Seeing is believing

By Jessica Mullinger | 11 September 2018

Against a backdrop of diminishing budgets, huge transformation and higher than ever ambitions for local places, councils are under increasing pressure to get maximum return on investment for every penny they spend. Interim managers are an expensive but invaluable investment, as long as they do a good job. As a recruiter I have always taken time and care in matching the right person to the right role but in the last couple of years I have found this task more and more time-consuming and difficult to get right.

In the digital era, we have a mass of information at our fingertips, which in some ways makes the role of a recruiter easier than ever before and in some ways makes it much harder.

At Solace in Business (SiB) the process of carrying out due-diligence is lengthy and detailed. It is absolutely expected that an interim will hit the ground running, easily make relationships with the necessary stakeholders, achieve a list of outcomes and make sustainable changes in a short space of time. All the while quite possibly leading and developing an existing team to enable them to keep momentum going long after his/her contract ends. But how do we spot the people who are able to do this, from the information made available to us?

In the age of social media interims can manage an online presence that gives potential clients and recruiters more detail than just a career history. It’s now possible to link through to organisations the individual has worked at previously and people you might both know, as well as read through testimonials from previous clients or employers. There may also be other publically available information commenting on the abilities of any particular interim manager, which can be unearthed via a quick web search. Of course the traditional reference is still heavily relied upon too.

So...what’s the problem here? Surely an interview, two reference checks, a LinkedIn profile review, testimonial review and a Google check will provide sufficient detail to enable any recruiter to assess the suitability of a particular candidate for a particular role? Unfortunately not; on occasion, all this provides is one person’s highly edited view of themselves, supported by the views of others, who have either been carefully selected to concur or who do not want to make waves by ‘telling it as it is’.

Let’s take the traditional reference as the first case in point. Some organisations still perpetuate the myth you ‘can’t write a bad reference’. This leads to either factual references containing only dates and role titles or bland references that are of little use for assessing competence. However, the most misleading type of reference is the outstanding reference, which can on occasion be written by an organisation commending a staff member who has been ineffective in their role, in order to facilitate their exit from the organisation in the quickest and cheapest way possible. This type of reference is misleading and enables some individuals to lazily job-hop causing disruption wherever they go.

So, what about the more contemporary LinkedIn profiles and testimonials? Well, firstly an individual can be selective about who they ask to provide a testimonial and secondly by the very nature of it they will be expected to write something positive. Whether bound by the laws of polite society or by reciprocal favour, most people will do just that.

Moving on to the web check, now surely this is where we will uncover the ‘truth’ about a person? Published and unpublished, edited and unedited, authored and anonymous, this should give a recruiter all they need to know about any interim manager on the circuit? No...the truth of the matter is none of this information can be relied upon in singularity.

I realise it sounds as though I am declaring all interim managers to be storytellers, with a history of ineffective work practices and lazy behaviours. This is not the case at all...it works both ways. There are a small number of interims who I have discovered, through much checking, re-checking and validating, don’t match up to their references and online presence, but I also have candidates I am working with who have an undeserved reputation from online coverage, particularly from local bloggers or local anti-council campaigns (often at best inaccurate and at worst slander), who are struggling to get assignments, usually with the exact types of organisations who could use their skillset the most.

So what can we do about this? Is it possible to slow down the flow of mediocre interims ‘doing the rounds’ and increase the flow of effective interims who have been unfairly tarred online by an innocuous incident or guilt by association (for those who have not managed to work through the complexities of exercising their right to be forgotten online)?

All parties in the chain can play a part in improving this situation; client organisations should provide feedback on interim managers, they have used previously, wherever possible. In this circumstance it is not advisable follow the adage ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’. It is also worth thinking about how you can give a factual AND useful reference. I am not suggesting here we should be writing career-ending references for everyone who does not achieve the outcomes expected of them, but simply that you put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager in receipt of said reference and think what points you would find useful in their situation.

Perhaps the person would be better suited to one type of project than another? It may be useful for referees to refer back to appraisals or other documented information about the individuals’ skills and abilities.

Interim managers themselves need to be open and transparent about their CV, reasons for leaving, outcomes, references and online profile. They also need to be patient and cooperative in this new world. Good recruiters WILL spend more time on due diligence now but in doing so they are ensuring they can fight the corner of good interim managers as well as weed out the interims who would not be a good match for any particular role, judged by their previous deliverables.

And finally recruiters; we need to do the checks, ask the questions and validate the answers. We need to pick up the phone and take feedback directly from the individual’s line manager. Often a tone of voice or a pause in a conversation can reveal more than words themselves. It has never been more difficult or more time-consuming to get this right, but equally it has never been more important that we do so. At SiB, we are passionate about the sector and we pride ourselves on working ethically, so we are working hard to make the time for this in a very fast-paced and competitive market. And if we have doubts about whether a person will do a good job, we will highlight those doubts to our client and let them decide or we simply won’t put them forward.

So the key message here is to use all the information available but don’t blindly believe everything you read. Either good or bad, it’s important to dig a little deeper and get to the facts, to ensure that you get absolutely the right match for any interim assignment.

Jessica Mullinger is head of interim management and operations at Solace in Business

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