Can interim managers make a difference to the National Health Service, bring a more commercial touch to central and local government, or help the Police to fight crime? Wilf Altman looks at IM's splash in the public sector
Interims are already in demand by the NHS as general managers, HR directors and financial controllers and they are branching into many other parts of the public sector.
Interim providers say demand for interims by the public sector has risen sharply in the past 12 months and predict this is only the start. Users of interims with specialist skills, in management, HR or finance admit interims can make a real contribution in the drive to modernise.
"There is a huge amount of activity going on in central and local government," says Torrie Smith, director of interim management at PricewaterhouseCoopers. "Local authorities are becoming major users of interim managers, as are government agencies, because they have more independence. PwC has seen a 30 to 40 per cent growth in public sector assignments over the past 12 months."
New government initiatives like the Small Business Service (see case study) illustrate the opportunities for interims, but also suggest there is now a much wider understanding of the IM role. On the one hand, why bring forward permanent appointments when a perceived role is still unclear and a professional short-term interim manager can help clarify your exact requirements? On the other, what we are seeing is private sector involvement in the public sector to step up efficiency and, where appropriate, profitability - and this will grow.
Even the Cabinet Office recently invited a delegation of senior members of the Interim Management Association - Ian Daniel, Torrie Smith and Charles Russam - to brief HR heads of government departments. They were very interested, according to Daniel, chairman of the association.
One reason the interim market is opening up in the public sector, he points out, is the need for specialists who can implement change, not just offer advice or written reports. The experience of his own firm, Executive Support, suggests the public sector and not-for-profit assignments lead the current demand for interims, followed by demand for retail, finance, business and project managers. The reason is that interim managers are seen to be more cost effective than management consultants.