How To Be A Successful Interim

interimSo what is the same and/or different about being an interim consultant vs full time employee, and how can you maximise your chances of success if you make the leap to being an interim?

In my experience very few people get treated any differently day-to-day in interim roles than “permanent” employees..the fact that you’re an interim won’t be a big issue but the expectations of you as an interim can sometimes be higher.

You might be expected to be an expert on more things, and you’ll probably be expected to have a measurable impact – perhaps more quickly than a new full time employee would be.

You could also get more latitude to challenge the orthodoxy, not be expected to navigate the company politics so carefully, and have your change agenda considered more dispassionately.

So how do you make sure you’re successful in your first interim consultant role?

The first (and maybe obvious) point is to choose the right role.

Don’t set yourself up for failure by taking an interim role with a team size, company culture or business model you’re not absolutely confident you can add real value to. Ultimately what you “sell” is your reputation and track record – don’t be tempted to risk it by taking on a role you’re not 100% right for.

Once you have found the right role, and before you start, make sure you are very clear about the brief. Make sure you really understand what success will look like in the potential role.

Sometimes companies want a change agent, but sometimes they just want someone to “act like they got the job for real” and do their “sensible best”.

Make sure you understand whether you will need to be a good cultural fit or being counter-cultural is one of the reasons why they want to hire you.

When you start get the basics right..always arrive on time and dress similarly to the prevailing dress code in the team.

At the early stages of any assignment make sure you don’t write cheques you can’t cash by promising unachievable things. There is no surer way of destroying your credibility (and making enemies of other people) than by promising things that can’t be delivered. It’s a subtle situation may have been brought in to increase urgency and delivery so any goals you agree need to be ambitious but achievable.

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So..what is the most important thing to do when you arrive?

It is to listen..never make the mistake of joining with a “here’s the tell me about the problem” approach.

In your first week try and meet as many people in the team as possible.

It’s important for you to get to know the team, and them to get to know you, so scheduling 30 minute interviews with each team member to ask the sort of questions below will very quickly create a picture of what you’re walking into.

Example Interview Questions

  1. Are you enjoying it here at the moment?
  2. What are our key responsibilities as a team do you think?
  3. As a team, what do we do well do you think?
  4. What do we need to get better at?
  5. Who are our stars?
  6. Does anyone in the team need help to be more successful?
  7. How could we get more customer outcome focussed?
  8. How could we move faster?
  9. Would you recommend working here to a friend?
  10. What three things would you do if you were me?
  11. Anything else we should talk about?

After the interviews an interesting exercise is to allocate any team member mentioned as a “star” in question 5. a +1 and any struggling team member mentioned in 6. a -1. Adding up all the scores will give a quick but surprisingly accurate team talent map.

Question 9. can also be used create a quick team “NPS” score.

At like to end the first week of a new assignment with a “Week One Playback” with the person that sponsored the appointment. It’s a great opportunity to discuss the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) found so far and calibrate it against what the sponsor wants.

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Remember to add value to your client in any way you can as well. It’s not just about the goals. Doing things like sharing their job postings on LinkedIn, mentioning them in any interviews you do, retweeting their tweets, liking their Facebook page, and so on, all help.

Don’t “penny pinch” the client either. What “goes around comes around” so if taking a phone call or sending a quick email in non-client chargeable time helps solve a problem or keep momentum up then do it. You’ll be judged on your impact at the end of the day.

The last thing to remember is…to know when to move on.

You know when you’ve achieved your goals or hit the diminishing returns point on the value curve.

Don’t wait to be replaced. Proactively suggest a new way to add value to the client if one is appropriate, or move on to your next challenge with another successful engagement under your belt.

So there you have it. To be a successful interim consultant you need to chose the right role, deliver as much value as you can, and then move on as soon as you’ve done it.

We summarise it at with our motto of “Be Of Value”. If you do that at all times you will be successful.

Being an interim consultant won’t be for everyone but if you get your sense of accomplishment from delivering business impact and enjoy variety and challenge then maybe it’s for you?

  • Digital Boardroom: Becoming an interim CIO – 24th April 2017

    Rorie DevineRorie Devine (founder and CEO of will lead a discussion and take questions/comments about what is the same and/or different about being an interim consultant vs full time employee, how you can maximise your chances of success if you make the leap to being an interim, and how to secure your first gig. A great opportunity for anyone interested in making the move to become a interim CIO.

    Register for Monday 24th April – 1.30 pm

Rorie Devine

Rorie is the only person to have featured on the cover of CIO Magazine twice, has been awarded "IT Leader Of The Year" by Computing Magazine and is featured in the book "How To Build a Billion Dollar App"​ saying that the change he brought when coming in as an Interim was "truly amazing"​ and "we started to feel we were firing on all cylinders"​. Rorie was recently described as "one of the best business technologists in the country" but doesn't take himself too seriously, understands that leadership is about change, and relishes the opportunity to increase revenue, evolve business models, remove structural constraints and/or improve efficiency. Very much with a hands-on approach, Rorie derives accomplishment from the achievement of significantly improved business results. Specialties: Growth hacking and bringing agility, focus, clarity, simplicity, reliability and urgency. Delivering high revenue growth, removing business constraints, and improving efficiency. Helping conceive and deliver ambitious change agendas.

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