Seven Ways to Succeed as an Interim HR Director

Bringing in an Interim HR Director is an increasingly popular move for CEOs who want  to affect significant change within their people culture and HR strategy. We recently held a networking evening for Interim HRDS and, as the topic of conversation (briefly) turned to business, we thought we would share their seven key tips about how to succeed as an Interim HR Director:


Don’t become part of the furniture.

There is no doubt that most Interim HRDs will become emotionally attached to their clients pretty quickly. While this is great for building essential rapport with stakeholders, it is essential to retain a degree of objective detachment. You have been brought in from the outside to troubleshoot issues – if you become one of the team it will be far harder to push through the required (and sometimes painful) changes.  As one of the attendees said

I once stayed in an Interim position for nearly 2 years and realised I had become drawn into the politics of the organisation and was no longer an objective interim.  I have now adopted a 12 month rule!”

Balance the present and the future.

With complex strategic projects, the benefits of your actions as Interim HRD are unlikely to be realised during your tenure and may only becoming apparent when you are a memory from the past!  While you will always need to prioritise the “big picture”, it is important to balance this with some short-term wins. Seeing a few specific actions through to their conclusion allows you to mould those around you on the journey, sharing a few valuable lessons about driving through change along the way.

Leave the HR department every day.

From day one in the assignment, it is vital to take the “people” temperature of the wider business. It might seem tempting to remain in the fold of the HR department, but it is often the case that myopic views can cloud the judgement of an interim observer. Get out there, talk to all sorts of people, and draw your own conclusions. There is a risk that you might be seen to be “interfering”, so you should make it clear that you are primarily information gathering rather than influencing.  One interim said

“From my experience the most important thing has been the ability to navigate key relationships, engage stakeholders and ensure a continual dialogue takes place.  All of the senior management need to understand and be on board with what you’re trying to achieve, for any change/new initiatives to land successfully within the business.”

Old lessons aren’t always relevant.

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that you have experienced a certain situation with a previous client, but people matters rarely lend themselves to cookie-cutter solutions. Taking your time to understand the differences will save you the embarrassment of admitting “ah, no, this time it is different.” Approaching each client with a fresh pair of eyes is crucial to solve their unique set of issues.

Encourage people to think creatively.

Sometimes all you need is a slight change in approach to unlock a new direction. This is easier said than done when “it has always been done this way.” The appointment of an external interim is a sign that the leadership of a company welcomes new beginnings, but the creativity has to extend to the wider team and the interim HRD has to be the creativity cheerleader.  Make sure that you are comfortable with leading change and in encouraging others to think and act creatively.

Identifying pain is key in initiating change.

It is often said that “Change hurts” and there is a temptation to avoid it at all costs. However, you will need to bite the bullet and actually identifying what is hurting the business at the start of the assignment is a good way of commencing a change process.  If you can identify and rectify something that is unpopular and/or hurting the business unnecessarily then, once that has been done, the longer journey is often more manageable. Identifying pain and diagnosing core issues is a key role of the interim HRD.

Leave a legacy with your champions.

The true success of an interim HRD is the lasting impact of your legacy. Once you leave it is all too easy for the client to slip back into their old ways, so it is vital to cultivate a number of champions within the business (in HR and outside HR) who will be passionate about seeing things through.  Hopefully they will identify themselves to you – as the ones that are open to change and become supportive of your actions.  The more people who are keen to champion the cause of the interim HRD, the better the job you have done.

These were the seven main tips suggested by our group of Interim HRDs.  If you are an interim HRD, we would be interested in your view also.  What makes you successful?  What tips would you give?

Please comment on our LinkedIn post and please join our LinkedIn Group for HRDisrupters (to include Interims and Permanent HR change agents).

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