Interim HR: Five steps to getting the most value

Interim HR job interview
Take the selection process as seriously as you would for a permanent role. Photo: REX/Caiaimage

There has been huge growth in demand for interim managers, but how can HR teams ensure that they meet goals and deliver the most value? Raj Tulsiani, CEO of Green Park Interim and Executive Resourcing, finds out.

Recent figures from the Interim Management Association (IMA) suggest that interim HR assignments have almost doubled over the past two years.

HR is now currently the third most common job function for interim managers, behind special projects and finance, and change management expertise is the area of HR that seems most in demand.

According to the IMA’s research, based on feedback from the leading 23 interim management firms, the supply for HR interims is segmented into three tiers: senior contract (up to £500 per day), interim management (£500 to £999) and executive interim (£1,000+).

The most senior executive interim managers tend to be deployed in roles that need to be polished and shaped prior to a permanent appointment, or to help with enterprise transformation programmes where a management consultancy might previously have been used.

Interim HR: agenda setters

For this top-tier, being able to influence and drive the commercial agenda is key. This requires them to use their business acumen, strategic nous and have an understanding of organisational and economic growth drivers.

The next tier down often operates at head of function to senior business manager level. These professionals are often deployed to help drive the change agenda within organisations.

As the economy picks up speed, so will the demand for these senior HR interim managers who can act as powerful delivery agents and bring with them fresh energy and new perspectives on governance and best practice.

That makes it increasingly important that senior interims can show a track record for delivering commercial results in a way that has been tested for flexibility. They need to assure clients that they will create the right conditions for them, not just impose what they have implemented elsewhere.

This supply at the top end has created an arbitrage opportunity at the executive interim level, as most executive interims will often work on an interim basis at a level or two below their last permanent position.

So, a former HR director may take on a senior business partner role in a larger organisation on an interim basis, even though he or she is far more experienced than this. And therein lies their value, as they have already faced and learned to deal with the types challenges that they are likely to meet.

A gap in gap cover

As the executive search market picks up, demand for HR professionals who can command a salary of between £120,000 and £200,000 per year is slowly growing, and the number of senior individuals taking on interim manager assignments to fill in-between permanent roles has declined significantly, both through choice, increased governance around selection and the reality of competition.

While there will always be some demand for HR interims as gap cover, there is still an increase in demand from future-looking firms seeking individuals with specialised skills in areas such as organisational effectiveness and performance management.

Organisations that have already decided on growth strategies are seeking expertise in resourcing, talent management and learning and development, while reward and organisational design specialists are being sought by larger organisations looking to develop the right shape or executive pipeline.

So, if you are planning on appointing an interim manager, what can you do to ensure that you get the most out of your investment?

1. Use specialists who can add value. This may sound obvious, but this key first stage is often overlooked or rushed, particularly for assignments where there is pressure to appoint an interim quickly.

If the process is flawed from the start, you will not get the right fit for the role or be able to specify the skillset you require. And if interims have been used for this role in the past, do not simply assume that the old brief will still be fit for purpose.

If you do not require advice then let your direct hiring team take your brand to market and impose the right performance matrix on the interim.

2. Take the selection process as seriously as you would for a permanent role. Remember that senior interim manager assignments can have big remits and a lot can ride on their success.

Assessing cultural fit and stakeholder management skills are just as important as technical competency in an interim assignment.

In addition to all the normal due diligence, personality, preferences and styles, as well as mandatory referencing, Disclosure and Barring Service checks and even financial probity assessments may be appropriate.

3. Manage the transition and integration. Allow the interim to make a thorough exploration of your organisational culture and the culture of the team(s) they will be working with, as well as the stakeholder management environment that the interim will join or lead.

This requires a real investment of time to go through this process properly, but it is worth it. Do not forget to engage the most senior stakeholders so that they are also committed to the interim assignment and its success.

4. Outline key performance indicators and how these can be measured. Although most interims will set these themselves, this responsibility should be shared with the interim management supplier and/or with the HR department.

Interims generally sit outside organisational performance-management structures, but everyone needs some kind of performance management plan to achieve the best possible results and interims are no exception.

5. Formalise the need for knowledge transfer. Ensure that knowledge transfer is a priority and plan for the final two weeks of the assignment to be dedicated to a detailed handover.

In many cases, the interim should be able to provide a blueprint for the next six months, including individual and team goal-setting, which can be used as part of the organisation’s talent management plan.

Raj Tulsiani

One Response to Interim HR: Five steps to getting the most value

  1. Avatar
    Simon Marks 30 Oct 2014 at 7:25 pm #

    An excellent overview and not specific to HR Interims. The only point I would take any issue with is the level of due diligence. If you have selected the right ISP (point 1) they should know the people they put forward on the shortlist so due diligence should be less demanding than for a permie role – also remember if you got it wrong you can terminate the contract as it is B2B not employment.