Monthly Archives: November 2007

//November

Are you playing it too safe?

There is a dilemma that nearly every freelancer and interim manager faces once in a while and that is having to take the decision to stay put and play safe or take a risk and try something new.

Anyone who is invoicing an attractive day rate fee to a client and knows that their current contract is likely to be extended and extended, simply because the client finds it convenient to keep them in a freelance position that could just as well be served by an employee, is bound become stale. The problem is that the sure knowledge of a regular income weighed against the uncertainty of something different, is often an all too easy option.

In my opinion, all freelance professionals should take risks with their careers. After 18 months of repetition they owe it to themselves to search for challenges new. Interim Manager’s need to shine and to breathe creativity into their environments. They do this by bringing in their own external focus and point of view and blend it with the culture in which they find themselves. They need to challenge their environments and offer solutions that only an external can offer. To that end, this sometimes means taking risks; trying new challenges that we have not tackled before. Only by taking chances can we get our adrenaline levels to the point where our clients can really benefit from the passion and expertise that we want to deliver.

If you are comfortable where you are and have decided not to take a risk by walking away from a repetitive and un-challenging assignment, then at least enroll for a course at a decent management school. Force yourself to think more creatively and broaden your horizons.

I can think of 5 good reasons why every interim manager should ensure their Continual Professional Development (CPD) is constantly maintained by registering for new challenging courses:

1. The thought processes required, refreshes our brains and prevents us from becoming too narrow minded
2. A well chosen course can allow us to take on assignments that can form the stepping stones to branching off in new directions
3. The interaction between class mates gives us an ideal networking environment
4. The cost is tax deductable
5. A really good course gives us something new to think about and stops us from becoming boring

So I ask you: when did you last go on a CPD course? When did you last take on an assignment that you were not 100% qualified to take on? How long ago did you gamble away an ‘easy option’ for something more risky and challenging? How long ago did you feel the excitement of doing something new, for the first time?

Interim Managers who feel the excitement of being alive, pass that energy on to their colleagues, friends and families. So don’t let yourself become a droid, be an enabler. Better be poor and interesting, rather than rich and dull.

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Taking some time out

With the end of the year approaching many of the Bayard Associates (me included) have contracts that expire, so as usual there is a flurry of exercise surrounding considerations with regards to what will happen next year, what contracts are available and what are the best options?

When Associates join The Bayard Partnership, I always advise them to put aside some of their income into a savings account and to use it for taking time out at the end of each contract. Typically, Bayard contracts tend to run for at least 6-12 months. However many of the Bayard Associates have worked for their clients (albeit on different projects) for a number of years. However during the period running up to the end of a contract, the Bayard Associates, like nearly all the freelancers I know, start to worry and take their focus off their client’s problems and concentrate too much on their own future.

Following on from my article last week ‘Who is your Guru?’ I believe that it is essential to take some time out, to let your contract run until it finishes and only then start to look around. This gives you a natural break, letting you refresh your batteries and find new energy and insights.

When your bvba is earning more than 120,000Euro per year, you should be able to afford a couple of weeks off, unwinding, reading books and catching up on updating your life plan: ‘where am I going? Am I happy? What do I want?’ kind of questions. This exercise is easier said than done, but the benefits often result in you having a real choice of opportunities and quite often, even obtaining higher day rates than in the previous year, more than compensating for any revenue lost during your time out. Hopping from one pond into another without taking the time to think before you jump is at best opportunistic and at worst, simply foolish.

Luckily here in mainland Europe, in today’s interim market there is more than enough work for everyone, so we need not worry. In two to three weeks, no one will forget us. All we need to do is to focus on what we want, what we are good at, how can we grow and most important of all; how we can best serve our client and society in general?

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Who is your Guru?

If someone were to ask me that question I would most likely answer no one. I am not the guru type, I don’t tend to follow trends too readily and I do not put all my faith in one person. However my life has been filled with mentors, and I have no doubt that I would have progressed further and faster had my arrogance not so often stood in my way.

Over the years, I have noticed a strange tendency among successful people and that is if they don’t follow a ‘guru’ then they very often have a ‘life coach’ or Personal Advisor. The really brilliant ‘life coaches’ are usually to be found very far away and are used to working in a one to many environment (i.e. in an auditorium of hundreds or even thousands of people). They write books and make dvd’s that are sold worldwide.

All this might seem ridiculous to you, but if you think about it logically, it’s only the arrogant or non ambitious people who do not see the need for life coaches and personal advisors. Take the example of a tennis player, no matter how naturally talented they might be, without a coach, they will never truly know their weak points and will certainly not be able to progress very far on a competitive basis. And yet business is far more complex than tennis. For a start there are no fixed rules and business takes place everywhere, not just in a well defined arena. Of course the modern tennis player needs to have PR skills, and legal advisors etc. But they shine on the court, not in a boardroom or a management meeting or across the negotiation table. To add to all this complexity a business person has so many options, which direction to take, career choices: expand or consolidate, raise more capital or sell? All these challenges need to be faced and tackled masterfully. So it is little wonder that successful business people surround themselves not only with their trusty advisors, but also a ‘life coach’ or Personal Advisor or even a guru to whom they refer when needed.

So why is it that we are surprised when we hear that a colleague follows a guru or has a personal advisor? Many of us think of it as absurd or even a sign of weakness. The fact that someone recognizes themselves as inadequate in some way and wants to overcome the issue is, to me, a sign of great strength and determination. In today’s world we need experienced professional advisors, not just friendly amateurs who tell us only what we want to hear, or who have a hidden agenda wrapped in jealousy or some other off the track ambition for us.

I recently met a man who was so impressive, who had achieved so much, so young, that he really blew my socks off. My lunch companion kept in his wallet his own personal mission statement, neatly written on a plasticized piece of paper. On the back he had written down a list of key words that gave his life meaning. Now if you think that is not that impressive, try this: The guy is just a little over thirty, he earns about 300KEuro per year, he recently sold a business he developed for a heap of cash, and he sold it only because it was getting in the way of his future plans. It had served its purpose and cashing it in saved him all the hassle of daily management of teams of staff and suppliers. Before he sold it, however, he realized he was facing some major decisions, so he took some time out to consider them carefully and to put his life into some kind of context. He stopped everything for six weeks, left his wife and family at home and went on an 800km walk across southern France and Spain, with nothing more than a simple rucksack.

Now my lunch companion is not going to become my new guru, but we did decide to turn to one another, when we need professional counseling and I have started reading the book he advised me to read ‘The Monk who sold his Ferrari’ by Robin S. Sharma. The first pages seem very promising; I’ll let you know how I get on.

I am a personal advisor to many people and I believe I have been able to offer my clients solid advice that has very often helped them achieve increased self fulfillment and personal wealth. If you think the idea of a Personal Advisor is daft or unnecessary, then at least take some time out to ask yourself why it is you find the idea so un-attractive?

To repeat my opening question: "Who is your Guru?"

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Dynamic company / Dull company – take your pick…

My wife and I were shopping in our local glass retailer for some new doors for my new office. (I say local, their enormous factory, office and showroom, is a half an hour drive away). This company supplies glass all over the country. But it is old, the personnel look old, even the young ones. The office space is dull. The moment you get a chance to say what you are looking for, you are handed over to someone else. You start off with a normal person and end up talking to an egg plant. It seems that no-one really wants to be bothered to sell you anything, you really have to drag it out of them. We wanted to order two glass doors with frames – not that tricky really, you might imagine?

I guess the reason for this built in empathy could be that the company is making so much money, selling their over-priced glass, and have so many established contracts that couples like us are just a necessary pain in the backside. The weird thing is that everyone knows that, in Belgium, it is the private customers who come in on a Saturday and pay cash that fund the personnel’s bonuses. Because in Belgium cash money is often ‘black money’ and black money is the currency of wining and dining! So one might imagine that the personnel would be doing everything possible to get my wife and I to part with our hard earned cash?

On the way back from the glass store we stopped off at the office of our Landscape architects. The company is young, the personnel too, they seem to have loads of them. But whoever you speak with they all seem pleased to meet you. They are efficient, they come on the day they say they will. They do a little more than was asked for and their prices seem reasonable.

The conclusion from this story and many other observations I have made with similar companies, is that CEO’s form a company, just like departmental heads form a department, and from there a culture grows. In the case of the glass company, 50 years ago it was probably pretty dynamic, but after year on year success it has slowly become complacent. The owner probably does not bother carrying out interviews anymore. The person who does is probably dull and just likes taking on people who will not cause trouble and are not a threat to him or her. And so it goes until one day the owner walks in and notices that his entire staff is as about exciting as a wet day on the Belgian coast.

For the interim manager, a cash rich company with a decreasing profitability and a dull workforce is a really first class challenge. However a young company making loads of mistakes but driven by a passion to serve the customer is much less attractive, these people are generally not ready to listen and what cash they have is already earmarked for one scheme or another! So when it comes to choosing your next client, take your pick!

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