Interim HR – Are you up for it?

How can you decide whether interim management is for you? You may have already decided that being an interim is your next step, but it is still worth asking yourself some tough questions before taking the plunge. What are your motives? Are you doing it for the right reasons? Have you thought through the practical and psychological consequences of no longer being employed full-time? Do you fully understand what being an interim entails?

And, most important of all, do you have anything to offer?

The first point to bear in mind is that interim management is not an easy option or a soft alternative to a full-time job. It is a highly competitive environment and individuals who fare best are those who are wholly committed to being an interim. It demands a raft of skills and self-discipline, especially since at times you will feel as if you are on a perpetual job-hunt. You need to accept that you may not work 12 months each year but when you do it should be challenging, rewarding and career-enhancing.

Flexibility is by far the most important quality for an interim manager. You need to be able to adapt to and fit in with a range of different working environments, workforces and cultures. You also need to be good at problem-solving, influencing people and creative thinking.

In addition to these core skills, there are other important qualities and character-istics that will make you an effective interim. It helps if you do not have anything to prove, having already achieved at a high level. Self-confidence should be a given, and you should not have any learning curves left to climb – hitting the ground running is vital in interim assignments.

Interim managers must also be able to assert authority immediately, in a way that does not alienate colleagues. Six hours is often quoted as the time interims have to make a difference at a company and you will be judged on what you achieve.

Interims win assignments by convincing organisations that they have the exact experience and skills needed to do a specific job. Even if you go through an agency, your CV is the shop window or brochure for these skills. Think of yourself as a small business – a product even – and make sure you have something to offer your customers. If there is little to distinguish you or you do not have the technical skills that are required in today’s market, nor real depth of experience, you need to question whether becoming an interim is right for you.

Don’t try to offer all things to all people on your CV, this will dilute your offering. Emphasise specialist skills and make sure you detail involvement in areas such as change management programmes, mergers and acquisition activity or outsourcing. If you have been involved in a large-scale recruitment, e-HR, training or other impressive initiatives, highlight this and spell out your achievements.

Most interims sign on with at least one interim management agency. The Interim Management Association carries a list of member agencies on its website. They -adhere to a code of practice.

Research the market and identify agencies which operate in your field and at your financial level. Agency websites are a good starting point, and you can gain further insight by networking with other interim managers.

Visit those that are most appropriate to  the type of work you are seeking and speak to the consultant. Once you have decided on one or more agencies, try to develop a two-way relationship with them.

Make sure your profile is always in front of them and supply feedback after assignments. If the phone is not ringing as often as you would like, call the agency for a chat – but rather than barrack them about the lack of assignments, discuss current trends in the market.

Although the agency is there to find you work, do your own networking too. Half an interim’s assignments can come from personal contacts.
Work out a set of best practice principles that you will adopt for each assignment. Talk to the agency consultant and the client to establish details of the brief and criteria on which the assignment will be judged and outcomes measured. Good communication is crucial and this is the time to ask for clarification of the brief or suggest modifications. Discuss timeframes and resources and ask for background information about the team you will be working with.

Do your homework on the company before your first day. Use the Internet and remember that press release sections, which are free to access, are a good place to look for latest news. Also use online news resources – recent press coverage can give useful insights.

Most interims are over-qualified for the positions they take up so there is every reason to be confident and start making a difference from day one. Employees should not see you as a threat because they know your tenure is temporary and some interims find that staff are willing to confide in them because they are seen as separate from the organisation.

While that may be true, remember that you are an interim manager not a consultant (there is a big difference) and must embed yourself into the both the management structure and the culture of the -organisation.

This may mean getting involved in staff development and succession planning. To quote one interim, from day one you are planning for your exit. If the company feels a gaping hole when you leave, it might make you feel indispensable, but it means you have not done your job properly.

Training & development

Most interims will be over-qualified for the job that they do, which is why they often quickly assume the role of troubleshooter. But that does not mean that they have stopped learning.

The Institute of Interim Management supports continuous professional development among its members and you can find out more about its guidelines for this at its website:

Small business advice

Most interims set themselves up as limited companies and this is essential if you are going to work at director level. You are also likely to need professional indemnity insurance.

Make sure you have a good accountant who can advise about tax and related matters and you may also wish to seek professional financial advice. You may not be employed 12 months of every year, so consider the impact of this on your personal finances, such as paying the mortgage, pension and so on.

Linking into the interim network

Being an interim manager can be a lonely business, especially if you have been used to the support of workmates and the structure of an organisation for 20 years. The chances are that colleagues will have formed part of your social life too.

But remember that there are other interims out there, along with organisations that can offer support and vital networking opportunities.

There are two main bodies: the Institute of Interim Management (IIM), which focuses on the interests of individual interim managers, and the Interim Management Association (IMA), whose members are the agencies. Their websites are immensely useful for anyone getting started as an interim manager.

Membership of the IIM entitles you to take advantage of preferential rates on products and services such as indemnity insurance.
If you like to mix business and pleasure, there is also an Interim Management Dining Club, set up to provide interims with an opportunity to meet and share their experiences. It arranges events and also plans to invite the directors of organisations who have not yet used interim managers.

Institute of Interim Management (IIM)
Interim Management Association (IMA)
Interim Management Dining Club

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