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A developing story

Written by: Gemma Stevenson-Coupe is a consultant, talent acquisition and development at Solace in Business
Published on: 4 May 2023

On a daily basis, I have the pleasure of speaking to individuals about the next steps in their career; I chat to them about their goals and support them in making their next challenging move. These conversations can vary greatly depending on the individual, but over the years I’ve started to spot trends and themes, particularly in relation to individuals who are considering interim management or consultancy, or a portfolio career. Increasingly, the importance of their own personal development is taking centre stage in this career move.

For me, it seems that the demographic of people choosing to establish a portfolio career is changing. It’s no longer solely the career choice of retirees who have spent 30+ years in permanent roles, but instead this option is attracting individuals from different stages in their careers. The opportunity to move from role to role relatively quickly, or work with several organisations at once on multiple projects, is giving variety and flexibility to the working week and providing great job satisfaction. As we await the Institute of Interim Management’s (IIM) annual survey results, it will be interesting to see if this year’s data corroborates the view I have formed anecdotally.

At Solace I facilitate regular virtual coffee mornings with interim managers and consultants, and I have noticed in recent years a real drive and push to continue with personal development. Often those seeking a portfolio career are still on their learning journey; many are open to additional development opportunities and the chance to network and knowledge share with one another. They are keen to keep up to date with the latest local government sector knowledge and politics and build on their leadership skills, as well as improve practical skills like report writing and basic accountancy.  It pleases me to see personal development taking priority for our interim managers and consultants and can only see positive benefits for the sector in this being the case.

In this safe space we have created for new interim managers and consultants, we are noticing a real willingness to be open about feelings of trepidation and insecurity, at this position of crossroads. Whether it’s an experienced chief executive retiring from a long and celebrated career or someone choosing to make the move at an earlier stage, the feelings of apprehension are often the same. And while, at one time, an experienced chief executive moving into a portfolio career may have felt there was limited opportunity to pursue their continued learning goals, that is no longer the case and we are finding, in this safe space, that there is a sense of openness to share across the board.

Some of our virtual coffee mornings are co-facilitated by Solace associate Ann-Marie Barlow, who herself made the move to a portfolio career pre-retirement. 

Apart from the variety it brings, one of the aspects she most values is the ability to learn from others. Ann-Marie believes that working for yourself can feel a bit lonely, so working as part of another organisation for a short period or as an associate from time to time helps her to gain exposure and, importantly, learn from others who have more experience in different areas. 

Ann-Marie often talks in our coffee mornings about being very mindful not to lose track of her own development in the process of changing how she works. Moving into a portfolio career in her mid-30s meant she had a big chunk of her career ahead of her, and she is clear she didn’t want to stagnate (see below, for Ann-Marie’s advice). 

Exploring new things, understanding your skill set, networking, and reflecting on your learning are all integral to being able to thrive in a portfolio career. At Solace we aim to support and develop our associates, whether that’s by hosting networking opportunities both virtual and in-person, facilitating policy and market updates, or providing support on an individual basis with skills development, CV writing, Interview support or coaching and mentoring.

Personal development is always a key element in our approach to working with our associates and in turn supporting the sector.


With Ann-Marie Barlow director, Energise Development

Here is some advice on how you can continue to prioritise your development when you move into interim management or consultancy, or take on a portfolio career:

1. Don’t be afraid to take on a project outside of your comfort zone

Most of my learning used to come from formal opportunities like courses – which still have their place. I think of my work projects now as mini-secondments and make sure I’m taking time to reflect on my own performance when I’m evaluating each project. Consider taking on projects that challenge you and allow you to learn new skills or gain experience in a different area.

2. Embrace your ‘peacock feathers’

Several years ago I worked in a tri-council partnership (three sovereign councils, one workforce). Because of the nature of this partnership, I was juggling complex stakeholder relationships. I used to look back on this as an important learning experience. Now, I recognise that I haven’t left that behind, that experience will stay with me. So, I talk to coaching clients now about peacock feathers – what are the experiences you’re bringing with you into your work that are both behind you, but also ready to be brought forward into your work in the future.

3. Network with professionals in your field

I’ll never take for granted the generosity of the people within my network who’ve taken time to share their own experience. Investing in my network has led to new opportunities and collaborations as well as providing space for learning and growth. Think about the types of conferences you want to attend, which professional organisations align with your values and how you can grow your presence through platforms like LinkedIn.

4. Find a safe space to reflect and stretch

As a coach it’s important I take regular time to reflect on my practice, so I pay for regular coaching supervision sessions. Even if you’re not a coach, find a space to reflect on your practice in a safe environment. This is something I’ve been working on with local authority HR and OD teams as an external supervisor, this is a reminder that professional supervision isn’t limited to coaching or therapeutic work.

5. Finally...

Remember a portfolio career is all about flexibility and variety, so don’t be afraid to try new things and explore different opportunities. By finding places to stretch and continue to learn and grow, you can build a successful and fulfilling portfolio career.

Gemma Stevenson-Coupe is a consultant, talent acquisition and development at Solace in Business

Ann-Marie Barlow is a director, at Energise Development