Towards the future: why professional interim managers have a role to play in the post COVID-19 transition period

The crisis phase of the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to evolve at an unprecedented pace. But while those charged with leading and governing organisations – across all sectors – remain focused on steadying the ship, the last week marks a sizeable shift in thinking and attitude. In particular, the many leaders we have stayed in touch with during this period – wherever they are working – have now started to look ahead. 

Few will tell you that they have the answers. Like most of us, they have been listening to an increasing number of influential voices, each busy painting a picture of what our lives may look like as we come out of the biggest global health crisis of our lifetimes. From these varied sources, we are all starting to shape our own view, and piece together our own emerging picture of what the future could hold post lockdown and, longer term, post coronavirus. 

Even in such unprecedented times – and very likely precisely because of them – effective leadership depends on practical, real world solutions. For many organisations, continued uncertainty and ambiguity will delay long term commitments. However, the skills of interim managers – especially in handling change and transformation, and in sense-making from chaos – will make these professionals a fundamental part of the senior transition team.

Here are our top six observations on how best to source and utilise the best interim talent:

1.As we emerge from crisis management to business continuity, organisations are likely to find internal capacity is limited and look to appoint strategic advisors on a short-term basis, for example in areas such as workforce planning or financial modelling.

2.A recent YouGov poll commissioned by the RSA( https://flo.uri.sh/story/262445/embed#slide-0) showed that fewer than 10% of people want a complete return to normal after lockdown is lifted and organisations will already be thinking about their future delivery models and the impact on their workforce. Even though people feel confined by lockdown, most have valued the time at home and agile working. Digital capacity within organisations was mobilised at lightning speed and will likely go further.  As organisations build capacity and seek investment in technologies to enable more remote working, we expect to see a spike in requirements for interims with experience of digital transformation and innovation.

3.Organisations will be starting to onboard employees virtually; this will continue and can be utilised for Interim hires. Interims have proven track records in their fields and can be relied upon to deliver on objectives set even in a virtual environment.

4.The future of some organisations is already uncertain. We are expecting to see more collaboration (including mergers) between similar organisations to survive; this puts added strain on stretched workforces. We work with many Interims who have specific talents around Mergers and Acquisitions, Restructuring, Organisational Design. Strategic intervention at this time could add significant value. You may not have the expertise internally and acting quickly will pay dividends. External interim leaders can make tough decisions without fear of fallout from the organisation.

5.The environment we are working in now is unchartered territory especially for CEOs – consider hiring Interim expertise at CEO level, Interim Managers can empower you to make the best strategic decisions for your organisation. 

6. You may have gaps on your leadership team and a weakened infrastructure at this time means more work for the CEO – Interim Managers can help fill these gaps and give extra capacity to executive teams.

The interim market is strong. Outstanding experienced leaders can be accessed quickly and cost effectively by any organisation looking for remedial or specialist support. Like everyone else, people who have chosen to invest in an interim leadership career are keen to add value and expertise to organisations in these changing times. Many are uniquely equipped to join senior teams at short notice and provide essential support with their trademark resilience. As we move deeper into the stocktaking and transition phases of the COVID-19 response, we would encourage organisations to think laterally about the solutions they may need, and to consider the benefits that this community can offer.

Embracing transparency

Earlier this year we held a client round table event under Chatham House Rule to discuss the topic: ‘If transparency builds trust, what’s stopping us from embracing it?’ 15 charity CEOs and Industry leaders joined us. Thanks to 11 London and Trust Impact for partnering on this event  and Kate Lee, CEO of Clic Sargent for giving such an insightful and honest appraisal of how transparency around impact reporting has created positive change both internally and externally at Clic.

In an age of misinformation, trust and transparency hold powerful currency. But in the non-profit sector, the fear of speaking honestly about failures is still holding many leaders back. Are they right to be afraid, or should they take the plunge and issue a ‘warts and all’ impact report?

Last week, 11 London teamed up with non-profit experts Starfish and Trust Impact to hold a breakfast event with 15 charity CEOs and industry leaders, hosted by broadcaster Liz Barclay, where we discussed how speaking honestly about failure can build trust. Here are 11 key insights from our debate about why it’s good to be transparent – and how to go about it:

WHY:

#1: Being honest about your failures means people believe your success stories: one charity that saw an uplift in major donations was told: ‘Because of the honesty, I believed everything else’. 

#2: Transparency also builds engagement: your donors and beneficiaries will feel included in your challenges (as they should), rather than sold to. 

#3: Honesty can win awards as well as hearts – as Clic Sargent’s ‘Hands up, we’re not perfect’ annual review proved.

#4:  The cultural pressure that ‘this must work’ can freeze things up.  Conversely: ‘Transparency has improved our internal culture. Because people have permission to fail, they’re trialling stuff.’

#5: Integrity is important to a new generation of job candidates – a transparent organisation attracts a bigger, better pool to recruit from.

HOW:

#6: You can’t start being open with the outside world if your own team don’t feel they can admit their failures. So grow a culture of transparency within your organisation first.

#7: Build psychological safety in your team. By giving people permission to fail, and ensuring that ‘failure’ isn’t seen as personal, you also empower them to learn.

#8: Your donors and beneficiaries are part of your team, so talk to them as though they are – you could even ask service users to write your review!

#9: Honesty provides a real opportunity to educate people about how complicated your work is – so don’t be afraid to be complex with some audiences.

#10: Thank your team members personally for being honest – one CEO recommends a handwritten letter.

AND FINALLY…

#11: If you’ve already aired your dirty laundry, no one else can wave it around. One CEO was told by a journalist: ‘I couldn’t find anything out you hadn’t already said.’