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!

11 responses

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  6. Hi Alf – well done on your retirement! I am on Assignment in Perth, Western Australia. Been here since beginning of September and am leading an Alliance between Rio Tinto Iron Ore and Ansaldo Train Signalling Systems. It’s an $800 million programme and I am its Director. Its the worlds largest Heavy Rail re-signalling project. My point though is this – there is work there, if you are flexible. Albeit a long way from the UK. The big plus, is that Australia and Western Australia in particular, is ‘booming’. More work than people to do it. Big projects in Oil & Gas; Rail; Mining; Banking; Insurance – so, to my fellow Interims I say this – come and get it!
    Barry Ryan

    • Barry,

      Thanks for reading the blog and taking the time to respond to my blog.

      I am delighted to hear that you are actively engaged in a sizeable and traditional interim assignment in Perth, Western Australia.

      I have worked in Perth in the past and am aware how strong the mining sector is in Western Australia.

      I concur with your advice and that proper interim exececutives need to be globally mobile.

  7. I would agree with this approach since I have employed it every day of my life.

    An interim is supposed to be able to evaluate a situation calmly and dispassionately and take action, yet with many of them they cannot it seems adopt the third position, cut through nonsense that is being fed to them on a daily basis and see their own position for what it is.

    We are in the world of the “new normal”, politicians have no answers and for the most part this is as good as it gets for economies in the West for decades to come.

    We are all given a brain, two arms, two legs, an equal amount of time and live in a world in which there is enough of everything but where the distribution is very unequal.

    Relying on others such as ISP’s to discover us and give us work only works when those others are prospering and the market is not flooded with bogus interims who create purported oversupply.
    They are not prospering so people who rely on them are building on sand and need to rethink their position.

    For those with contacts, with clout, and credibility, it probably means evaluating sales and networking skills, and if these are insufficient,acquiring them.

    For those without contacts, an alumnus, or connections, it means acquiring them either directly or indirectly or partnering with people that have them.

    In my own case, I have done the latter and am trading skills which I have in exchange for the ability to data mine this person’s address book.

    Because I am risk averse and believe in “belt and braces”, I am also learning the mechanics of social media marketing, pay per click and other methods to drive website traffic into a “sticky” website where they can be converted into solid prospects.

    Those with supportive spouses, private wealth, supplemental income and supportive partners can perhaps be more sanguine and may be in a position to draw lines at an earlier stage, but even they need to remember that people can die, fall ill, become mentally incapacitated and that unexpected things can happen in the most unexpected ways.

    Everyone therefore needs to become versatile, multifacted, tax efficient, quick thinking, much better informed and better able to identify trends through deep and critical thinking.

    The alternative is to be led by the nose with a ring through it placed there by the pezzonovante(Big Shots),not of the Church and the Judiciary, but by “opinion formers”, “the chattering classes”, the “Metropolitan elite”, politicians,” spokespersons” and officialdom.

    • John,

      Once again for taking the time to read my blog and provide a detailed and thoughtful response.

      Whilst I broadly endorse the direction of your argument, I am not sure that the advice is necessarily generalisable. We as individuals are all very different – background, experience & skills. Also contexts and opportunities can be vastly different. For example, Barry Ryan has responded to this blog by saying that there are enormous opportunities for interims in Western Australia – unfortunately, not all interims are truly mobile.

      However, I agree with your conclusions that to be effective as an independent one need to lead and not follow. These are challenging times but probably full of opportunity too!

  8. Hi alf…enlightening as ever. With my NLP hat I’d say to anyone that if something is no longer working then do something different! Madness is to continue with what isn’t happening….. I find myself at a cross-roads again and wondering what to do next. However, I will be active and not passive about it whatever ‘it’ is! Please carry on writing.

    • Hi Lindsay,

      Thanks for the encouraging feedback. I am pleased that my ramblings add a bit of value, even if it’s just to trigger a question or too.

      Good luck with your next challenge.

      If you are interested in Western Australia, I can put you in touch with Barry who has also responded to this blog

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