Interim HR leaders Series – Sue Colton, Business Psychologist

March 24, 2021

As specialist HR provider, we feel there is a place for a broad range of talent from permanent hires, temporary solutions through to professional interims and consultants that can help support a more flexible resourcing strategy that many organisations may need.

In our Interim HR Leaders series, we speak to Interim HR leaders and consultants who bring with them niche, expert skill sets and leadership capabilities required to drive forward change.

We want to understand more about the decision-making process that they have taken to become independent, engagement scenarios and lessons learnt over the years.

This time we are speaking with Sue Colton,  who provides services relating to all aspects of psychology at work. This may include creating competency frameworks, designing capability programmes, undertaking personality profiling through to providing outplacement and wellbeing support.

Sue, tell us about your story?  

I started my career at NatWest Bank.  Although I started working in a branch, I quickly moved into HR, initially as a generalist before moving into strategy.  I had the opportunity to manage the Group wide Staff Opinion Survey, coordinating the overall programme across the bank’s 16 HR functions, covering 90,000 staff, all while doing my master’s in HR Management!

When NatWest was taken over by RBS, I moved to KPMG as a management consultant where  I worked with financial sector clients, in HR/organisational development consulting, identifying and effecting change.  I also qualified as a behaviour profiler and psychometrician and ran the assessment programme for potential associates to work with us on large scale projects, before leaving to set up my own business. 

What prompted the move into this market? 

Partly circumstances I have to say and equally feeling equipped through study and experience to provide support to various sizes of businesses.  Working for one of the big four consulting firms provided first-class training in business management. Whilst working for a very large blue-chip organisation such as NatWest gave me invaluable experience in leading-edge HR processes, systems and philosophies. It has proven to be a great combination of knowledge and experience to offer clients.

What initially helped you? 

Without a doubt being offered a couple of short term contracts immediately upon leaving KMPG helped.  That and my network – although when I heard that to succeed as an independent you needed to network, I hated the concept and certainly didn’t expect anyone to offer me work.  But I have always nurtured and cherished my working relationships. If that has led to work then great, but I enjoy just as much keeping in touch and staying up-to-date with them all. Feeling connected to people has always been important to me, and even more so right now!  

Why would an organisation typically engage with your services? 

My skill set is slightly different from some in that my work is almost entirely project focussed.  Mostly, I am engaged when an organisation doesn’t have the expertise in-house for a defined piece of work.  If it’s assessing candidates for recruitment or development purposes then clients need someone qualified, registered and impartial.  If it’s a project related role focussing on creating employee engagement or wellbeing interventions for example, then they are hiring proven experience as well as someone who can hit the ground running, who knows the pitfalls and positives and can focus on the job in hand.

In your opinion, what are the differences between being permanent and being independent?  

I think when roles are advertised, often the end client wants someone to design and then run with a new system or a process.  I think though this requires two different skill sets.  The process design can be a ring-fenced project best done by an interim on a ‘deliverables’ basis.  For example,  creating OD interventions, career maps, competency frameworks and talent programmes; all of these can be ‘one off’ pieces of work with a beginning and an end. This doesn’t always necessitate someone 5 days a week, but places the emphasis on output, and sets a deadline over a longer period of time. Once the project has been completed, the day-to-day running of the intervention can be managed by a new or existing employee with the relevant operational skills. 

How do you typically find work / assignments? 

It’s always been via multiple sources – from word of mouth, my network, repeat business or professional associations, through to attending webinars, conferences, and also Interim management companies such as Frazer Jones.  A huge variety of enjoyable sources  – so it’s about being out there I guess, and more importantly delivering valuable and credible work.

What advice would you offer to new interims? 

Keep curious, seek out information and opinions to ensure you remain up-to-date and stimulate your own thought processes.  Stay connected, think out loud with colleagues and share what you can, for free! Know what you’re good at and enjoy the journey – but remember you need downtime too!  

What one piece of advice would you offer to clients? 

I hope that clients see us as partners when we are working for them.  As consultants we really want to get to know our clients and their businesses, to understand what they need and want, so we can ensure the best outcome for their business.  Personally, if I can’t do something, deliver it on time or lack the relevant expertise I will say so up front. Ultimately, being open, honest, pragmatic and credible is paramount, and ensuring trust and mutual respect is retained throughout.

Sue Colton is a Director and Founder of SJC Consulting London ltd and works on an interim/associate basis with clients. Her current focus is in helping businesses manage the wellbeing of their employees,  including their line managers and leaders, in supporting the evolving workplace journey.  She is also a member of the HR Interim Networking LinkedIn Group, a community for people consultants, coaches and interims.

Why Frazer Jones?

Our integrated interim and search offering enables clients to deliver business-critical transformations across the UK and worldwide from permanent HR search to business transformation and interim solutions.  Our global network of 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

If you have any questions about this article and if you need support hiring or finding the right role for you, contact Lucy or somebody else from our specialised team of HR interim consultants