Nic Paton looks at 10 of the key issues that a good interim manager can help
1 Crisis management
Interim managers (IMs) can provide a critical injection of expertise and a
steadying hand on the tiller at a time of crisis for an organisation, argues
Graham Bird, director of interim and strategic resourcing at Chiumento.
"We had a situation where a client was installing Oracle into the
company and a key player left at a crucial juncture," he says. "We
were able to get them an interim manager who had the experience and expertise
and could get up-to-speed quickly."
In these situations, organisations want IMs who can move quickly, respond
effectively, think on their feet and have the technical or management skills to
do the job. Normally, you will be looking for an older interim with a number of
years under their belt and, ideally, someone who has dealt with a similar
From the organisation’s point of view, it is vital to identify appropriate
candidates quickly, have a clear idea of what the crisis is and what needs to
be done (or, at the very least, what solution needs to be arrived at – even if
the process is unclear), and to give the IM the authority and backing to carry
the project through.
2 Mentoring and development
Because interim managers are only as good as their last assignment, IMs, by
definition, need to be up-to-speed with the latest thinking on training and
development. Neil Fogarty, practice director of interim management firm IMS IM,
argues that organisations will often tap into this knowledge and expertise when
it comes to looking at the professional development of their own staff.
"Talent management is giving way to keeping hold of key people, giving
them new skills and investing them with the latest information and
methodologies," he explains.
"You need an IM skilled in professional development – someone who has
done consultancy, mentoring and hand-holding, staff action plans, process
mapping and that sort of thing."
IMs need self-confidence, gravitas and credibility to carry off effective
mentoring – or indeed, most IM projects.
Mentor IMs can also play a vital part in bringing young protégés into the
roles they are being guided to and, equally important, they can also provide
confidential, objective advice to the CEO too.
It is also vital that the assignment brief, as laid out to the interim,
truly reflects the reality on the ground and what can be delivered. There must
be someone within the organisation willing to take responsibility for the IM,
preferably someone at a very senior level.
3 Acquisition and integration
Whether times are good or bad, organisations will always want to be able to
call on people who can make an acquisition or integration go smoothly.
The reason employers usually hire an IM in this situation, says Bird, is
that they recognise they don’t have the internal skills to manage or deliver on
a major acquisition or integration that they realise is coming through.
Chiumento, for instance, has recently worked closely with Abbey National,
which bought Fleming Premier Banking from JP Morgan/Chase in June 2001. Abbey
National has integrated the bank into its own wealth division and, as its own
HR staff were fully committed on other projects, called in former HR director
and consultant turned interim manager, Anne Dean.
The initial assignment was for three months and was simply to manage the HR
aspects of the acquisition and the transition of staff under Tupe legislation.
A key element included designing an integrated communication programme for
Dean was then asked to stay on for a further three months to help the
managers operate the new HR policies, including implementing a new performance
This was followed by two further three-month assignments, moving HR data on
to a new mainframe and helping to design a new bank and identity, called Cater
Allen Private Bank, following a merger with another bank in the Abbey stable.
Imagine the scenario – you have suddenly lost a key executive through
bereavement, poor performance or some other unforeseen factor. The work they
did cannot wait four months while you search for a new permanent replacement,
or the current search has failed. So you need to call in an interim manager.
But it would be wrong to think an IM in this situation is simply a glorified
temp, argues Martin Wood, chief executive of interim management firm BIE. An
interim covering departure will be expected to be able to take on whatever the
role is and take it forward, not just tread water.
In this instance, the person bringing in the IM plays a critical role. They
must make it clear what the brief is, what sort of tasks the IM should be
doing, what authority he or she has, and what the key milestones are.
Essentially, the organisation has to be clear about what the assignment needs,
and also about what the interim needs.
Within this area, ‘backfilling’ can also be an issue. This is the scenario
in which an internal manager is assigned to a new project or short-term role
and, instead of having to worry about who is going to do their job, an interim
manager is parachuted into that role.
"It makes seconding people much easier and minimises the risks,"
says Bill Penney, managing director of interim consultancy Ashton Penney.
5 Turnaround/poor performance
When engineering firm Ove Arup was investing in a new global HR information
system, it ran into performance problems and a lack of acceptance from
employees. The company called on Chiumento to supply an interim manager with an
HR background, project management skills and HR systems expertise.
The project involved carrying out a review of the system, its implementation
and how it might be improved.
What is important here, argues BIE’s Wood, is that the interim is someone
who has turned things around several times before, and can see exactly what
needs to be done. "It needs to be someone who is immediately effective and
can get it done," he says. "It could be a £5m family business, a
venture capital investment gone wrong or even a plc, but what is needed is a
proactive, results-orientated high achiever."
In this respect, an ability to deliver ‘quick wins’ is a must. Such projects
will always need interims who adapt quickly to a new culture, management style
and sector, and who have immediate credibility.
"You have to be very people-orientated and able to spot when a team or
resources need to be reshuffled," says Wood.
Again, a proper brief from the organisation is vital, as is a clear
indication of the key outputs and tasks and an understanding of what timescales
6 International expansion
As the marketplace for so many industries becomes evermore global, companies
increasingly need people with expertise of foreign markets who can make their
international expansion easier.
"You need someone who can be a bridge between you and the other market.
Some background in that culture will normally be helpful, as will an
understanding of the accounts structures and an appreciation of personnel and
employment legislation," says Ashton Penney’s Bill Penney.
Organisations will often seek to bring in IMs who can implement western
standards of health and safety, or have some other specific technical
background. In many cases, they will be hired to work on specific projects
within new overseas acquisitions. For instance, Ashton Penney has worked
closely with Netia, Poland’s largest independent telecoms company, on
implementing a new business plan.
"Generally, it will be people who have come from the same industry,
background or who have previous experience in a similar management
background," Penney adds.
There is also often a mentoring aspect to working overseas. From the IM’s
perspective, good language skills are a must, as are expert technical skills
and excellent communication and persuasion skills.
Management buy-out or buy-in (MBI) teams will often call in interim managers
to cover critical functions of an operation and provide a breathing space while
a new permanent team is developed.
IMs can also prove valuable when an MBI goes wrong, and an interim executive
is needed to appraise the existing management team and find a new boardroom
BIE cites the example of a large government agency which was bought out by
an investment-fund backed MBI. The project was so extensive that 12 interims
were appointed over six months. Half were put with finance to help develop
commercial accounting systems to replace the old government records. The rest
were split between logistics, property and IT to introduce new systems and
procedures, rationalise old ones and to cut the number of people employed where
An interim managing director and sales director were even appointed to run
what was the organisation’s largest and most business-critical division.
8 Resource management
Former head of HR at Britannic turned interim, David Billingham, has used
interims extensively to plug temporary senior level executive holes within his
organisation. "We wanted more than caretakers, we wanted people able to
move the agenda forward," he explains.
Interims would be used to fill a position that had temporarily been left
vacant, or to manage an IT contract where the permanent staff have moved on to
another project, for example.
"We looked at it from the perspective of change but very much from a
line operations level rather than a consultancy level," he says.
"We’d be getting people in who could move us forward while we were looking
at permanent resourcing issues."
Britannic, for instance, used an IM for a very large piece of restructuring
work in 2001 that led to the group shedding around 2,000 staff. It brought in
an IM with a senior operational and HRD level background to support and help
manage the project, says Billingham. "We wanted someone with the maturity
to help manage the project into the team."
Once again, it is vital to have a clearly worked out brief and to ensure you
are using the correct resources in the right way.
9 A safe pair of hands
Interim managers were a key safe pair of hands for Rob Bryan, former group
head of HR at international property firm DTZ, and now an interim manager
"We needed people who could really hit the ground running, and could
cover the day-to-day requirement of the role and deal with the line managers
with assurance and expertise from day one," he says.
IMs used by DTZ had experience of different sectors and backgrounds and were
used for things such as HR policy and IT systems procedure reviews.
They were also used to ensure the smooth running of operations where a
senior executive left suddenly, or for specific management needs such as
harmonising the HR behind a merger or acquisition, he explains.
"We also used interims for strategic brainstorming, future vision and
direction and objectivity. Interims come with no baggage. Most interims have a
breadth of experience in different sectors and areas that, for HR, is a
resource to be tapped into," he says.
Clear terms of reference are a must when hiring an IM, he asserts.
Explaining what is expected of the interim is always useful, as is highlighting
It is also vital to provide the right resources and to communicate clearly
with them and the rest of the staff and managers, so that internal staff know
the IM and are clear about what they are doing.
While the market for start-ups may still not be what it once was, getting an
experienced interim in before permanent staff can be hired can be extremely
useful for many entrepreneurs, says BIE.
The interim can decide on issues such as how to get the practical operation
up and running and how many people to recruit (and how many other IMs can be
used as a stop-gap or long-term money saving device).
They can also have a vital mentoring role, decide the timeframe in which a
permanent team should be recruited, oversee the process and then, as time goes
on, phase out the interim operation. Again, organisations need to be clear
about what they want from their interim.
Choosing the interim manager is also critical. Organisations will need to
find one with the right mix of experience, communication and technical skills
to make the start-up work.