Our Senior Consultant with CIPFA-Penna, Jonathon Sheppard, caught up with John Betts to talk through what an average day looks like as a busy Finance interim.
Jonathon Sheppard kicks off the conversation, "So John, tell us about a typical day for you.”
9:00am – ‘A Start to the Workday’
The days starts with a meeting of fellow Strategic Directors and Heads of Service to review progress over the month and agree key priorities going forward. It's always interesting to see how different Councils address different issues and there are some topics around devolution and local government reorganisation that I can helpfully support, based on past experiences.
9:30am – ‘Briefings and Feedback’
Then it's briefings with the Portfolio Holder and the Chair of Scrutiny for future committee meetings. I've made considerable efforts to build positive working relationships here. Relationships are important, politicians tend to be wary of newcomers who are only around for a short period of time. Putting the time in early has helped establish a confidence in them about me and the advice I give. Leading to positive feedback and extended chats/discussions.
13:00pm – 15:00pm ‘Research and Analysis’
For me, the afternoon is all about pulling together an analysis for a major investment the Council is considering. It’s also one of the main reasons why I was called in. Establishing a sound business case with several service college, being able to then take the project forward – it creates a real sense of achievement for me. I'm optimistic that I'll see some building work start before I leave and that will be the start of a transformation for the local area.
15:00pm – 17:30pm ‘Conquering the Dreaded Inbox’
At the end of the day and there's a bunch of emails to work through – even the interim isn't immune to the curse of the inbox! I still don't know precisely who is responsible for what in the team, but I hope I've distributed a few tasks to the right people, alongside some guidance and weighing up some development opportunities for staff I'm sure can take the next step. I log off and wait to see what tomorrow will bring.
JS: That looks like a busy day! Let’s dig into your role further. How do you quickly acclimatise yourself to a new culture, new people, new objectives, and a new working environment time after time?
JB: Your communication skills and ability to cope on a steep learning curve must be good. You need to try and quickly ascertain what’s required of you, and swiftly identify who you need to work closely with. So, building positive working relationships quickly is key. I tend to spend the first week trying to observe – you can learn an awful lot initially by keeping quiet and listening, rather than piling in with all guns blazing. After that, it's a matter of establishing credibility and authenticity, often with staff who may have some (understandable) cynicism based on past experience.
JS: How has the pandemic affected your career as an interim? What is easier now? What is harder? Has it made delivering your work easier or harder?
JB: I think the key change the pandemic has instigated is a recognition that quite a lot of work can be done remotely. This gives the interim the potential to work across a far larger geographical sphere. However, the lack of face-to-face contact and the difficulty of establishing genuine, effective working relationships via a screen is quite a challenge. It's difficult to pick up the culture and nuances of a team or service you've never met.
JS: What words of wisdom would you offer to other people thinking about potentially making the move into becoming an interim in public finance?
JB: I’m no authority on being an interim but I'd recommend that you think about your motivations and, what your offer is to the client. I don’t buy the idea that we all have a unique selling point. But you can be the right person with the right skill set and experience, who just happens to be available at that particular time. And if you’re worried about uncertainty, fitting in, or where the next job is coming from - just embrace that, jump in, and learn to live with the excitement of it all!
Want to talk interim in Finance? CIPFA-Penna is here to help:
We understand that the transition from permanent to interim employment is not an easy one. If you are considering this yourself, you’ll undoubtedly have concerns, worries and plenty of questions. For further advice about making the transition from permanent to interim employment, reach out to us at CIPFA-Penna.