Action Research that would subsequently be most important to me as an independent professional executive and consultant.  

Reflecting on my twenty plus years as an independent professional executive and consultant., too many “so-called interims” seemed to me to be preoccupied collecting the latest “me too” badges. When I first went to school in the fifties, it was popular for boys in the playground to exchange cigarette cards and sometimes badges – of course, that was the post-war state education system, not the more privileged private education sector. A half a century later, following the financial crisis of 2008, many interims still seemed to be “swapping cards and badges” just like in my school playground, in North London in the late fifties. For example, in 2008, it was fashionable for interims to exhibit their turnaround credentials, with simplistic, somewhat naive, universal belief in a golden upswing, with professional interims portrayed like knights on white horses. Sadly, the expression “turnaround manager” has now become completely hackneyed, with far too many “me too” players. The acid test should have been verified board-level, turnaround experience, in a permanent career but unfortunately many interim service providers (ISPs) were probably unable to recognize a true turnaround professional when they saw one. It would seem that economic reality has caught up with the “so-called interims“, with a penchant for “me-too” cards and a marketing strategy based on exhibiting peacock-like behaviour to ISPs.

Returning to the hundreds (and possibly thousands) who have given up, it’s necessary to conduct your own market research but if you have been financially and professionally inactive more than active, or inactive for say more than twelve months, I would suggest that it’s probably time to “draw the line” and move on. In my professional life of more than forty years, I have reinvented myself many, many times and for me, retirement is just another reinvention.

So my message to the silent hundreds (or possibly thousands) of professional interims who have been financially and professionally inactive for an extended period is once again:

Draw the line, get closure from your professional interim career and start again!

Youth Unemployment, The Lost Generation and Reversing the Emerging Trends


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English: David Cameron's picture on the 10 Dow...
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This week’s headline which caught my attention was “youth unemployment is above one million for the first time since 1986”. Many commentators are talking of the “lost generation”. Whilst UK youth unemployment at 21.9% is better than Spain (44.3%), Greece ( 36%) and Italy (28.6%), it is worse than France (20.6%), Germany (8.1%)  and the Netherlands (6.9%).

In the appendix below, I have provided links to much of the media coverage of this alarming story. Key themes include:

  • A “lost generation” of young people are at risk of debt, panic attacks, depression, self-loathing
  • Long term unemployment (out of work for a year or more) surged by 31,000 over three months, with approaching a half a million people unemployed for two years or more representing a 29% increase in a year
  • Number of foreign-born workers jumps 181,000 in a year
  • Evidence emerging of a deteriorating north/south divide, with the largest decrease in employment being in the North East, with the only regional improvement being in the South West
  • Chris Grayling, the Employment Minister cited the Euro-zone crisis as being responsible but this position was very widely challenged
  • Prime Minister, David Cameron calls an emergency breakfast meeting with representatives of the UK big Private Sector employers
  • Business leaders say they prefer workers born abroad because of the lack of basic skills in UK workers
  • The British Chamber of Commerce highlighted that school leavers and graduates with “fairly useless degrees” were unemployable because of the lack of basic skills, clarifying that it’s the education that is at fault not the individuals
  • The Government responded with a new scheme to give small firms £1,500 cash incentive for hiring an apprentice for the first time
  • The age group has been seriously negatively impacted by two critical policy changes: (1) the EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance), a benefit paid to under 19s to encourage them to stay in full-time education has been abolished; and (2) the mandatory education participation age is rising from sixteen to eighteen during this parliament, a Labour policy implemented by the Coalition Government

The statistics confirm that the Private Sector is not creating jobs sufficiently quickly to replace those lost in the Public Sector in the drive for austerity.

 My personal view is that the statistics only tell a part of the story, in their detached objectivity. If you are a family with unemployed youths, or indeed are one of those statistics and are unemployed, the reality is often much worse, driven by fear, anxiety and desperation. It is necessary for policy makers to get closer to the subjective reality – this is quite difficult for ministers from privileged backgrounds, like the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister or the Chancellor. Inviting big business cronies to emergency breakfast meetings probably provides little encouragement to unemployed youth nor their families. Meanwhile, doors remain open for privileged young people in terms of gaining work experience. Major universities have made enormous advances in attracting students from less advantaged backgrounds, and it now perhaps about time that employers did the same.

Sadly, many of the opportunities that are classified as work experience are probably inappropriate in building youngers’ future lives. Have you looked into the eyes of many of the youngers stacking shelves in your local supermarket? Unfortunately, successive UK Governments of both left and right have not given any time to industry policies like in France or Germany. Some argue that the Government should be encouraging growth in manufacturing – personally, I think that it is a generation too late.

The policy challenge is surely that we need a new generation of “skilled jobs”, not a national expertise in stacking supermarket shelves, whilst the skilled jobs are increasingly going to foreigners – so perhaps there is an urgent case to look at immigration policies?

Perhaps, David Cameron should take a leaf out of the new Italian Prime Minister’s book (an unelected technocrat), and start bringing technocrats into his Government? Certainly, a number of Government ministers do not seem to have the right blend of education, real world experience and tenacity to deal with deteriorating trends?



  1. Graphic: #unemployment and youth unemployment since 2001 http://tgr.ph/sDfVoU – Daily Telegraph News
  2.  Number of foreign workers employed in the UK has risen by almost 150,000 even as #unemployment increased http://tgr.ph/scVdVW  – Daily Telegraph News
  3.  Youth #unemployment level ‘shocking’, say unions and business groups who today joined forces to call for urgent action http://ind.pn/vP35B8 – The Independent
  4.  Foreign workers take yet more UK jobs (as number of Britons in work plunges and youth unemployment hits 1million) http://bit.ly/rZaaTA – Daily Mail Online
  5.  Youth unemployment in the UK has risen to a record high of over a million – official figures http://bbc.in/bsYxBA – BBC Breaking News
  6. Youth Unemployment Hits Record Million http://bit.ly/tPJ9s4 – Sky News
  7. The Business podcast: a million young people unemployed http://gu.com/p/33dtt/tw – The Guardian
  8. Youth unemployment mapped http://gu.com/p/33dd9/tw – The Guardian
  9.  Coalition sheds crocodile tears over young jobless http://gu.com/p/33dcq/tw – The Guardian
  10.  Youth unemployment hits 1 million http://gu.com/p/33d7b/tw  – The Guardian
  11.  Job creation scheme praised by David Cameron is threatened by cuts http://gu.com/p/33dh4/tw – The Guardian
  12.  VIDEO: Eurozone ‘not behind’ UK unemployment http://bbc.in/w0dqy4 – BBC Politics
  13.  Outlook is bleak outside the labour market – http://on.ft.com/vJQjF1 – Financial Times
  14. UK youth jobless total passes one million http://on.ft.com/vXNTzZ – Financial Times
  15.  Bagehot: Recessions and the young | http://econ.st/tLErM1 – The Economist