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Interims: Going the extra mile to help businesses manage change

1st JULY 2021

Prosocial behaviour, the intention to help others, is indicative of emotional intelligence – a key competence of the interims throughout Holdsway’s network.  In direct contrast with the psychological concept of the ‘Bystander Effect’ –  the likelihood of an individual helping decreases when passive bystanders are present in an emergency situation (Latané & Darley, 1968) –  people who demonstrate prosocial behaviour take the lead and deliver – every time.

The key elements underpinning this reluctance to step up to the plate and help are:

  • Diffusion of responsibility – believing that someone else is responsible.
  • Ambiguity – not recognising that help is needed or what type of help is needed.
  • Evaluation apprehension – fear of what others may say or think.


When the ‘Bystander Effect’ happens in business

The work by Latané & Darley (1968) was based on assisting a person in an emergency situation or a situation of distress.  Changing person to company, and its employees, in distress or facing change and the ‘Bystander Effect’ is just as applicable.  For example, individuals in an organisation recognise that changes need to be made, and yet may say nothing or take no action – in many cases for valid reasons.

In some cases, this is because of diffusion of responsibility – assuming that decision-making is someone else’s duty, usually senior management’s.  As a result, problems, inefficiencies, or ineffective business processes within the organisation are not immediately evident to management, because no-one sees it as their place to flag anything up.

In other cases, business employees don’t recognise that extra help is needed. If they do, they’re not sure what that might be or how it might look.  Finally, others may decide not to act for fear of failing or worrying about what colleagues would think of their actions. Ultimately, the motivation to remain employed can run up against the need to act, to change and to improve a business.


How the prosocial behaviour of Interims makes the difference to your business

Interim executives have no such conflicting motivations, are not bothered by fear of failing, what others may think and will always assume that action is theirs to take.

Interims are brought in by the board and senior management of businesses, having made that courageous call to ask for help. It is frequently these ‘prosocial outsiders’ who are in the best position to both spot what needs to be done and offer up help to business dealing with change, growth or uncertainty.

Interims model this pro-social behaviour in organisations where they have been brought in to affect change.  In so doing, a side benefit is the galvanising of others in the business to change – ‘beneficial force’ – motivating others in the organisation to be prosocial too.

Arguably it is this legacy of inspiring continued positive change in businesses which is the greatest benefit of hiring an interim executive.

Holdsway’s latest community support through the sponsorship of Surrey’s first ever Business Efficiency Champion Award (see related blog) is a further example of how prosocial behaviour is embedded in our way of working and the interims we introduce.


Mary Murphy, Partner, MSc Psychology


Darley, J. M., & Latané´, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibilityJournal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8, 377–383.

Latané´, B., & Darley, J. M. (1968). Group inhibition of bystander intervention in emergenciesJournal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10, 215–221.

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