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!