The six key qualities for interims, By Stephen Overell
Carole Boddell of Human Resources International, and many others in the field,
rate flexibility as by far and away the most important quality for any interim.
In this they are supported by the interims themselves. According to IM&M’s
survey, 93 per cent of the respondents felt flexibility was the key attribute
of any interim, while over 80 per cent regarded their ability at fitting into a
team as "excellent".
Among the other skills interims believe are wanted are: problem-solving (41
per cent), creative thinking (31 per cent) and influencing and persuading
people (30 per cent). Ninety 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.
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 that 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
Nigel Corby adds: "Mostly an interim will already have a successful
career behind them, so necessarily they will be focused on getting a particular
"They have to be incredibly good at assessing a situation quickly and
astutely and adapt their style accordingly," says Nadia Parkin. "They
have to create certainty and leadership out of an often hostile and tricky
situation, but not let it get to them and instead to do the job to the best of
Nicholas Wood says the perfect interim should be happy "moving up and
down the skills ladder". He says, "They must really relish doing the
work at all levels because their next job will not always be at a level above
their previous one. It could just as easily be the reverse." The other
main reason why interims are often over-qualified, of course is that they are
better able to "hit the ground running" in any new brief.
3. Instant authority
If you think six months is a fair time period in which to settle in to a
new job, interim management is not for you. A restless trade by nature, six
hours is the time cited by IM companies as the time in which interims have to
make a difference. Because of the nature of project management, swift
absorption into a team is a fundamental skill. 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 Ian 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 which stands them in good stead to
make a difference instantly." They must be fast learners and able
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
"There is no business that is more results-driven than interim
management," says Nigel 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 Malcom
Browne of Penna Interim says that 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."
Such is the value of results that the interims themselves often do not know
exactly when their project will end. They may have been contracted to work for
a set length of time but if the project goes over that time period they would
be expected to stay with it and finish the job – whatever commitments they have
made elsewhere. "If they left something half-completed like that, they
would be very unlikely to work again," says Wood.
5. Reputation is everything
Interim management may be a growing phenomenon but it is also a very small
world. Reputation is in effect the mechanism for regulating the entire industry
– both in terms of the value added by supply companies in tracking down the
right executive and in terms of the executive themselves getting more, and more
Word always gets around. Nicholas Wood believes there are actually only
about 300 senior executives operating in interim management who have undertaken
more than three assignments. "We like to operate through people we
Despite all the advantages, many supply companies agree it is probably not
a life for eggshell personalities. Operating independently requires good
self-motivation and a recognition that the interim exists to support others,
not to be supported. "The best ones are very independent-minded,"
says Sheila 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 between
six and nine months and the risk that they are never really part of the action.
The shorter jobs can be as little as a month but are more usually about three
months. That said, Alyson Gilbert-Smith of IM&M argues that interims have
"the best of both worlds. 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."