Get the most from Interims by engaging directly and forming a partnership up front

If you have read my stuff in the past, you will have heard me talk at times abut the importance of analysing and managing the impact of organisational behaviour in order to make changes happen effectively or indeed to make them happen at all. Even the most complex technical systems I ever rolled out in large companies exhibited lower levels of technical risk than they did political and it is no secret based on work going back as far as the 90s Chaos reports that people and organisations are the challenge, not machines. By that I don’t mean ‘them’, I mean ‘us’, we are people, all of us and as such we should have the capacity to celebrate it while at the same time being totally realistic about our abject failings when it comes to seeing things as they are, accepting our shortcomings and taking on some risk to make positive moves for the better

 

The real problem is organisational change

The biggest problem by far, to start breaking it down a tiny bit, is the power of the group over the individual. No matter how strong or how determined, no individual can stand toe to toe with a determined group and win, nor is he/she likely to try, if anything a great weakness as humans is our fear of even trying to challenge the fashionable idea or as it has come to be known recently the populist view. Modern politicians have learned all too well how to manipulate masses ahead of a contentious change and create an impermeable consensus behind utter nonsense.
My personal experience covers mostly technology driven change, but also some purely cultural, not that there is any difference at all from an organisational viewpoint.
People-process technology, sorry if you are bored by it.
Implementing a system of any sort in an organisation is , or ought to be, a process of identifying a target operating model and or future state of being, plotting an achievable path towards that future state, designing, building or configuring a system that will deliver or support the target operating model getting the people to adapt it and make it work and then executing till it stops fighting back.
The easiest part by far, though never easy, is getting the technology to fit the model and stabilising it. The hardest part is convincing people to champion a new way of thinking and acting that by its very existence, suggest that what they have been thinking, doing and believing in for some time is wrong, That is a tough barrier to cross. It is especially tough while just a few influential members of the group are holding out for the old way.

Resistance is the natural state of affairs not the exception

Add to the above complication the issue of comfort and natural change resistance. What I am referring to here is the sheer comfort of being able to sleep walk one’s way through day after day as a result of familiarity and the sheer security of knowing how things are and how they tick and being confident that they are unlikely to change. Asking people to break up this security and abandon this comfort zone is tough when you know how, are committed and have the support you need. More often than not, none of these comforts are actually in place. Now pay lip service to the political advantages of certain Stati quo such as budgets, responsibilities and all the other attributes of the modern organisation that feed status and power for individuals.

Enter the interim

The first necessity for driving change is to bring in someone with no personal agenda, no axe to grind and a little bit of skill. Any interim will have been through this mill many times even if he/she has not thought of themselves as a change practitioner and can be of immense value in defusing the natural political tensions if nothing else, because they will not be accused or suspected of creating an empire for themselves or a colleague.  If however, they have some experience and understanding of the challenges of organisational change they can drive better outcomes and reduce risk substantially.

The potential for skills transfer and development

By adapting a holistic approach to building an acceptance of change leading on to adaptation of new practices and mindsets, there is a golden opportunity to partner with the new team and develop them instead of fighting a bitter war that ultimately can only end in more hiring and poor outcomes all round. Take the chance to invest in training and mentoring tomorrows team instead of battling with todays incumbents and the outcomes will be much better all round. This is a natural part of a good change process and although nothing is guaranteed ever, it is always the right approach.

Some mistakes you MUST not make

 

  1. Interims often operate without the clout and support networks of a big four consultancy and as a result, they will often not be able to negotiate terms with the same confidence, or maybe not at all if there is the wrong agency in the middle of the relationship. This issue alone reduces dramatically the interim’s ability to deliver results. Why? because the interim is walking in from the cold to a strange organisation where there are challenges, trapdoors, quicksand and all sorts of hazards awaiting and needs the positive visible and real support of a committed senior stakeholder if he or she is to stand a chance. I and many others have overcome this disadvantage through determination and tact, but it is an unfair expectation and you are the one ultimately paying the bill for this error. You would never expect a 2k per day guy from the big 4 to endure this, don’t expect the impossible from an interim. I can’t stress enough the benefits of contracting openly with an individual or organisation to partner in this critical endeavour. Good relationships and trust between client and Interim is always the right way to go.
  2. Don’t delegate the stake holding of the project, i.e supporting the Interim, to someone whose personal powerbase may be, or even seem to be at risk from the changes and therefore jeopardise the ability of the interim to deliver. I have on numerous occasions been hired by someone, especially in the Public sector, who didn’t want me to succeed, but had been ordered by his boss to hire me and support me in delivering changes that he saw as against his own best interests. In one case in the private sector, he later succeeded in ousting the CEO. This is not a satisfactory situation to expect an interim to perform in and it should be avoided. Few have the ability to overcome this sort of disadvantage and I certainly would not accept such a situation today having some more experience behind me. Make sure your interim is getting the support he needs.
  3. Don’t assume, because he is an experienced person used to responsibility that he doesn’t need communication and feedback. Humans are the same everywhere, they need feedback, interaction and a sense of achievement. I once found myself in a NGPB where the CEO had resigned, and the entire strategy was in question, yet I was going to work daily to drive difficult contentious change with a distinct suspicion that nobody other than myself cared whether it ever happened. The suspicion proved right in the end. That is not the way to get the most out of an interim.
  4. If the changes will require a team of Interims, then please do yourself a favour and hire the leader first, then let him, or her build their own team. I have even had on many occasions technical “experts” hired for my team by people who had no understanding and no hope of choosing the right person and then presented to me as a fait acompli. Don’t do it, stop and think about this. It may well be how process works now, but isn’t this the whole point in change . .
  5. As early as you can agree with your interim what a good outcome will look like and have regular feedback sessions to make sure you are informed and doing the right things at the right time to support your project.