Youth versus experience

first_img Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos. Youth versus experienceOn 6 Apr 2004 in Personnel Today Isolder and wiser better in today’s interim market? Nic Paton looks at both sidesof the debateJusttoday, I had a conversation with an organisation about taking on an interimassignment, and they said they did not want someone who was too young. So Ifind being older is a positive advantage, people like my expertise,”explains interim manager Jan Hobson.Hobson,49, has been an interim for the past five years, taking the plunge afternotching up more than 20 years’ experience at a high level within HR (see CV).For her, the fact that, as she puts it, she “has some grey hairs” isa vital part of being an effective interim.”There’san element of the psychological contract about it. Clients expect you to havebeen there and done it, to have the war wounds and survived,” shestresses.Firmsexpect interims to be able to do more than simply shift resources around ormanage a function, she argues, something that, again, lends itself to someonewith more experience. Astudy by interim agency Chiumento in February concluded that interim managersare becoming more widely used and more respected, with more firms recognisingtheir potential to fill a strategic hole or take on senior management roleswithin an organisation.Hobsonsays employers are keen on interims with plenty of experience, who have‘weight’. “For instance, if there are problems within the HR team, theymay want someone who can act as a coach or mentor, but who is not doing it froma corporate political point of view. You need to have had a certain level ofexperience to be able to do that,” she explains.ForHobson, deciding to become an interim was a gradual process. “I hadreached a quite senior position within the corporate structure, so I had tolook at myself and my skillsets and what I enjoyed doing. I was deterred frommoving any higher up the corporate ladder because I did not want to spend anymore time on internal politics,” she says.”Also,there was the issue of work-life balance. As head of international HR, I wasdoing a lot of mergers and acquisitions work, lots of traveling and working allhours and, as a result, I had some issues with my son.”Sheadds: “I networked and spoke to a number of people and organisations,including agencies such as Penna. But it was still a big leap into theunknown.”Evenwith her seniority and contacts, it still took some time to get established, soit is vital to plan the move ahead, particularly to ensure you have a financialcushion in place.”Itwas six to nine months before I got my first big assignment – it’s quite hardto get started when you are working at a senior level,” says Hobson.”Ifyou can leave an organisation with a promise of some interim work in thefuture, that really helps. I also did some short-term consultancy project workfor a while. The first one is always the hardest to get,” she adds. Oneof the issues with getting started is the need to convince the agencies thatyou are not just viewing interim management as a stop-gap to something better;whatever your age it needs to be a definite career choice, explains Hobson. Thisis particularly the case because, as with all interims, you can get downperiods between assignments. “It is definitely feast and famine,” shesays.Nowadays,though, Hobson is normally very busy – in the past two-and-a-half years therehave been few fallow periods – working particularly on things such aspost-acquisition integration or integration of different business or HR unitsand developing HR policies and practices.Otherkey areas that she specialises in include the development and implementation ofchange management strategies, policy and strategy development, employeerelations, performance management, compensation design and locum HR services.Clientsthat she has worked for include Scottish Power, Direct Line Insurance,Prudential-Bache and XL Capital, including many smaller and medium-sizedenterprises. At this level, she commands a rate of around £1,000 a day.”Ilike the flexibility, and being able to use your technical skills. Somebody buyingin an interim is buying your years of expertise,” she enthuses. “Youneed to be flexible, open-minded and creative.”Thisis particularly the case because interims need to be able to pick up issues andproblems quickly, identify solutions or changes of direction and implementthem. The fact that interims implement change is one of their definingcharacteristics, and their skills, often gleaned from years in the field, arecritical.”Ialso like that there is usually a high level of clarity about what you aredoing – you tend to know what people want and what they are expecting ofyou.”Therange of projects that interims use businesses for has vastly increased in thepast few years. According to Chiumento, again, more and more firms are nowusing interims for short-term projects, often the preserve of younger interims.Whetherthis means interims are becoming little more than glorified project managers isa moot point. But at the top end, with turnaround specialists brought in toshake up an organisation and then drag it in the right direction, experience isstill a valued commodity.”Youneed to have your technical skills already in place. Interim management is notabout building a career path. You need to have had an established career, butyou do also need to keep your skills updated, which you can often do in the offperiods,” she explains.Indeed,Hobson is between assignments at the moment, and so is spending some of hertime brushing up on her coaching skills through a series of coaching coursesarranged by Penna. Ironically, such events can also be good networkingenvironments.Thefact you are your own boss is both a pro and a con. It is a pro, of course, inthat you decide what you want to do, but a con in that you are always chasingwork and work is always chasing you, which can make planning down time andholidays somewhat problematic.JanHobson CVBased:Chipping NortonCareer:July 2000 – 2004Director, Real Potential Ltd support services (interimmanagement company)January1996 – June 2000 Director ofInternational Human Resources, Prudential-Bache International (UK) Limited(part of the Prudential Securities business group)April1995 – December 1995 Internationalcompensation and benefits manager, Crosfield Electronics LimitedJuly1982 – March 1995Europeancompensation and benefits manager, HR manager, policy and administration,compensation and management development manager, UK compensation and benefitsmanager, salary administration manager, Pitney Bowes LtdSeptember1977 – July 1982Salesand marketing personnel manager, compensation and benefits manager, personnelofficer, Sperry UnivacLastyear, interim manager Andrew Nash was at a networking event for HR and otherprofessionals. There were around 40 people there. “Five or six of us wentinto a group to discuss something within a workshop, and one HR guy in hisearly 60s immediately moved away because he said he felt threatened,” saysNash. Fortunatelyfor Nash, 36, an interim for the past four years, such incidents are extremelyrare. “In the sort of roles I’m pitching for – head of resourcing orsenior recruitment roles – my age has never come into it.”Thedays of the interim market being the preserve of 50-something, ex-chiefexecutives are long gone. Nowadays, believes Nash, it is a much more fragmentedmarket, with even the concept of what defines an interim becoming confused bothfor managers and interims.Whilemany would dispute whether such roles really are interim positions, theexpansion in the market means that older and younger interims can thrivealongside each other, albeit carrying out different functions.TheChiumento Coming of Age report argues that, even if the age of interims isgoing down, there are more serious ‘career interims’ coming into the market.These are often people like Nash, who are mid-career but are still veryexperienced in their field and committed to interim management as a permanentway of working rather than as a stopgap following redundancy. Themost common use for interims during 2003 was to manage short-term projects (74per cent, up from 59 per cent), said the report, with just 15 per cent hired tostep into a permanent role on a temporary basis, down from 26 per cent in 2002.Asimilar study by Russam GMS last summer also found part-time assignments wereincreasingly popular, with the number of managers working less than a full weekgoing up by some 5 per cent.Theexpansion in the market has led to a blurring of the interim role. You can, forinstance, find 20-something temporary project managers describing themselves as‘interims’ or managers who are simply covering a vacant post. While many woulddispute whether such roles should be defined as interim positions in theconventional sense of the term, this does mean the market is now big enough forolder and younger interims to thrive alongside each other, albeit carrying outdifferent functions, says Nash. “Ithas never been a factor in the assignments that I’ve got and I’m normallyworking with people of a similar age to me,” he points out.Nashbelieves that what is important is not whether older or younger interims managein different ways, but that their experience is relevant, and that they canmakes things happen. Confidence is a key attribute for any interim,particularly younger ones, he adds.”Youhave to have confidence in your ability, know that you are the best around andthat you can go in and add value. You have to be sure you are worth the moneyyou are charging.”Nashdecided to become an interim after spending most of his career in recruitmentand sales. “One of my children became quite ill and it made me look atthings afresh. Rather than go back to working with agencies, I wanted time toreflect and go off and do something fresh,” he says.”Idid a fair amount of research on the web and in trade journals and I felt thatas I had experience through my recruitment work of quite a wide diversity ofsectors – industry, IT and investment banking – that I could put those skillsto a more appropriate use.”Hisfirst assignment was working within the HR department of a service partner ofBT. It was just a month’s work but he took it to get something under his belt.”It was then extended to three months and I was on my way,” he says.Sincethen, he’s done seven assignments in four years, including working for bignames such as Norwich Union, Egg, Masterfoods and the British Library. His rateis usually somewhere between £350 and £500 a day.”Itgives you variety. You are always learning different ways to do things, whichyou can then apply elsewhere,” he explains. “You also tend not tohave to get involved in the politics [of an organisation].”Thebig downside, of course, is that with flexibility comes uncertainty. Nash picksup assignments through a combination of his own contacts, networking, andworking through agencies such as Russam GMS, Chiumento and Praxis. Duringthe inevitable fallow periods between assignments that are part of interimworking, Nash uses the time to recharge, regroup and brush up on any extraskills or training that he needs.”Youhave to plan that you are going to survive off eight or nine months a year.Having said that, I tend to put a massive amount of effort, both mental andemotional, into my assignments, so sometimes when one is finished, it can be abit of a relief. Clients do expect their pound of flesh, and you do tend to puteverything into it,” Nash adds.”ButI enjoy the lifestyle, going in and picking up a new organisation, looking atwhat needs to be achieved. When you do a good job, it’s great to be able tothink that you have got that achievement under your belt,” he says.AndrewNash CVBased:LincolnshireCareer:2000– present dayInterimmanager through his firm Ash Consultancy and Management, specialising inrecruitment, resourcing, HR and general management, and also works through arange of agencies1994-2000Executivewith a regional recruitment agency1990-1994Salesdirector for an electronics security firm Comments are closed. last_img read more