Q&A with change and transformation expert Kate Still

8 February 2023

In our series, Interim Stories, we sit down with interim managers from our community to hear about their careers, lessons learned and hear their thoughts on the industry. Here we speak to change and transformation expert, Kate Still.


Can you tell us a bit about your background and what led you into a career in interim management?

I started off life as an economic development consultant. After about a year I set up a social enterprise regeneration company in West London, and then I spent 5 years as the national social enterprise advisor to the 9 regional economic development agencies. I was fortunate to work internationally on some amazing innovation partnerships in Europe and America and this where I honed my skills in social purpose-based change and innovation. I’ve spent much of my career going in and out of consultancy and in house roles, primarily leading change and transformation processes. As someone who has lots of other interests and has run their own business throughout most of their career, I like the flexibility, autonomy and variety you get from being able to work across lots of different sectors. My business has developed significantly over the last few years. Ironically, the pandemic was a game changer for me with an ability to work with a much wider cohort of organisations due to remote working.  I am currently also training as a clinical psychologist so interim management forms part of a portfolio of activities for me including consultancy, advisory work, NED and C suite psychodynamic coaching.


What, in your opinion, is the best part of a career in interim management?

It’s a great job for natural problem solvers. Adding value as an interim is often about being able to come in and quickly understand a problem and drive change. Many interims I know have this skill set but also hate the small p politics that come from being on a permanent executive team. For me, I value personal autonomy and the ability to make impact – ironically of all the jobs I’ve had, I’ve found making change easier in organisations when I’ve done it from an interim role.


And, the worst part?

It can feel lonely at times as you never really have a “team” and you know you will be moving on all the time. You are also often the unsung hero that addresses something major behind the scenes that no one will ever know about. If you are someone who needs your efforts publicly validated, it’s probably not for you.


Why do you think you’ve been successful in your career?

Who defines success? I think that’s a loaded concept. My idea of success may not be yours and vice versa. For me, I’ve been able to find purpose and meaningful work where I have carved out a lot of autonomy to free me up for the things I am really passionate about. My top priority is being a present parent, so being able to work at this level whilst also being around for my children is success in my eyes.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my personal values and how that informs my decisions, but I don’t think my career is necessarily reflective of what most people traditionally class as “success” I’ve given up on the vision of a big corporate CEO role as I know it wouldn’t make me happy. Understanding that in itself and being OK to let other peoples’ opinions of whether they agree with the things I believe in, or whether they think I’m successful or not roll off my back, is my definition of success.


What do you think makes a great interim manager?

I think being able to build relationships quickly, see a complex problem clearly and provide your client with confidence that you can sort it out is the essence of what people want from a senior interim. People who bring a higher level of gravitas and experience than the role they are brought in to do and can add wider value.


Are you an early bird or night owl?

Neither – I am a creative and non-linear thinker who can be highly productive in very intense bursts. Throughout my career I have always been able to contain my job to the 9-5. I don’t function well with long working hours and this is something I have always had clarity about  needing to protect from a very young age in order to maintain my own wellbeing.


What would you say your biggest failure has been and what did you learn from it?

I think early in my career I had very few good leadership role models around. Unfortunately I probably emulated the techniques I saw around me from simply thinking that was what you are supposed to do. That’s not the kind of leader I would want to be now. The breakthrough was meeting people I liked and aspired to be like and who validated my natural inclinations towards empathy. My biggest lesson was to be the leader you would like to be led by, understand and uphold your values and question your context. Now, if I encounter cultures where its not possible to be values led, I leave.


Who inspires you?

One of my greatest influencers is Sir Ken Robinson. His teachings on the role of creative thinking were transformative to my understanding of myself. My career in innovation really came to life when I realised the way I think may not be understood by many people, but that it is in essence my core ability – it also helped me to search out my unique tribe of similar people so that I can get the support I need. I’m now very privileged to have a brilliant group of very clever, creative women in the innovation sector who support and encourage me on my journey. We each recognise the principles that Sir Ken espoused, that there are lots of brilliant creative people in the world that look nothing like the people you see at the top of many organisations now. Our collective goal is to help each other make the kind of impact we know is possible if our skills and abilities are valued and validated.


What do you see as the biggest opportunity within your industry?

The Housing, Care and Social Purpose Sectors are in desperate need of good, problem solvers and values led leaders. The current crisis is creating a large gap in the market for leaders that can think in complex systems terms. Many of the things we face cannot be solved by continuing the way we are going – that and the ability to both understand and lead complex operational change are the two biggest areas of demand I see.

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