Interim management: Trade secrets

Managing an interim manager throws up different challenges to employing a permanent member of staff. Tara Craig asks the experts how best to handle the interim lifecycle and meet your goals

Don’t miss…

How to approach interims

Looking for relevant experience

Checking references

Expectation management

Exit process

Top tips

Identify the need for an interim manager

You will probably be looking for someone to manage change. You may want someone to manage a project or someone neutral to clean up a messy situation – perhaps the aftermath of a firing, or the delivering of bad news. That’s when an interim manager is preferable to someone already on the payroll. A good interim will come in, carry out a rapid diagnosis, do what needs to be done without being drawn into office politics and exit stage left.

How to approach interims

Today’s interims are savvy high fliers, most of whom have taken the interim path as a conscious lifestyle choice. They will have at least as many expectations of you as you do of them.

While it may be tempting to call that old colleague, your little black book will never be as full as that of an interim recruitment consultant. An agency will know who’s available, and who has exactly the right experience and attitude for your requirements. And as Anthony Saxton, chairman of executive interim providers Alium Partners, points out: “Ex-members of staff may know the organisation, but may also lack the necessary skills.”

A good recruiter will know where a good interim differs from a good permanent hire, and will take time to understand the precise nature of your project. And they will recognise the right attitudes. Personality doesn’t jump out on a CV, so you may have to trust a recruiter to bring the right kind of people to you.

Looking for relevant experience

This is a tricky one. You will know exactly what you want from a permanent member of staff, but knowing what makes a good interim manager requires a real shift in your thinking. According to Paul Blant, senior manager of financial recruiters WH Marks Sattin’s interim department: “The key is that you shouldn’t expect a nice clean CV. Don’t expect clear career progression and academic records.”

Blant expects a good interim manager to have reached the top of their field during their permanent employment days, but stresses that when looking for relevant experience, you may have to trawl through their CV – don’t expect their most recent experience to be the most relevant.

And if you want an interim who can hit the ground running, they will already need to have shown their metal in the same role. Don’t consider hiring someone who lacks the experience but says they could do it. Interim positions can’t support learning curves.

Checking references

This is every bit as important as when hiring a permanent person, but the timeframe gives it that extra urgency. With an interim role, you should know exactly what the work entails, and have a very firm idea of the skills needed to deliver it. James Hunt, managing director of Penna Executive Interim, suggests calling referees, describing the project you are recruiting for and asking whether the person involved is up to it. Hunt also points out that senior interim managers may give hard-to-get-hold-of chief executives as their referees – he recommends interims collect a reference before the end of each assignment.

Expectation management

As John Laycock, an associate director at executive interim providers Capita Veredus points out, interim managers have given up the ‘corporate umbrella’. They are missing out on a lot of benefits, and will expect something in return. They will want a well organised project, and clearly defined and measurable objectives – and it’s up to you to provide these.

Gavin Sinker, programme office manager at interim management providers Pari Passu, stresses that a good interim will work with the client even before the project begins. “The interim will tell you what they need to meet your needs.” You will come up with a plan of action only by working together. Sinker points out that the line manager must be clear from the beginning about what they want the interim manager to do, and who they need them to engage with to meet objectives.

Resetting goals

From time to time, you’ll find that things aren’t working quite as well as anticipated. With a permanent member of staff, you could address this in a manner of ways, but with an interim you simply won’t have time. Sinker recommends finding out what has caused the issues – they may be down to the interim’s skills, but they may have been caused by poor briefing on your part. There is little scope for resetting an interim manager’s goals due to the finite nature of most interim projects. Similarly, avoiding replacing your interim mid-project – the disruption could ruin it.

Measuring the interim against expectations

The nature of interim management means measurements are crucial. Your key measurement will be the timely, accurate and within budget completion of your project. And you should establish this from the outset. Blant recommends giving the interim clear, tangible deliverables.

He also points out that interims thrive on the delivery of results within a tight timeframe, and says: “The vast majority of interims go into assignments with their eyes open – they are quite aware that interim assignments are not the place to develop and learn, but are all about the delivery of results for the client. Their satisfaction comes from using their existing skills to deliver a solution.”

Exit process

Blant believes that the exit process should be planned from week one of the assignment, if not sooner. “You want to make sure that the knowledge is kept within the business.” Where a permanent member of staff is being recruited, he recommends involving the interim manager.

With a placement involving a project, all loose ends should be tied up and the interim should provide a detailed debriefing for the team.

Philip Griffiths, an interim expert at finance and technology recruiter FSS, says: “The exit strategy is fundamental. It’s the distinguishing feature between somebody who’s just temping until they get themselves a permanent role, and somebody who’s dedicated to providing an interim service.” Efficient disengagement is a sign of a good interim manager.

Top tips

1. Clarify what you need from your interim manager. Often this will be simple as they’re temporarily filling an existing role, but if they’re undertaking a project, clearly identify what you expect them to achieve.

2. Provide a full written brief for the role. That way, you’ll be sure of seeing candidates with relevant experience, who have a clear understanding of your requirements.

3. Ensure they can legitimately operate outside IR35 tax legislation. They’ll prefer this, and you’ll be able to negotiate lower fees as their tax bill will be lower.

4. Define a suite of deliverables. This will ensure you get the results you need.

5. Incentivise your interim manager. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t pay part of an interim manager’s fees when certain milestones have been reached – for example when a project has been completed or when other deliverables have been achieved.

6. Induct your interim manager properly. A structured induction programme means your interim will start to tackle issues sooner.

7. Appraise them. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be subject to the same appraisal process as the rest of your team.

8. Use them to generate efficiencies. Because interim managers are often more experienced than their permanent equivalents, use them to put in place better processes – for your permanent staff to adopt.

9. At the end of the assignment, ensure a smooth handover, or in the case of a project, make sure it is fully documented.

10. Continue to use interims for project work. Negotiate a fixed fee for an interim to tackle your ‘too difficult tray’.

Source: Phil Bourqui, experienced interim manager

For more information contact: [email protected]


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