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Being an Interim Manager

by Penny Davis


My first interim assignment: Carpe Diem!

What lessons did you learn when starting out as an interim manager? Board level HR and Change Director Penny Davis shares her insight having just completed her first interim role.

Why did I become an interim?

Throughout my corporate life, I had always eyed interims with envy. They always seemed to be doing interesting work, were able to focus on one project or a set of objectives without the clutter that a big corporate role can bring. Above all (and this may have been fantasy), the interims I met seemed to be getting a lot more job satisfaction than I was — in essence they seemed happier with their lot. So I planned at some stage “when the time was right” to make the switch and become an interim. After two years of profit warnings, corporate gloom and cost cutting, I concluded that perhaps that time was now. My family were growing up, it was time to take a risk and do something different!

Did my first assignment live up to expectations?

It did - and much more. There are adjustments to be made, as saying goodbye to a senior corporate role, is also saying goodbye to some of the status and power that goes with it. You have to rethink ways to engage with people and to get them work with you. What I enjoy the most is the freedom that being an interim gives, a freedom to say what you think is right without the fear that you will damage your career, and a freedom to measure and manage your own performance. My first assignment took me back to what I was good at, and to what I enjoyed about managing change. I was able to use my commercial and HR skills to visibly add value. It was not all easy (and at times highly frustrating) but when my assignment came to an end, I felt sadder at having to leave than I did after any of my long term roles. 

My tips for success …albeit after just one assignment!

Tip 1Scope and Outcomes

Agree a clear scope of what you are going to deliver at the outset of your assignment. I wish I had taken my own advice on this, as scope creep is easy, especially if you want to accommodate your client - however it can dilute what you finally deliver.

Tip 2: Relationships, relationships, relationships

Managing relationships is a cliché but to be successful in driving change, it is critical. I regarded anyone I came into contact with as a stakeholder, from the Receptionist to the Shareholders. After all, you want to be both personally successful, as well as leaving your client with a taste for more — who knows when they might need you again?

Tip 3: Custom made solutions

Having been on the other side of a lot of organisational change in my career, one of the things I was determined not to do was to present a pre-packaged solution. Companies, like people, have different needs and respond to different things, so understanding the context and creating solutions that are right for that particular organisation is the way to leave a lasting legacy.

I am looking forward to my next assignment (wherever that maybe) and for anyone reading this who is considering becoming an interim, my best advice would be: Carpe Diem!

What are your top tips for becoming a successful interim manager? What did you learn from your first assignment? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Penelope Davis is aboard level HR and Change director with over 20 years’ experience across a range of sectors including construction, outsourcing, mobile telecoms and financial services.

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About the Author

Penelope Davis is aboard level HR and Change director with over 20 years’ experience across a range of sectors including construction, outsourcing, mobile telecoms and financial services.

  • Nic Vine

    Here are 3 more tips - I spent 20 years being an interim project, programme and change manager:

    1. spend the first 2 days meeting with the most senior people you can access to validate, or more likely re-interpret, what you were told in the interview - the challenge is often mis-represented, not wilfully but through internal blinkers

    2. go and meet the person who will handle the mechanics of your pay - if they recall a friendly face rather than seeing a name on a list it helps to smooth any bumps, and payment problems are a distraction you don’t need

    3. be loyal at all times to the person who brought you into the organisation, not blindly but constructively and to their face in the event of problems - you are there to help them get the job done

    Nic Vine

  • Penny Davis


    Thank you for your comments and your insight about the challenge often being misrepresented through internal blinkers. Really good point.

  • Don Walker

    Penny, Great to hear how and what you are doing. Sounds like you found it to be ” A stride into the light” rather than a “leap into the dark”, to quote two of our current political thinkers!

    • Penny Davis

      Hello Don

      Lovely to hear from you. Certainly being an interim is a welcome change and an opportunity to avoid all the organisational politics that are part of being a permanent employee.


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