Nicky Bliss provides interim HR leadership support across a diverse group of organisations typically going through change. She has experience across multiple disciplines and a diverse range of innovative organisations, having partnered with some of the world’s most influential organisations in a range of HR roles. Her focus is on fast paced, disruptive HR practices and she has a particular interest in start-ups, transformation and cultural development.
She is also a member of the HR Interim Networking LinkedIn Group, a community for people consultants, coaches and interims.
Here, we speak to her about her career as an interim consultant; how she got in to the field, what she’s learned, and how she finds her assignments.
Nicky, tell us about your career to date?
Like many interims across all disciplines, I actually fell into this way of working and it proved to be incredibly diverse and suited my professional goals so well that I stuck with it.
I was made redundant from what I call my ‘career blooper’ and my network heard I was available. They called and tempted me to set up a Limited Company with an initial 6 month contract to support a huge tech Change programme at Barclays. The programme ran for two years in the end and I stayed the course, supporting a mostly contingent workforce of over 1,000 people.
As that piece of work was coming to an end, I was contacted again by my network to join EasyJet during a company-wide transformation, where I partnered with external consultancies to deliver a pan-European change programme. It was completely different to the role at Barclays, but the opportunity to work so closely with the European market was one I really enjoyed.
I then moved into Brand Management and then Fashion with Lacoste PCL, a joint venture between the mother brand and Pentland Brands Ltd. Setting up this entirely new entity, appointing the Executive Team and staying on to establish the culture and ways of working was a rare opportunity and one that stands out as the most challenging yet rewarding periods in my career to date.
I then experienced the Holy Grail of interim work and found a sweet spot where I could take the summer off to spend with my children.
After a few years heading from one intense contract to the next without a break this was a wonderful experience, one afforded by the flexibility only interim work presents. I was incredibly fortunate to find a really great generalist position (after several big Change programmes) at Severn Trent Water (STW) just two weeks before the pandemic really took hold and we all reverted to the spare bedroom as our office for what turned out to be more than 12 months! STW was great because it was the first time in a while that I was able to lead a fairly sizeable team and I had missed that.
It’s often the case with interim work that you are head down in complex project work and this role was a hybrid with a big team but also a pretty chunky Change project going on in the operational business area I was supporting.
I then moved to The AA in late 2020, another really interesting business going through a PE deal and change of CEO. It was a change for me in that this was my first Fixed Term Contract (FTC), something we are seeing much more of since the inception of IR35 in the private sector.
I was initially quite reticent about a FTC, possibly for more psychological reasons than financial which is often the worry bead of many an interim. FTC can feel like you are much more ‘part of the team’ than interim day rate roles – perhaps it’s just me but I needn’t have worried as it really doesn’t feel any different at all in reality. I’m still here to do a specific piece of work for a defined period of time and I have found there to be no need for a major mindset shift at all in fact.
I left The AA after delivering some really interesting HR Change programmes such as a Target Operating Model re-design and the delivery of the ‘Smart Working’ programme to support colleagues back to a more flexible and dynamic way of working, post-pandemic.
I’ve now joined a major retailer for another FTC as they embark on a transformation journey that will be generation-defining for them and for their industry and I couldn’t be more excited to see what it brings.
What prompted the move into working as a professional interim consultant?
As I alluded to the interim market, it was pure chance. Really it was word of mouth, network and reputation and a spot of perfect timing…
What initially helped you get in to it?
I was very green to understanding the right day rate to charge and how to handle my finances initially. I have a fabulous HR Director in Sarah Mears to thank for making sure I didn’t completely undersell myself in that first contract, and great accountants who eventually sorted out my rudimentary tax understanding and set me on the right path.
Why would an organisation typically engage with your services?
I am a ‘do-er’, I like to get involved from day 1. If there is a problem to solve, complexity and uncertainty to navigate in order to change your organisation or to get the best from your people, I am probably someone who can help. I work and am successful through relationship building. If you want process and systems, Gant charts and tracking – you almost certainly need someone else!
In your opinion, what are the differences between being a permanent employee and a professional interim consultant?
Mindset, (personal) financial organisation and security. Independent working is not for everyone, lots of people see it as a very lucrative way to work but often get caught out by the fact that a few months in, just when you are starting to get to know people and understand cultural norms etc, you’re starting to think about the next assignment.
Not many of us are able to finish a contract without knowing when the next will start, most of us have financial commitments that mean the thought of uncertain gaps in between contracts can be incredibly unsettling and few contractors have been in the game for a long time without experiencing the rather terrifying feeling that after a longer-than-planned gap, you may never work again!
Holding your nerve, working with your network and selling yourself doesn’t come naturally to lots of people and potentially having to do that every 6-12 months can be pretty exhausting. That’s the downside but the upside is flexibility and the lack of ‘political’ skin in the game you need to have to get things done.
You’re an interim, you’re there to do a job and then move on, you don’t need to be involved in watercooler conversations (unless you want to) and, within the constraints of the piece of work at hand, you can take holiday and work the hours you need/want to meaning you can achieve a really great work/life blend. Variety is also a benefit to lots of us, changing industry and organisations regularly have really benefitted me and add something different to my experience that many don’t have.
How do you typically find your assignments?
My last three assignments (including the upcoming one) have been through agency contacts but previously my roles have come through my network, so it’s a real mix. Agency relationships are crucial, as are those with likeminded individuals who understand the particular nuances of interim work and can help you not only find new contracts but also assist with collateral and advice when you need it.
What advice would you offer to new interims?
Hold your nerve, believe in and don’t be afraid to sell yourself and always complete your initial contracted term (extensions have to suit you and your next options) but integrity and reputation is everything.
What one piece of advice would you offer to clients when hiring interim expertise?
Interims need your support to get involved, really quickly. Make it easy for your Interim contractor to access the tools they need to get the job done.
Are you considering hiring an interim professional?
When hiring in HR, it’s important to choose what suits your company’s needs. Interim consultants provide niche expertise, as well as the skills required to drive forward change, at short notice.
Frazer Jones’ interim offering introduces you to consultants who are able to immediately support your business on project work, to cover staff sickness or parental leave, and to drive business critical change. Our global network of 12 international offices enables us to access top talent across all jurisdictions and play a key role in supporting our clients with their global transformations and recruitment strategies.