image of the interim manager is changing. No longer the preserve of the crusty
old man, younger, more dynamic HR professionals are moving into the territory
with a blend of specialist knowledge and management nous
Much like police officers or soldiers, you always remember the first time you
met an interim manager (IM) younger than yourself, and it is becoming more
common. According to the latest study by Russam GMS, more than half of IMs are
now aged between 45 and 55, and 22 per cent are under 45.
This trend is reflected in pay rates for IMs which, again according to
Russam, have steadily fallen. Average daily rates were £473 at the end of last
year, compared with £511 in 2001.
Yet, despite the looser job market, the demand for cost-effective HR interim
specialists has never been greater. A Mori poll for IM recruiter BIE in March
found the use of interim HR directors had more than tripled over the past year.
Organisations are also using more part-time interims, says Raj Tulsiani,
managing director of Penna Interim Executive.
"Businesses are no longer using IMs on a five-day-a-week basis. They
are targeting people who may have been a head of function in the past, and
bringing them in two or three days a week," he says.
The image and function of the IM is changing. The notion of a slightly
grizzled, but hugely experienced, turnaround specialist is changing – younger
and more specialised managers are being called in for a particular project or
to fill a specific operational need.
Personnel Today spoke to two IMs, one older and one younger, to see what
challenges such workers are facing at both ends of the spectrum.
Interim management gives Angela Gibson flexibility, control and variety –
and the chance to do some travelling between assignments. Gibson, 32, comes to
the end of her current contract with Gillette at the end of this month, but is
relaxed about being out of work soon.
"Uncertainty is a downside to being an interim to an extent, but you
need a certain amount of faith," she says. "I have always managed to
pick something up."
Just over five years ago, Gibson decided to pack in her permanent job as an
HR adviser within the NHS in London to go backpacking around the world. After a
stint in the automotive industry in the West Midlands on her return – which
ended in redundancy and moving back to London – she took an interim role with
construction firm Carillion, which became a permanent position.
Restructuring again saw her back on the job market two years later, and it
was at that point that she decided to make the move more permanently into
interim management, signing up with the Interim Performers agency.
"One of the best parts of being an interim is that it is flexible. You
can work and then rest for two or three weeks between contracts. You can take
time off to, say, go travelling," she says.
At Gillette, Gibson is working to bed down a new e-HR system; an assignment
she believes is giving her useful project management skills for the future.
"A lot of my work has been relation orientated. Now when a big project comes
along, I’ll be able to say I have the experience to manage it," she
Interim management, she says, gives you a chance to hone skills very
intensively and gain experience in a wide variety of sectors.
Part of the buzz of being an IM is the ability to go into an organisation
and really feel you have made a difference, she adds. At the same time, they
must be able to fit in with people they have never met before and get their
"You need a bit of self-belief when you walk into a senior team and
they don’t know you and you have to influence them. That can be difficult,
because as an HR person you influence best when you have already built your
bridges," she says.
Age can be a factor here, especially as Gibson looks younger than her 32
years. "They tend to take about another 10 years off," she jokes.
"You do get people saying things such as ‘what do you know, you must
have only just come out of college’. But then a lot of it is also about what
you can do. They will be looking at what skills you’ve got."
Interims must be prepared to have to work hard at interviews, too. Often it
will take two or even three interviews to land a contract that lasts a few
"Employers are moving away from seeing interims as being a temp to becoming
proper interims, so they are taking it more seriously," she says.
Interims can be on their own when it comes to professional development.
Keeping skills and training up to date is vital – particularly on fast-changing
areas such as employment law. Unless you are working for a very generous
client, interims will often have to fork out for courses themselves, and make
the time to attend.
Interims also need to be financially disciplined, ensuring they are setting
aside enough to cover taxes, pension and gaps between contracts. On average,
Gibson estimates, the money an interim will make, at her level at least, will
not be that much different to a permanent employee once gaps between contracts
have been taken into account. The big difference is being in control of what
you want to do, and being able to decide what skills you want to focus on next,
"I am not willing to compromise," she says. "Maybe previously
I would have looked for a job and even if it was not ideal I might still have
taken it, but not now. If you have a gap, then enjoy it."
Angela Gibson’s CV
– 2001 onwards – Becomes a full-time HR interim executive
– 1999-2001 – Moves back to London, initially into IM, then as
an HR adviser for Carillion
– 1997-1999 – Works as an HR adviser in the automotive industry
– 1996 – Backpacks round the world
– 1993-1995 – Works as an HR adviser for the NHS in London
After 10 years in military intelligence in the RAF, stints with the Civil
Aviation Authority, and 20 years working in vocational and technical education,
Ann Hesketh-Hull decided in December 2000 that she had come to a crossroads and
needed a change of direction.
"I knew that I could collect my pension, small as it was, and do what I
wanted for the rest of my life," she explains.
Interested in interim management, she attended a seminar on the subject run
by Coutts – and was immediately put off because it seemed so demanding. The
move into IM came through being asked to project manage the making of a film
for a friend. Her subsequent work has focused on organisational change and
policy and strategic development.
Hesketh-Hull, 52, who works through Russam GMS, believes one of the key
challenges facing any IM is the need to adapt quickly to the environment in
which they are working.
"You have to very quickly assimilate into the way the organisation does
things. It is about being confident, having the right skills and competencies,
but not being too confident, not being clever dicky," she says.
Good interim management is about opening the ‘combination lock’ that is each
manager within the organisation and very quickly developing an appreciation and
understanding of the processes and procedures companies often work to.
"You need to have project management experience, but it is not an essential
skill. You must also be disciplined and a role model, often through small
things – such as having a tidy desk," she suggests.
"You must be able to do wonderful but not unkind repartee, but you must
never tell secrets," she adds. "It is also worth consulting with the
main players of the organisation, as well as the accountants, IT and front-line
people. The caterers and mail room always know what’s going on."
What organisations are paying for when they hire an IM, she argues, is not
so much the skill for the specific project in mind – although that’s an
important part – but the experience, skills and knowledge they have built up
over a lifetime.
One of the advantages of being an IM is the sense of control it brings.
Hesketh-Hull, for instance, says she could earn £100,000 a year if she put her
mind to it. "But I would not have a life, I would be frazzled and a lot
older. Flexibility counts, but so does careful planning," she says.
IMs need to understand how to market and promote themselves and have to be
aware there will be financial peaks and troughs. "You have to put money
aside for tax, savings and for tough times," she says.
"You need a very flexible ego. The first day you go in [to a new
company] they are terrified of you, because they think you are going to be a
hatchet person. And some inadequate organisations do use IMs to get rid of
people when they have not dealt with issues as they crop up.
"It is like a big family, where you have 20 mother-in-laws and each one
is different and looks at you in a different way, so it is about how you get
them on side," she says.
While she finds being a successful IM a rewarding career in its own right,
Hesketh-Hull is still focused on her own training and development, and will,
for instance, be attending a course on dispute resolution in September.
When it goes right, interim management can be a great feeling, she says.
"It can be really fun bringing on people who have previously been
downtrodden. There is a real buzz about successfully completing an assignment,"
– 2000 – ‘Retires’ and becomes an interim manager
– 1986-2000 – Vocational and technical education
– 1982-85 – Analytical researcher for solicitors and barristers
– 1979-82 – Contract work for the Civil Aviation Authority,
then moves to an electronics firm
– 1969-79 – Royal Air Force, working in counter intelligence