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

A. PREPARATION

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

B. KNOWLEDGE

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

C. DISCIPLINE

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

D. CONCLUSION

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.

Public Services Reform: U-Turns, Banana Skins, the March of the Neoliberals and the Demise of the Professional Interim?

This week there have been two important events for me in relation to Public Services Reform. The first was personal and the second was public news.

Firstly, I have finished reading David Harvey’s excellent book entitled “A Brief History of Neoliberalism“. I thoroughly recommend this well researched and easy to read political-economic history of the last thirty years. The book provides an excellent insight into Margaret Thatcher’s public sector reforms, largely based on privatizing vast swathes of publicly owned industries (reversing Labour’s post World War Two nationalisations).  Simply, neoliberals believe that everything should be commoditized, with a market value, including public services. Neoliberalism is closely aligned to globalism (the antithesis of localism). Neoliberalism is a “theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade”.

The second event was to reflect on the Public Services White paper being delayed until July, despite being originally promised by the Cabinet Office for January. Some observers believe that there are three camps within the Coalition Government. The blue camp, which includes David Cameron and Oliver Letwin is reported to favour maximum outsourcing – in essence, this is the classic neoliberal remedy. The yellow camp which includes Danny Alexander and Nick Hurd favours new delivery models and is believed opposed to outsourcing. Finally, it is argued that there is a red camp led by Nick Clegg which is cautious about reform. There is speculation that the White Paper was pulled “for reflection” following the Liberal local election results, with Local Authority reform now being in serious disarray. Also there is new evidence that the Big Society is not understood by 80% of Councils. Before the dust settled, the Cabinet Office announced that  the “Big Society Bank gets the Green Light”.

Based on a leaked paper, it is argued that the Coalition is now opposed to wholesale outsourcing and favour reform, based on social enterprises and employee owned mutuals, with private sector involvement limited to joint ventures and not for profit groups. Unfortunately, the new delivery models recently took a hit below the water line, with Suffolk County Counsel’s ambitious plans for outsourcing and virtual local government imploding. The week has also seen criticism of the Coalition Government’s twelve month record on realizing real efficiencies, with mounting evidence of real cuts in public services resulting from financial constraints from the Treasury.

Also this week, despite the Cabinet Office’s draconian controls restricting consultants and professional interims, there is increasing evidence of the Public Sector letting increased consulting contracts. Professional Interims, the natural choice for top-class transformation professionals  (based on cost-effective delivery and risk reduction) continue to be marginalized.

Personally, I think that Public Services Reform is a ticking bomb and that based on David Harvey’s history, the neoliberals will prevail. For sure, some money will go into Big Society probably via the Big Society Bank. The big money will sooner or later follow neoliberal traditions and go to outsourcing, consultants, banks, and lawyers etc. Sadly, the Coalition Government whilst being pro-business, favours big rather than small businesses like professional interims. Wholesale outsourcing may be a secondary or tertiary choice but it will continue to stalk in the long grass and will prevail. There will be many detours, U- turns and banana skins along the way and I fear that the professional interims who once supported the Public Sector will remain marginalized. The Coalition Government seems to have little appetite for genuinely transforming Big Government but I predict that Big Society will ultimately be a side-show, leaving a clear field for outsourcing (just like the privatisations in Margaret Thatcher’s era).