Once you’ve decided to hire an interim manager, how do you go about choosing
the right one for your organisation? Conversely, how can an IM ensure they are
taking on an interesting and worthwhile assignment? By Sally O’Reilly
Tim Way, Computacenter
What to look for in an IM
For Tim Way, director of human resources and customer satisfaction at
Computacenter, there are two key factors when choosing the right IM. First, you
must know precisely what you want, and understand how this fits into your
overall vision for your department – or the department you are working with.
Second, you must cultivate good relationships with suppliers who have a number
of possible candidates for the role, rather than relying on word-of-mouth, or
individual interims who may not be available.
"I’m looking for good IMs who can start tomorrow – I don’t want to go
through a period of trial and error, trying new people," he says. "It
is important to develop relationships with suppliers who understand your
Computacenter is an IT services provider, which supplies, installs, supports
and manages the technology that powers large businesses. The company employs
6,000 people across Europe, around 4,000 of them in the UK. Way came into the
post during a major change programme. This involved a comprehensive
restructuring of the firm’s commercial operation, so that customers would have
one contact point with the company instead of three. Now the HR department
needs to restructure too.
"We need to change the role of HR from that of a fire-fighting
function, doing a lot of line management, to one which focuses on learning and
development and effective performance management systems," says Way.
"We have taken the radical step of withdrawing the resources for line
managers before bringing in new systems."
Since he came into the post, the HR department has been cut from 65 staff to
44. Now his team wants to bring in new services quickly, using interims to help
the process along. "It’s more effective to pull in interims whose sole
focus is to see a specific project through – such as setting up an employee
helpline – than it is to get existing staff to try and fit it around their
If you are clear about your needs, and have established relations with
suppliers – in this case TMP Worldwide – Way says bringing in interims needn’t
be a time-consuming business. "The speed at which you can work is a great
advantage," he points out. "I have just finished interviewing an
interim who will be starting next Tuesday." Currently, there are six
interims within HR, and the firm has also hired interims in finance, IS and in
senior management functions.
Not only can IMs help with a rapid change programme, they can also feed
specialised knowledge into a company. Way cites the example of the need for
Tupe expertise. When he realised he needed someone with experience of managing
service contracts for groups of employees coming in from other organisations,
he took his request to TMP. "I needed someone who had dealt with similar
situations before and who could work with a commercial team," he says.
"They also needed to be able to pass on their knowledge to six other HR
managers within the department. And the time scale is three months."
It’s early days, but so far Way is happy with the progress being made.
"I’ll know if this has been successful after our next Tupe exercise, but
I’ll also be able to find out how much the relevant HR people know by talking
to them and assessing their understanding of the issues," he says.
Paul Chisnall, Carbon Trust
What to look for in an assignment
Paul Chisnall’s wide experience in HR (he formerly worked in retail,
publishing, insurance, and for the NHS) and his consultancy work, makes him a
good candidate for IM. When interim supplier Courtenay HR contacted him about
the Carbon Trust he was keen to take on the challenge. The assignment involved
starting up a company to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the UK, which,
although a government initiative, would bring in staff with private and
"I went into interim HR because I was interested in looking at the
bigger picture, I wanted to work for companies who needed additional experience
and support, so that I could follow a more strategic path."
When Chisnall came into the post at the end of April 2001, the organisation
had no permanent staff – there were just three people on secondment. His
experience shows how much variety an interim HR director can expect. In six
months he has helped recruit the chief executive, finance director and head of
marketing. "We are now looking at the way forward for the
organisation," says Chisnall. "We are having meetings with major
stakeholders this week and next week – this includes both industry and members
of the green alliance. There is wide interest in what we are doing."
Fascinating though he is finding the brief, Chisnall stresses that he
remains a facilitator, not a long-term member of the team. "It’s their
organisation, not mine," he says. "They will take it forward.
Eventually, the organisation will have around 40 employees."
Working on a start up means IMs can help plan the final shape of the
organisation. The Carbon Trust will stay as small as possible, outsourcing many
functions like IT and finance, and working on cutting edge research, which
includes bringing in PhD students from Imperial College to work on specific
projects. This has meant that Chisnall has had to throw himself into a range of
"You do have to get stuck in," he says. "You can’t stand back
and say, "I don’t do that". Everyone is committed to doing things
they wouldn’t normally do."
Chisnall enjoys life as an IM. One of the highlights for him is developing a
heightened awareness of how organisations work. "You begin to understand
what’s going on in a company very quickly. For instance, if a client has cash
flow problems, you only have to walk into the building and hear people talking
to realise this. In my role, I get to understand far more about the business
needs – in a basic HR role, you don’t get the same "in" to the
company," he points out.
And he does have some words of advice for any HR manager thinking of
following his example. "You do have to be very specific about the sort of
brief you will take," he says. "Some organisations behave as if you
are going for an interview for a permanent job when they first meet you. It’s
important to get them to focus on the brief, and on your experience. That’s
what they are paying for."
Odgers Ray & Berndtson – 020-7499 8811
Penna Interim – 0113 230 7003
TMP Worldwide Executive Resourcing 0121-633 0010
BIE/Boardroom Interim Executive 020-7222 1010
Choosing an IM
– Decide what sort of supplier you need and whether you
have more time to spend than money. Martin Wood, director of BIE/Board Level
Interim Executive, says there are three types: suppliers may have a register of
IMs, and work closely with the client; or use the Internet and offer a wider
choice but less guidance; or act as quasi recruiters, collecting and
registering potential IMs.
– Ask questions. These should include – does the
supplier audit on completion of an assignment? Do they present candidates who
work with them regularly? How well do they know their candidates?
– Be clear about the brief. Malcolm Browne, director of
Penna Interim, a division of Penna Consulting, says: "Briefs should always
include deliverability, accountability, reporting routes and costing."
Make sure you know what you want your IM to do, and what difference you are
expecting them to make.
– Make sure your
IM is integrated. Alison Suttie, director of people and change management at AM
Partners Consultancy, says it’s vital to introduce your IM carefully and make
their role clear. "Otherwise, people may think that because they are there
on a temporary basis, they are just temps, or that they will operate like
consultants," she warns.
Choosing An Assignment
– How experienced are you?
Most HR IMs take posts that are below the level of seniority they had in a
full-time post. If the client wants a competency framework, have you already
delivered one? IM is not about expanding your skills, it’s about using the
experience you already have.
– Are you adaptable enough for the post? The post could
mean working alongside junior staff one day, and reporting back to the chief
executive the next. Will you cope? Is this a post that will mean going back to
first principles of HR when necessary, but have the confidence to talk to staff
at board level? If so, can you deliver?
– Where in the
world? Have you got itchy feet, or do you need to be close to home? Six out
of 10 assignments involve relocation – overseas assignments are common. If you
say you won’t travel this will narrow down your opportunities. So decide
whether you are prepared to travel.
– Don’t expect it to be a stop-gap. Whatever assignment
you choose, Chris Behan, MD of IM practice at Odgers Ray & Berndtson, says
that interim management is a demanding occupation. "You’ve got to be
focussed, dedicated and prepared to work long hours," he says.