is no substitute for experience so here are five companies who relate how their
interim managers measured up, By Sally O’Reilly
in interim HR managers is increasingly useful. With organisational change now
the norm, it is often more cost-effective to use temporary HR managers than
recruit a full-time member of staff. But how do you make sure you get an
interim with the right skills? And, once in post, how do you ensure you get the
best possible performance from them? Here are five examples of how different
companies tackled the issue.
– Interims with international experience
and acquisitions are endemic in business today, and this often means
integrating systems and staffing structures across national boundaries. Interim
HR staff with international experience can be extremely helpful to companies
going through this kind of transition, as international engineering company
Charter found when it acquired Howden, a firm which specialised in air and gas
Charter went to interim executive provider Board Level Interim Executive, it
wanted an interim HR manager who could help with a programme which included
closing four sites, cutting staff from 1,400 to 1,100 and bringing in a new IT
system. And to make life more complicated still, the interim would have to
steer all this through the Howden European works council, in order to comply
with EU regulations. The staff elected to this council would have to be consulted
on issues such as redundancy.
needed to happen quickly, so bringing in an interim for 18 months was
essential. But it had to be someone with the right skills. "Finding
someone who really knew their way around European HR issues was critical,"
says Bob Boland, chief executive of Howden European Air and Gas Handling
Division. "If you don’t know your way around the legislation, it can get
you into a lot of trouble. I was losing staff in a number of countries as well
as moving staff across boundaries to work elsewhere."
drew up clear guidelines about what we wanted to happen," says Boland.
"We presented this to the management board and it included cost savings
and target dates for the restructuring. It was the interim’s job to operate
within that but they would have freedom in the way they chose to tackle
was pleased with the appointment, David Kitchen. Not only did he have the right
experience, he also had the confidence to challenge Boland if he thought
changes were being brought in too hastily.
other interim managers, an interim HR director can stand outside office
politics," says Boland. "They can be honest about what needs to be
done. David would say, ‘I know you want to close that factory tomorrow, but
these are the factors you need to take into account.’"
a situation where jobs are being cut, another advantage of hiring an interim is
that they can play the hard policeman and then move on. "It does work that
way," agrees Boland. "When a permanent person is appointed, they
aren’t tarnished with the memory of what went before."
was it a success? Boland thinks so. "It wasn’t a straightforward process
but we worked on it very closely and came in ahead of every target we had
agreed with the board."
TSB – outsourcing specialist recruitment to an interim
Companies of all sizes can find that an interim HR manager is a useful
addition to permanent personnel staff, and financial services company Lloyds
TSB is no exception. Last year it identified the need to recruit highly
specialised salespeople across the UK to sell regulated products such as
pensions and life insurance policies, as well as non-regulated products
including credit cards and loans. This was a discrete piece of work which
Lloyds TSB decided to outsource to an interim manager, and it was also part of
the structural changes which followed the merger of Lloyds and TSB two years
Haywood, senior portfolio manager with Lloyds TSB, is part of the team that
tackled the projects with an HR implication which arose from the merger.
"It was a big change, and we needed to bring in extra HR staff to pick up
the issues as project managers," she says.
this case, Haywood was looking for someone who could oversee the recruitment of
350 branch bank sellers and 80 financial consultants, and who could draw up a
recruitment plan. Using interim firm Chiumento Consulting Group, she hired Pat
Spink, a former trainer with broad HR experience.
needed Pat to look at when these people needed to be in post and to work back
from there," says Haywood. "If we wanted them to be trained, when
should we recruit them into the organisation? When should we advertise? When
should selection take place?"
deadlines were tight. Spink came into place in September and Lloyds TSB wanted
the new financial advisers in post by the end of December 2000 and the branch
based sellers by the end of January 2001. Even so, the appointment worked well.
was a smooth process," says Haywood. "Essentially, we wanted to get
someone with the skills and experience to get on with it. You do have to build
in time for any new interim to get used to the company culture, and they do
have to fit in with the way Lloyds TSB works. We have a particular method of
project management and we stick to a consistent process."
believes experience makes all the difference when meeting the needs of a client
such as Lloyds TSB. "I pick things up very quickly – I have worked as a
trainer and you learn to build a rapport and assimilate information fast."
welcomes such clear-cut projects as this one. "One problem for interims
can be that you find you are catching up with things that have already
happened." Starting with a blank piece of paper is the ideal situation for
an interim HR manager.
Group – Using an interim as a consultant
can be useful for periods of transition, particularly when HR departments are
trying to re-invent themselves and move from an operational role to a more
strategic position in the organisation. An interim HR director or manager with
experience of personnel issues in a wide range of organisations can add weight
to the HR function – and act as a consultant as well as a temporary addition to
was certainly the experience of digital transformation company Oyster. The
firm, which employs 210 staff, had some new investment money last spring and
needed to build its corporate office, including the HR function, with the
eventual aim of floating on the stock market. The HR manager then in post was
involved only in the day-to-day running of the company and the firm was keen to
move this role onto a more influential footing.
the company brought in Tricia Breslin as an interim HR director, using interim
consultancy Macmillan Davies Hodes. She was given two main objectives – to
cover the operational role of the existing HR manager, who had gone on
maternity leave, and to prepare the ground for a strategic HR director. This
new director was Maxine Sutton, chief people officer of Oyster, who came into
post at the end of 2000.
was quick to see that the experience of someone like Breslin was highly
valuable. Breslin worked as a product manager before qualifying in personnel
management and serves on employment law tribunals. She therefore has a useful
knowledge of both the broader aspects of business and the legal implications of
I came into post I needed someone while I found my feet," says Sutton.
"We were very fortunate in finding someone like Tricia, who could look at
the operational issues and at the bigger issues as well."
also decided to draw on Breslin’s legal expertise after Sutton was in post, by
asking her to compile a staff handbook setting up good practice employment
processes for the company.
believes giving interims the chance to complete at least one project is a great
morale booster and means the client company will get more out of the process.
"Interims start a lot of processes but they don’t often execute everything,"
she points out. "It’s good to give them something they originate and see
is all part of making the most of the experience of the person you have bought
in, Sutton believes. "A lot of interims, like Tricia, are very
experienced, intelligent, articulate people," she says. "Companies
need to know they are getting the maximum use of their knowledge, not just
using them as a stop gap to fill an admin role."
– Using an interim to set up change
who need interims often need permanent staff as well, so it can make sense to
use an interim consultant who can meet both needs. This was the decision made
by James Scouller, managing director of commercial wallpaper manufacturer
Muraspec, which has 400 staff in Europe and the Middle East and is the
subsidiary of US parent company Omnova Solutions.
his HR director left last August, he initially thought his best option was to
wait till a permanent replacement was in post, and muddle along as best he
could till they arrived. But after discussions with the divisional HR director
of his parent firm in Ohio, he thought better of it and established that
interim firm Odgers Ray & Berndtson could provide both a short-term and a
long-term solution to the problem.
Scouller, one of the first priorities was to be clear about the difference
between the permanent and the temporary post. "I wanted to be clear about
the job spec and the person spec," he says. "Again, I worked on this
with the help of the HR divisional director in the US. We decided we wanted the
interim to hold the fort and also draw up a 12-month agenda for the permanent
HR director, so it was clear what their remit was when they came into the
agenda included auditing the issues for the HR department, compiling a training
needs assessment and installing a performance management system. Through Odgers
Ray & Berndtson, interim HR manager Jane Saddler was brought in for a
four-month period and Scouller was very pleased with the result.
in someone with experience smartens up your processes and systems," says
Scouller. "And Jane was very adept at dealing with the issues and
observing the way we worked. She was extremely helpful in a background
teambuilding role and helped people understand each other better."
top of this, all of his original objectives were met. "We certainly got an
assessment of the big issues, and an action plan, and the HR issues were dealt
with very competently for the four months Jane was in post," he says.
"So it did work for us – in fact we are already using another interim in
the personnel department."
Scouller has a caveat for anyone considering bringing in an interim HR manager.
Expecting them to implement sweeping changes is not realistic unless you bring
them into post for at least a year. "For shorter periods it’s better to
get an interim in to set up change than to expect them to implement it,’ he
says. "Establishing a system for someone else to put into practice is the
ideal approach – and if you don’t do this, I think it’s unfair to the
Sun Life – Using interims in a large-scale change programme
months ago, Axa Equity and Law merged with Sun Life, and a new chief executive
took over the company, the Axa UK Group. Axa Sun Life is one of the three
companies which makes up the group, and has 4,500 staff. After the merger, a
major change initiative was the inevitable next step and a new HR director was
the first senior appointment.
HR department had a high profile and we were in a position to influence the
direction of the business from an early stage," says David Morgan, head of
resourcing and organisation. "Also, the changed profile led to us changing
from a purely admin function to one which operates on a consultancy
moving from one style to the other was not easy. New functions included dealing
with internal and external suppliers, outsourcing certain activities and
embarking on a restructuring programme which included redundancies in number of
departments, including HR. Also, personnel staff needed to deal with a staff
association which was merging with Unisys. So last year Morgan decided to bring
in six interim HR managers to help with this extensive programme, including
managers from Interim Human Resources.
to Morgan it was the sheer scale of the enterprise which made HR interims so
useful, together with the fact that this is an effective way of tapping into
specialist expertise as quickly as possible.
wanted people with strong HR experience, who would support line managers
through the restructuring, and people with specialised expertise who would look
at the reward structure, organisational design and so on," he says.
"These were one-off activities which they would then hand back to the HR
points out that the demands on HR interims at this level are challenging.
"We had high level requirements. We needed people with strong technical
competence, credibility and influence," he says. "They needed to
integrate with senior line managers and operate in a very sensitive way –
particularly because there were redundancies in this department itself."
in interims for a such a far-reaching change programme means it is not always
possible to give them a step-by-step programme of activities – they need to be
able to use their own initiative, says Morgan.
some cases, there are very clear objectives – for instance, you want to
outsource a particular activity," he says. "But if someone is
covering field issues for an HR manager, for instance, you cannot predict what
solution is to spend time building up a good relationship with suppliers,
Morgan believes. "You need to be able to put a lot of trust in your
suppliers, and often you will need them to supply you with staff to a very
tight timetable," he says. "In many cases, you may be able to provide
only a limited brief. So they must know your business."