Ever felt like banging your head against a brick wall just for kicks? No, didn’t think so. But that’s what the interim management industry has been doing for years, trying to be understood. Now there’s IR35 to worry about, because what started out as profession for those offering short-term, urgently-needed expertise for specific assignments is viewed as ‘employment’.
It’s time for interim management to be understood and for the industry to be clear about it. It’s a professional service, alongside advisory, legal, accounting and management consulting industries. The problem is the name.
‘Interim management’ means everything and nothing, depending on who’s asking and who’s explaining. Most I talk to wish the term weren’t used. In the recent academic publication Effective Interim Management and Leadership (Woods et al., 2019) more than a thousand words had to be used up explaining what interim management actually was. You wouldn’t have to do this for the management consulting industry. If you want to sell a service, you need clarity and simplicity.
My French colleague Stephane Mellinger put it clearly in an interview in Paris recently, “Interims intervene when an unforeseen emergency or need occurs within a company that does not have the necessary skills internally to solve it”. This is clear – it also sounds so much more poetic in French. That’s the point. Rather than weave confusion, the industry should espouse a vivid narrative about the undoubted benefits of hiring interim executives.
Ditch the catch-words which mean nothing and think about clients as the ‘heroes’ of the story, as Donald Miller in Building a StoryBrand puts it. Focus on answering questions like, “Where does the client want to get to?”, “What’s stopping them?”, “What help do they need to get there?”, and “What will life be like for them when they do? And if they don’t?”. Calling yourself a ‘transformation director’ is fine, but it’s as clear as any nebulous term. What’s the benefit you offer? How can you help me?”.
Above all, experienced interims guide the ‘hero’ of the story – the client – to where they want to get to. Interims can call themselves what they like, but the obvious benefit of the service they offer will fall on confused, uninterested ears if they fail to understand this.
I’ll keep it brief, and clear. You’ll not find a better, or more experienced, resource available than an interim when you need instant expertise you don’t have in-house, to get specific things done! Typically, this is everything that calls for the management or leadership of change within an organisation.