Bringing in an outsider during turbulent business events can make permanent
HR staff feel negative and insecure. Nigel Corby gives some pointers on keeping
the team happy
Humans have a natural tendency to avoid change. There is often a comfort
level beyond which people do not want to stray. While interims may be the
exception to this rule, thriving on change and excitement and constantly
shifting scenery, it is vital to be aware that you will normally be dealing
with people who do not share your buccaneering spirit – and that includes
internal HR staff. At times of change, many fear they will soon be out of a
job, relocated halfway across the country or even the world, or carrying out a
role they don’t want to do.
Why bring in an outsider?
The situation requires an outsider to come in with a fresh pair of eyes to
offer an impartial and unblinkered approach. An interim manger (IM) is
untainted by office and personal politics, and can tackle the issue in an
Not only can an interim get a good result for the company; more importantly,
they can help the people being made redundant. If the staff are treated fairly,
leaving with their pride intact and good practical prospects for future
employment, the programme will have been a success.
In the post-redundancy period, an interim manager can ensure everyone who
remains within the organisation is properly motivated and counselled when
refocusing is critical and morale may be low. Concentrating their minds and
making them feel good about the organisation once again will enable the company
to achieve its long-term ambitions.
What qualities does an IM require in change management situations?
In change management situations, an IM has to make particularly tough – and
often unpopular – decisions. The HR interim in these scenarios needs both hard
business and soft people skills. They must understand they are dealing with
real individuals, and that the decisions they make will have a major impact on
the employees’ lives.
An ideal IM for these situations will have the ability to:
– Take an objective view of the situation
– Look at what the company needs to achieve
– Empathise with staff – without being drawn into personal or office
– Keep their distance while taking human needs into consideration
– Communicate effectively
– Smooth ruffled feathers
– Establish credibility from the outset
– Adapt to the situation without losing sight of the aims of the project
– Get the existing HR team and other staff on side
– Be user-friendly
– Overcome the inertia and resistance to change from existing staff
– Manage people
How to get the HR team on side
It’s all very well for the IM to be ‘matey’ with the existing HR team. But
if they are all watching their backs, aware that colleagues across all
departments are soon likely to be out of jobs, how can the IM create a happy
working environment? They are likely to have already had their noses put out of
joint by not being considered capable of handling the project themselves.
Before the IM arrives
Before the IM is brought in, senior management needs to explain why this is
happening – openly and honestly. The HR department needs to be treated as an
equal partner in the decision and implementation process. The existing HR team
needs to know it owns the process.
There may be a number of reasons why an outsider is being brought in, and
senior management needs to explain what they are. The existing team must be
reassured that it is not a reflection of their inadequacy. If the IM is being
brought in because the HR team is too busy with their day-to-day functions, say
so. If it’s because the IM has specialist expertise which is not normally
needed in everyday HR activities, say so. This may be a specific background in
organising redundancy and post-redundancy programmes. If it is due to an
integration or merger situation, it may involve dealing with overseas
organisations, which requires specific linguistic and cultural expertise.
Whatever the reason, say what it is – don’t cover it up with mumbled excuses
which will create an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust at a time when fears
During the change management programme
The IM needs to work with the team – not against or above them. The team
needs to feel part of the decision-making and advising process. It needs to
feel its skills and areas of expertise are of value in the important decisions
The IM needs to be open enough to admit any mistakes and ask for help where
it is needed.
They must be able to rise above office and personal politics and take an
objective view. There is bound to be a good deal of negative feeling and
resentment, and negativity has an ability to permeate an entire organisation.
These issues must be addressed directly. If particular staff members are
showing strong signs of discontent, the IM should discuss the concerns of the
people involved in a non-confrontational and open way.
Depending on the nature of the change management programme, the HR team
should be told that its own staff are not threatened by the arrival of an IM
(unless of course HR cuts need to be made, in which case this needs to be
explained). The IM will stay for as long as necessary, and then leave to allow
the existing HR team to get on with their jobs.
Nigel Corby is managing director of European interim management supply
company Global Executives