The Every Day Reality of the Professional Interim – Part 1

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Do you remember what you were doing when the Berlin Wall came down?

This week, I announced my retirement, after more than twenty years  as an independent executive and consultant and have been getting good wishes from friends and colleagues but it has also been a week for personal reflection.

 Returning to the Berlin wall, well when it fell in 1989,  I was working in Liverpool as  Interim Finance Director for Stoves plc, a high risk manufacturing turnaround, financed by private equity. I was approached by Nigel Corby, then with PE Imbucon, an early interim intermediary,  interviewed by the Stoves’ Chief Executive the next day and started the following Monday – three works days from initial client contact to Nigel to my hitting the ground running in Liverpool! Over the next ten years, Stoves became an amazing success and called me back many times, both as a consultant and independent executive.

In my professional career, I have had some great times and truly fantastic assignments and worked with some wonderful people from shop floor to chairman. I have operated globally most of my life, with many years physically overseas, with hands-on experience in over forty countries, across five continents – all rich in cultural diversity. My most memorable assignment will always be my two years with UNESCO in Paris – it was a real privilege. It started as two days, then went to two weeks, two months and eventually two years. I operated as a special advisor to the Deputy Director General and received a personal thank you from the Director General for my successful assignment. This was probably the pinnacle of my work career of forty plus years.

 After UNESCO, I was keen to deploy my transformation skills in the UK Public Sector. My first assignment was as Group Finance Director at ONS, then I had successful assignments at HMRC and DEFRA. This last year, I have devoted much time on a pro bona basis to the Catch 22 lobby to encourage the Cabinet Office to reverse its hostile policy towards professional interims.

 I am privileged to have been a pioneer in the interim industry. I can trace my first assignment back to 1987 – nearly twenty-five years ago! In terms of ISPs (interim service providers), I first met Charles Russam in the late eighties, along with Chris Behan, John Herd and Alan Horne. I remember first meeting Martin Wood  in 1994. Apart from the late Julia Candlish and Stuart Cain, I am not going to mention individual consultants or other ISP owners – the list is far too long. Stuart and Julia epitomised “old  school” but there  were some great “new school” exemplars too. For me, the late Stuart Cain brought real World practical executive leadership experience, as well as intellectual leadership, strengthening the interim proposition.

The reader might now be thinking that it’s normal to reflect on the “good old days” and say “things are not what they were!” On the other hand, I am firmly of the opinion that the “interim industry” has experienced a more fundamental change over the last twenty years, a true paradigm shift.


Some readers will remember my recent blog entitled Interim Management:  Ten Emerging Trends and Outlook for the Future  which argued the need for deeper subjective research into the emerging reality of the professional interim. Some found my conclusions too gloomy or indeed scary, so this has prompted me into validating the findings with some further research.  

Most interim industry observers know that the Interim Management Association (IMA)  (the ISPs’ professional association and now part of the big recruitment lobby), plus the individual intermediaries are constantly trying to outdo themselves with PR releases announcing the results of their latest survey. Other organizations, like the IIM have now jumped on this wagon too.

Sadly, as any professional researcher will confirm, simplistic surveys tell us very little about the subjective reality about what is really happening for the everyday reality of the professional interim. Also poorly designed surveys offer little clarification on objective data too. For surveys to be of more value, we probably need:

  • Independent validation of methodology
  • Publication of data sets for independent validation
  • Clarification of bias and vested interests

To understand the professional interim in his/her context and the deteriorating trends, it is necessary to deploy qualitative research tools. I have borrowed the title “The Every Day Reality….” from a seminal piece of research by Tomkins & Groves at Bath University

My research approach is to illustrate qualitative research with series of micro-case studies from established, top-tier professional interims. Key steps are:

  • Research propositions
  • Research questions
  • Case studies (separate blog)
  • Analysis (separate blog)
  • Conclusions and next steps (separate blog) 


Based upon my recent blog entitled entitled Interim Management: Ten Emerging Trends and Outlook for the Future , I have developed five emerging propositions for further research: 

1. Interim industry is imploding from the absence of definition and effective boundaries, ineffective marketing and patchy quality assurance. Two groupings are emerging (1) contingency workers and (2) specialist C level independent executives & consultants

 2. As a result of the Cabinet office and EU procurement bureaucracy, interim has become completely commoditized, differentiation is increasingly on cost, rather than quality or expertise

 3. The Public Sector is getting poor value-for-money and wasting millions of pounds on branded consultants, when professional interims could provide a more cost-effective solution

 4. Interim providers have largely been taken over by professional recruiters and technical selling against criteria, rather than more accomplished business leaders capable of providing the client with real value added

 5. Many established professional interims have lost their way in the economic downturn and are either retiring, taking permanent jobs or a hotchpotch of economic activities awaiting better times


In order  to address the research propositions, I have invited a number of established professional interims to answer the following exploratory questions by way of a short micro case study of approximately two hundred words:

  1. How many years have you been a professional interim?
  2. How has the professional interim community changed in the last ten years?
  3. How do you personally feel about the outlook for the industry?
  4. To what extent have you noticed increasing bureaucracy emanating from intermediaries?


Case studies will be published as a separate blog. I would invite as many established interims, as possible, to share their perspectives by way of a micro-case. I already have some excellent cases but need more please. I am happy to publish names, contact details and web sites, or for others to respect their desire to stay anonymous. Please send cases by November 7 to


Please let me have your case studies and, as usual, your response to this blog is welcome below.

Once I have a reasonable number of cases, I shall publish a cross-case analysis, draw conclusions and consider next steps. After I publish my conclusions, I shall publish the individual cases, so they will be available for others to analyze too.

Three Stage Survival Guide for the Independent Professional Executive, Consultant or Specialist

The SWOT-landscape systematically deploys the ...

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Some found my blog last week entitled “Interim Management:  Ten Emerging Trends and Outlook for the Future” a bit scary and I agreed to reflect on offering a few tips for survival.

To quickly recap on my conclusion from last week:

My worst case scenario would see a circa 50% contraction from 2007, expressed in numbers of professional interims, ISP consultants and SME ISPs.

Regrettably, I would classify all interims and ISP consultants who are not economically viable as casualties.

For sure, these are truly scary times for many but there is a rational or logical way forward for the independent professional and I am including interim executives, consultants and other subject matter experts.

Firstly, let me introduce my proposed three stage survival guide. It’s designed to try to eliminate fear by focusing on one of the three survival stages at a time. The three stages are quite simple and include:

  1. Preparation
  2. Knowledge
  3. Discipline


For simplicity, let’s adopt the Merriam Webster definition of “preparation“, with the primary attribute being:

the action or process of making something ready for use or service or of getting ready for some occasion, test, or duty

Key step in preparation might include:

  1. A personal SWOT analysis (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats)
  2. Physical and psychological conditioning 
  3. Market research and intelligence
  4. Skills assessment
  5. Resourcing assessment, including one’s financial resources and other non financial assets, like one’s business or associate network, specialist expertise etc.
  6. Consider deploying marketing tools, like for example, web site, viral marketing, blog, webinars etc.
  7. Develop a personal survival strategy, including defensive or fallback strategies
  8. Deploy the personal survival strategy
  9. Refine the personal survival strategy
  10. Be ready to action a fall back strategy, if necessary. This might include a sabbatical or period out for personal development or extended travelling


Knowledge” is used in the widest sense, including full breadth of awareness, skill, intelligence, expertise and readiness.

Key steps in building a “personal knowledge” strategy might include:

  1. Brainstorming with a professional buddy or friend
  2. Develop a body of knowledge for your area of expertise
  3. Research best and emerging practice in your area of expertise
  4. Conduct a gap analysis between where you are and where you want to be
  5. Develop a strategy for enhancing your “personal knowledge”. For example this might include learning or developing language skills – see for example, the BBC online Mandarin course. Alternatively, your strategy might be to develop a specialized network. Perhaps you may wish to consider writing specialized articles or public speaking at specialized events?
  6. Become an acknowledged expert
  7. Be careful to focus your knowledge on themes that have been validated by your own market assessments and stick with your plan. For example, if you have determined that there will growth in  interim management in BRICS countries, you need to develop a viable strategy and marshal specialist “personal knowledge” to target this market
  8. Be disciplined and focus your knowledge enhancement in areas that directly support your own survival strategy
  9. Social media, like Twitter or LinkedIn, will provide some useful stepping-stones but be discerning and validate all information with multiple sources
  10. Do not waste time debating with professionals on LinkedIn subject sites, unless it directly supports your survival strategy


Discipline” is the third element of the three stage plan. Try to focus on your three elements and not jump from one to the other.

Discipline is critical to driving out fear but be prepared adopt a fall back strategy, if required.

Discipline steps might include:

  1. Preparing a daily and weekly plan
  2. Tracking actual achievements compared to plan, understanding variations, identifying opportunities for corrective action, or in last or worst case, revising the personal plan
  3. Focusing on physical and psychological conditioning, so that you are strong enough to deal with variations to your personal plan
  4. Plan time for fun and relaxation
  5. Work with your personal buddy, mentor or trainer (this should preferably not a partner or spouse)
  6. Consider developing survival groups for more complex development
  7. Practice role-playing
  8. Develop “drills” for key activities, so that they can be handled expeditiously
  9. Try to stick to the planned activity focusing on one stage at the time
  10. Be ready to retreat, actioning a well-defined and planned fall-back


In my worst case scenario, fifty-percent of professional interims who were economically active in 2007 will probably not be fully economically active (as professional interims) in 2012. This applies to independent consultants and subject matter experts too.

The above structured three-phase survival guide is not a panacea but it is designed to optimise effort, reducing fear and anxiety. Obviously, it can be tailored to individual circumstances, with variation in the activities. It is simply designed to help the professional interim stay the course, or beat a planned and well-rehearsed, orderly fall-back or retreat.

As always, please feel free to share your views and provide suggestions for improvement. I would particularly like to hear about casualities and what they are doing to bring order following fall-back and retreat.