Excelling in Your Interim Consultant Role: Key Strategies for Success

In the world of interim roles, very few individuals experience significant day-to-day differences compared to permanent employees. While being an interim consultant may not pose a major obstacle, the expectations placed upon you can sometimes be higher.

As an interim consultant, you might be expected to possess expertise in multiple areas, and the pressure to make a measurable impact, often more quickly than a new full-time employee, may be greater.

However, there are also advantages to being an interim consultant. You may have more freedom to challenge conventional practices, navigate company politics with less caution, and have your change agenda considered more objectively.

So, how can you ensure success in your first interim consultant role?

The first and most crucial point is to choose the right role.

Avoid setting yourself up for failure by accepting an interim role with a team size, company culture, or business model that you are not genuinely confident in adding significant value to. Remember, your reputation and track record are what you “sell,” so it’s essential not to risk them by taking on a role that is not a perfect fit.

Once you have found the right role, it is vital to clarify the expectations before you start. Gain a thorough understanding of what success will look like in the potential role.

Sometimes companies are seeking a change agent, while in other cases, they simply want someone to “act as if they got the job for real” and perform to the best of their abilities. Determine whether being a good cultural fit is crucial or if being counter-cultural is one of the reasons they are hiring you.

When you start, focus on getting the basics right. Arrive on time and dress in a manner consistent with the prevailing dress code within the team.

During the initial stages of your assignment, avoid making promises you cannot fulfill. Nothing destroys credibility and generates animosity more than making commitments that cannot be delivered. Although you may have been brought in to increase urgency and achieve goals, ensure that the goals you agree upon are ambitious yet attainable.

Now, what is the most critical thing to do when you begin?

Listen. Never make the mistake of approaching the situation with a “here’s the solution, now tell me about the problem” mindset.

In your first week, make an effort to meet as many people on the team as possible. Building relationships and familiarizing yourself with the team is crucial. Schedule 30-minute interviews with each team member and ask questions that provide insight into the current state of affairs.

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

Question 9 can also be used to create a rapid team “NPS” (Net Promoter Score).

Conclude the first week of your new assignment with a “Week One Playback” session with the individual who sponsored your appointment. This is an excellent opportunity to discuss the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis conducted thus far and align it with the sponsor’s expectations.

Additionally, strive to add value to your client in any way possible. It’s not just about achieving goals. Actions like sharing their job postings on LinkedIn, mentioning them in interviews, retweeting their tweets, or liking their Facebook page all contribute to building a positive relationship.

Avoid being overly concerned about billable hours with the client. Remember, what goes around comes around. If taking a phone call or sending a quick email during non-client chargeable time helps solve a problem or maintains momentum, do it. Your impact will be assessed in the end.

Lastly, know when it’s time to move on.

Recognize when you have accomplished your goals or when the value curve begins to diminish. Don’t wait to be replaced. Proactively suggest a new way to add value to the client if appropriate, or move on to your next challenge with another successful engagement under your belt.

In conclusion, to thrive as an interim consultant, you must carefully select the right role, deliver maximum value, and know when it’s time to transition to the next opportunity.

We summarize these principles with our motto, “Be Of Value.” By embodying this approach consistently, you can achieve success as an interim consultant. Interim consulting may not suit everyone, but if you derive a sense of accomplishment from making a business impact, enjoy variety and challenges, it may be the right path for you.