Today’s blog post comes from Jennifer Simnett, who is the Director of the Human Resources consultancy People in Places. She shares her thoughts on the type of people you will encounter on an assignment at an organisation. 

Over 8 years of interim assignments, I have walked into a range of diverse situations with clients and colleagues during the first weeks of a new contract. Arriving in a new organisation where I’m unknown means that I’ve received the full spectrum of initial responses before staff get to know my leadership style and approach. Some of the characters I’ve encountered in the first days and weeks of an interim assignment may be recognisable to you…..

Seven Characters You Will Encounter on an Interim Assignment

1. There is Mr Challenge, who knows you are there to solve problems, so comes and lays ALL the corporate issues at your feet on day one for you to fix.

2. There is Ms Best-Friend who sees you as a Messiah and her salvation come to protect her from being bullied, stressed or performance managed.

3. There is Mr I-Hate-HR who is scarred from the latest poorly implemented HR project so takes out all his animosity on you as representative of the whole HR function.

4. There is Miss Jealous who doesn’t want you to be too successful by getting things done quickly and efficiently – especially on tasks for which she may be partly accountable in her role.

5. There is Mr Carry-On-As-Normal who thinks you are so unimportant and transitory as an interim that you are best ignored.

6. There is Mrs Stonewall, whose colleague was exited the week before you arrived so obviously you are responsible and she will refuse to answer your greeting in the corridor/lift/kitchen.

7. There is Mr Gossip, who feels his job is to fill you in on all the office gossip to ‘help’ you navigate the organisation but really just wants to be seen as well connected and powerful.

Fortunately not all these characters always turn up on every interim assignment! In fact, all the teams I have worked with have been delightful, interesting and well-motivated people, often passionate about their businesses  These characters show themselves when actions are driven by fear, apprehension or self-protection. An interim coming into the organisation can be scary. My arrival can be a very real and tangible commitment to change on the part of the Board and executive team. It sends a message to the whole organisation that strategically something is shifting.

In those first couple of weeks, my personal tactic is to meet, talk and communicate with as many stakeholders as possible. If this means having 1-2-1s with each of 60 team members, then I make it a priority. If it means 5 minutes team huddles in the open plan floor, then I do it regularly.  The quality of the communication is also imperative. It needs to be informed and genuine.  The key is to listen to everything and get the lie of the land.  My agenda is to discover what is working well and what needs improving, to find out the level of engagement and to get buy-in to change. My messages include giving a strategic context to what  I’m there to do and provide reassurance on any fears or apprehension which will get in the way of collaboration. There can be a rainbow of responses to an interim but anticipating and managing those responses lays the foundation for personal credibility and a successful assignment.

Jennifer is a dynamic and collaborative Board and Executive Director in commercial HR and workplace transformation.  She offers experience in implementing commercial frameworks, people strategy, business development, change management and process reengineering.  She has worked for organisations such as Reuters, General Electric, BAA, London Underground, British Gas, London Pensions Fund Authority and Surrey County Council.  Jennifer has an MBA, MSc in Organisational Psychology, is Six Sigma Greenbelt certified and is soon to complete the Chartered Director accreditation with the Institute of Directors.

photo credit:Geralt cc

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