Why I love working for myself

Bettina is a Global Change Leader and an accredited Executive and Leadership Coach. She focuses on developing and delivering complex culture change and business transformation programmes, as well as coaching leaders in both agile, multinational corporates and SMEs to transform productivity and performance.

In 2010, after spending over 10 years as a Change Management and Business Transformation Consultant at PA Consulting Group, Bettina established her own consulting business, Aronagh, in the UK to provide international change leadership and executive coaching internationally.

In the lead-up to Brexit, Bettina’s next objective is to establish Ireland as a second operating base for Aronagh.

Bettina has worked with a range of clients including Three, Cushman & Wakefield, FSA, KPMG, Royal Mail and the Department of Health and Gaelectric.

S&S sat down with Bettina to hear about her leap from permanent to Interim, becoming an S&S Associate and her take on Agile.

Bettina Pickering

At what point did you decide to go interim?

“I spent 13 years at PA Consulting group, which I loved. In 2009 the company took a direction which I didn’t like and which went against my values, so I quit in 2010.

Then the FSA role came along, which was more of a Change Programme Management role. It involved taking a programme to implement a back office target operating model, setting it up and making sure it worked before handing it back over.

In the first two years, I attracted the types of work that I was good at, such as leadership training development at KPMG, culture change programme at Telemetry and individual coaching work. Thus, the plan was formed organically.

After a while, I decided to do an MA in Applied Coaching, while starting to look at agencies and organisations that I could worth with as an associate.”

What are the advantages of going Interim? Would you ever go back to being permanent?

“I’m still not tempted to go back to permanent despite all the calls that keep coming my way! There would have to be several conditions: I would have to be able to keep my company and some of my extracurricular work (coaching, mentoring).

I like seeing short-term outcomes (e.g. coaching) versus the long-term outcomes. Being Interim allows you to work towards both.

I like to have that balance of seeing something evolve and happen quite quickly and for the long-term as well. I love the variety my work offers facilitating, guiding and directing change for organisations and individuals in many ways and at different levels.

I also like the flexibility of working in different places and times. Especially when I am not working as an Interim where I am on site most days of the week, I can do my coaching and mentoring work from anywhere.”

In April, you took on your first S&S Interim associate role at Three.  What does this role entail and how are you finding it?

“I focus on the programme directorship, rather than my usual combined change and programme directorship role.

I was brought on to provide programme directorship for people transformation across all the Technology and Operations Transformation Programmes. The role is different to what I’m used to doing in that Programme Management and Planning is taking a back seat to semi-agile ways of working and programme accountability is residing with HR business partners.

It’s a different way of working, which is interesting and requires a lot of careful navigation and a gradual acceptance of the need for a programme management discipline.”

What are the key takeaways from this role?

“I love the dedication and commitment of the long-term employees at Three – they absolutely love the company and want to see it succeed. I am also working with some amazing Interims who are super talented and experienced.

The role is interesting in that it’s giving me a lot of information for the change leadership course I am developing. It confirmed how I would ‘do’ agile if it were entirely up to me and how to be resilient in that kind of environment.”

How would you do agile if it were up to you?

“I would look at what types of outcomes the organisation wants to achieve and what principles (or guardrails) the leaders want to apply. Then I would select (or create) an approach that is fit for purpose.  Agile Scrum, for example, has been developed to deliver software, not people change. Of course, anything can be adapted for another purpose, but for me, it is about being outcome- and purpose-driven rather than ways of working and methodology driven.

When using an agile methodology, I would always use the whole methodology which is made up of lots of different layers. Some companies or teams only pick out a slice (e.g. working in sprints but not how to make sprints predictable by applying velocity and the planning aspects of agile).  It is important to use the whole scope of the methodology, otherwise it is a wasted effort rather than progress.

When you have a major transformation which affects people’s place in the organisation and their experience of the organisation as an employer, you need a mixture of waterfall and agile – you can’t just do agile and keep people hanging in uncertainty. Any major transformation requires an end-to-end transformation roadmap that has at least has the key steps that build on each other to achieve the desired outcome(s).”

What are the biggest challenges of working for yourself compared to being a permanent employee?

“As an Interim, I don’t have the backing and support of a wider organisation behind me. Having been a Managing Consultant, I’m used to having a team of people that I could delegate things to.

My biggest challenge is to create a marketing approach to line up a continuous funnel of work, without a lot of time away from client work.

I am still looking for a solution to make my work pattern more even and achieve seamless continuity (i.e. having another job lined up when a gig finishes, and the same with coaching work).”

Do you predict that the gig economy will continue to take off?

“It will absolutely carry on. The fact it’s constantly evolving shows that the industry leaders are feeling too constrained in what they can do. Organisations now often have 20% plus of contractors versus permanents, compared to say 15 years ago, when there were only a few contractors dotted around in the private sector.

As the future is unknown, companies need to remain flexible and the easy way to do this is by hiring Interims. A permanent employee is a huge cost to the organisation.

It’s also the capability flexibility that they have. Most Interims I know will endeavour to develop themselves, going on courses or taking online programmes to improve their skills. Permanents, in general, will not train themselves and do other things to that extent, unless it’s offered by the organisation. They’re less likely to invest in their training outside the organisation.

Bringing Interims in with the capability needed at the time is a smart move.”

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