Flying Squad

Interim management is increasingly seen as a valuable business resource.
Here is our guide to the qualities you should look for in an interim manager

Despite the fact that many people would still not know what "interim
management" actually means, those who do like to talk about its
"changing face". Ten years ago, when it first started being written
about in the more outré management journals, it was hailed as the ultimate
symbol of the disposable labour market – the temps at the top who had been
reengineered out of proper jobs to scavenge the odd week’s work for themselves
in the post-industrial blight of self-employment.

Today, we are assured, this is the odd and disturbed infancy of the beast,
before it made good and hit the big time. All in the past. "It is
absolutely not an alternative to a real job," says Ian Daniell, chairman
of the interims’ trade body, the Association of Temporary and Interim Executive
Services.

"It is not about marketing the services of redundant executives. Those
who do it want to operate in this way, as a professional undertaking. It is a
conscious career choice people make about an alternative way of working."

He concedes that, as in many other ways, redundancy can be a spur. But, he
says client companies do not just want a safe pair of hands who can do no
damage while someone important is off.

"Interim management is an executive resourcing service. It is not about
getting someone in to hold the fort. When you employ an interim, you are
bringing in someone to add value, to revitalise a function or an
organisation."

Daniell says that as little as five years ago, all CVs he received were from
people in their 50s and 60s; the restructured and downsized, the early retired
with an inkling there was life in the old dog yet.

Now, he says, they are a decade younger – 40s or 50s, choosing an
alternative to the drudgery of the daily grind. The cynical might believe there
is a touch of branding in this view. After all, IM firms regard it as a
gruesome faux pas to use the word "agency" when referring to the
suppliers of interims – agency means HGV drivers and shorthand secretaries,
although the tendency to sharpen the distinction may speak volumes to
outsiders.

Yet, according to one of the few pieces of research into the views of the
interims themselves, there is ample support for his view. Supply company,
IM&M, which specialises in the HR field, found that 74 per cent regarded
being an interim manager as "a long-term option" or "a career
path". They went into IM to "widen their experience" and
"for a new challenge".

Of the 176 surveyed, 92 per cent were confident of continuity of
assignments, while 82 per cent had carried out at least one assignment in the
past year.

Alyson Gilbert-Smith, managing director of IM&M, argues the growth of IM
chimes with Charles Handy’s predictions about the "core-periphery"
employment model and the growth of project-based work. "Companies have
been under relentless pressure to cut costs for years now, but it has got to
the stage when they simply can’t reduce overheads any more, so they look to
interims to provide a new way of attracting high-quality management ability and
experience."

While freedom, variety and an ever-expanding network of ex-colleagues are
the undoubted advantages of being an interim, money may also play a part. At
the very lowest level, a junior HR manager can earn about £200 a day. But at
the higher end – for former top general managers, managing directors,
functional aces or chief executives, and there are many top people from
household name firms who are operating in IM – top performers can earn £2,000 a
day and take a good chunk of the year off. Typical assignments last between
three and six months.

There are provisos. First, supply companies will take a commission of
between 25 and 35 per cent. They invoice the client company; the interim
invoices the supply company. Such fees are justified by the fact that these
kind of figures are common in the executive recruitment arena and dwarfed by
consultancies. The companies can also spend a month selecting and interviewing
the right executive.

Some supply companies boast they have placed an executive in as little as
24- hours. But three weeks is a typical turnaround time. Normally, they receive
between 40 and 50 enquiries from would-be interims every month; most are
encouraged to register with as many agencies as possible. Then, of course,
interims operate through their own limited companies, without any of the usual
big company benefits, paid holidays, pensions and so on.

ATIES cautiously believes that IM is continuing to grow by 25 per cent a
year into a market worth up to £500m. Others such as imPAact executives, part
of PA Consulting, go further, claiming 40 per cent growth a year.

Needless to say, there are several key management trends that are fuelling
the demand. First, there is a consensus that mergers, acquisitions and indeed
demergers account for a great deal of work for interims. Specific projects,
change management, training, culture change and planning are the interim’s
bread and butter. But conversely, a company may

Interim management is increasingly seen as a valuable business resource.
Here is our guide to the qualities you should look for in an interim manager

Despite the fact that many people would still not know what "interim
management" actually means, those who do like to talk about its
"changing face". Ten years ago, when it first started being written
about in the more outré management journals, it was hailed as the ultimate
symbol of the disposable labour market – the temps at the top who had been
reengineered out of proper jobs to scavenge the odd week’s work for themselves
in the post-industrial blight of self-employment.

Today, we are assured, this is the odd and disturbed infancy of the beast,
before it made good and hit the big time. All in the past. "It is
absolutely not an alternative to a real job," says Ian Daniell, chairman
of the interims’ trade body, the Association of Temporary and Interim Executive
Services.

"It is not about marketing the services of redundant executives. Those
who do it want to operate in this way, as a professional undertaking. It is a
conscious career choice people make about an alternative way of working."

He concedes that, as in many other ways, redundancy can be a spur. But, he
says client companies do not just want a safe pair of hands who can do no
damage while someone important is off.

"Interim management is an executive resourcing service. It is not about
getting someone in to hold the fort. When you employ an interim, you are
bringing in someone to add value, to revitalise a function or an
organisation."

Daniell says that as little as five years ago, all CVs he received were from
people in their 50s and 60s; the restructured and downsized, the early retired
with an inkling there was life in the old dog yet.

Now, he says, they are a decade younger – 40s or 50s, choosing an
alternative to the drudgery of the daily grind. The cynical might believe there
is a touch of branding in this view. After all, IM firms regard it as a
gruesome faux pas to use the word "agency" when referring to the
suppliers of interims – agency means HGV drivers and shorthand secretaries,
although the tendency to sharpen the distinction may speak volumes to
outsiders.

Yet, according to one of the few pieces of research into the views of the
interims themselves, there is ample support for his view. Supply company,
IM&M, which specialises in the HR field, found that 74 per cent regarded
being an interim manager as "a long-term option" or "a career
path". They went into IM to "widen their experience" and
"for a new challenge".

Of the 176 surveyed, 92 per cent were confident of continuity of
assignments, while 82 per cent had carried out at least one assignment in the
past year.

Alyson Gilbert-Smith, managing director of IM&M, argues the growth of IM
chimes with Charles Handy’s predictions about the "core-periphery"
employment model and the growth of project-based work. "Companies have
been under relentless pressure to cut costs for years now, but it has got to
the stage when they simply can’t reduce overheads any more, so they look to
interims to provide a new way of attracting high-quality management ability and
experience."

While freedom, variety and an ever-expanding network of ex-colleagues are
the undoubted advantages of being an interim, money may also play a part. At
the very lowest level, a junior HR manager can earn about £200 a day. But at
the higher end – for former top general managers, managing directors,
functional aces or chief executives, and there are many top people from
household name firms who are operating in IM – top performers can earn £2,000 a
day and take a good chunk of the year off. Typical assignments last between
three and six months.

There are provisos. First, supply companies will take a commission of
between 25 and 35 per cent. They invoice the client company; the interim
invoices the supply company. Such fees are justified by the fact that these
kind of figures are common in the executive recruitment arena and dwarfed by
consultancies. The companies can also spend a month selecting and interviewing
the right executive.

Some supply companies boast they have placed an executive in as little as
24- hours. But three weeks is a typical turnaround time. Normally, they receive
between 40 and 50 enquiries from would-be interims every month; most are
encouraged to register with as many agencies as possible. Then, of course,
interims operate through their own limited companies, without any of the usual
big company benefits, paid holidays, pensions and so on.

ATIES cautiously believes that IM is continuing to grow by 25 per cent a
year into a market worth up to £500m. Others such as imPAact executives, part
of PA Consulting, go further, claiming 40 per cent growth a year.

Needless to say, there are several key management trends that are fuelling
the demand. First, there is a consensus that mergers, acquisitions and indeed
demergers account for a great deal of work for interims. Specific projects,
change management, training, culture change and planning are the interim’s
bread and butter. But conversely, a company may choose to divert its in-house
management into integration activity and leave day to day management to
interims.

Next, inevitably, there is outsourcing. Having got rid of many skills,
organisations find themselves lacking in technical, but critical areas. And
often in HR skills. IM&M says that TUPE, senior compensation and benefits
skills, staff integration and redundancy selection are all in short-supply.

Then, there is the general tendency towards project-based work. Project
leadership skills and general management abilities are always needed. And
finally, specific IT applications are frequently needed on a temporary,
possibly start-up basis.

Qualities for interims

1 The grey hairs of wisdom

The optimum age for an interim is a subject of some controversy between
those who equate interims with experience and who regard anyone less than 45 as
something of a parvenu, and those who say interims can be anything from 30
looking for a varied career.

"I would not look at an interim without at least 10 years of senior
management responsibility and preferably upwards of 15, so 45 is pretty much
the minimum age," says Nigel Corby, managing director of Global
Executives.

Loraine Cardell-Williams, manager of Interim Performers, agrees. "Below
the age of 45, you could not guarantee that they were a serious interim
manager, and that is something that the clients want and that we try and
guarantee to them.

"Interims exist to plug a skills and experience gap. They are a skilled
pair of hands needed for temporary business reasons," she says.

That said, Cardell-Williams says that IM is becoming a younger industry –
pointing to growing demand for interims at middle management level, especially
in HR.

This point is strongly made by Gilbert-Smith of IM&M. "I would say
the average age is 30-40. The point is that it is no longer about hard times,
or a sign of people coming to the end of their career. More and more people are
looking on it as a challenging career."

At the other end, Ian Daniell says that interims getting assignments at 65
should count themselves lucky. "I did place a chief finance officer who
was 63 the other day," he says. "Some clients want someone who is
almost an uncle figure. A lot depends on the attitude of the interim."

2 Nothing to prove

"The best interims are those with nothing to prove," says Sheila
Chalker, manager of Interim Management Services. "They have done it all –
not in an arrogant way, but just so that nothing is a surprise to them; nothing
too daunting. They should have no learning curves."

The consensus is that interims are usually overqualified for the tasks they
are assigned to – necessarily so. "One of the key advantages of the
interim is they are outside the sniping of office politics," says Nadia
Parkin, consultant with imPAct executives. "They cannot be status
conscious or interested in the politics."

Many stress that one of the key skills of the interim is the ability to
enter a situation, assess the politics, listen carefully and take control.
Malcom Browne, head of Penna Interim says, "The interim manager has to be
able to establish themselves quickly, take command of a situation at speed and
grasp the politics in no time."

Corby adds, "Mostly an interim will already have a successful career
behind them, so necessarily they will be focussed on getting a particular job
done."

Parkin says, "They have to be incredibly good at assessing a situation
quickly and astutely and adapt their style accordingly. They have to create
certainty and leadership out of often hostile and tricky situations."

3 Results-driven

Interim managers are doers, rather than talkers, helpers, strategists or
thinkers. They are more than likely to have their own views about the future of
a particular operation, but they are normally parachuted in to take on a very
specific task.

"There is no business that is more results-driven than interim
management," says Corby. "The interim will be judged entirely on what
they achieve, not how hard they have tried and definitely not on what they say.
The customer has to know that that is what they are getting, someone who is
saying, ‘Judge me on what I achieve’."

Cardell-Williams says, "The challenges they are looking for are not
about titles. They have deliberately moved away from being stuck in the same
job and they are after the excitement of achieving things."

But Penna Interim’s Browne says what supply companies need to guarantee to
clients is expertise – the assurance that interims have the capacity to do
something, because they have a demonstrable skill set and a proven track
record. "Clients do not want someone to keep things ticking over," he
says.

4 Flexible problem solver

According to IM&M’s survey, the interims believe they are wanted for
certain skills: problem-solving (41 per cent), creative thinking (31 per cent)
and influencing and persuading people (30 per cent). They rated flexibility as
the key attribute of any interim (cited by 93 per cent), while over 80 per cent
regarded their ability at fitting into a team as "excellent".

A total of 90 per cent said it took them less than three weeks to get up to
speed and begin delivering tangible results. They regard their adaptability as
having been enhanced by the life of an interim. The survey found that they felt
just as loyal to their client as they would in a permanent role. A total of 65
per cent were expecting to retire between 55 and 60.

5 Robust

Despite all advantages, many supply companies agree it is probably not a
life for eggshell personalities. Operating independently requires good
self-motivation and recognition that the interim exists to support others, not
to be supported. "The best ones are very independent minded," says
Chalker of Interim Management Services. "They are in it for the ability to
direct their own careers and not being permanently beholden to their boss. They
need a robustness."

Inevitably it is a life of flux, with typical assignments lasting six months
and the risk that they are never really part of the action.

That said, Gilbert-Smith argues that interims have "the best of both
worlds". She adds, "They get the advantages of being fully integrated
into a team and I do not recall one who complained of being cut out of major
processes."

There is a universal consensus that the best interim managers want to be
interim managers. Many supply companies operate a system of finder’s fees to
discourage interims going (the Government is currently keen to ban temp to perm
fees – the cause of a major controversy within the recruitment field).

But Corby argues that the issue seldom arises anyway. "There is nothing
we can practically do to say, ‘No, you can’t have that person as an employee’,
but we want committed interims. We are offering an alternative to the very high
costs of employing someone full time."

6 The obligatory people person

Because of the nature of project management, swift absorption into a team is
a key skill of the interim. They have to earn respect and are often brought in
to revitalise flagging teams. "I would say they need to be extrovert and
they need to be good listeners," says Daniell.

While there is a grey area between the interim manager and the consultant,
Daniell says the difference is that the interim has a proven track record in a
particular area and owes loyalty to the client, rather than the employing
organisation. "You can’t use a consultant as a line manger," he says.
"Interims have quantifiable experience."

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