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Myth #2: Immediate availability + some management experience = an interim.

1st February, 2018

Imagine walking into a crisis tomorrow morning.

Poor management of an international operation has led to the threat of fraud charges, loss of contracts to the value of £20 million and no new sales for eight months and the incumbent CFO has resigned. The effect on cash flow may result in insolvency. The brief from the CEO to the interim is simple: “Sort it out”.

As the interim, you need to devise a plan rapidly, inspire trust and reassure the board that it will be successfully delivered. Your interim career, and the client, depends on it.

Being immediately available is only a small part of being a successful interim manager. Interims should be able to walk into most change or transition situations and know how to deal with them.

Part of the issue for clients is how to choose from the flood of immediately available managers on the market. Many hundreds of self-styled interims simply confuse prospective clients, creating unnecessary complexity when they are trying to make rapid hiring decisions.

Any change or transition situation

Not every available senior-level manager or executive has the professional composure, experience and skillset to successfully tackle scenarios such as the one above.

Proactive, decisive, results-oriented achievers, interims combine strategic experience with a ‘hands-on’ approach. They adapt rapidly to different cultures, sectors and organisations. They are most definitely people-oriented, able to motivate, assess and handle a new team quickly. Above all, they are resilient, energetic, fit and work well independently.

Interims are utilised best when accelerating change or managing transition – not for ‘vacancy plugging’ assignments best filled by temporary managers, who are hired only to match a specific job in an organisation. If there is a likelihood that the brief might expand during the assignment – interims are one of the best hiring options.

A rare breed

Well-prepared, experienced, proven interim managers and executives who demonstrate unquestionable delivery and good value, are a reassuringly rare breed. There are only two to three thousand senior-level interims operating in the UK today. Consequently, the legions of self-styled interims on social and business networking sites or on recruiters’ databases are not the real thing.

The right interim will instantly understand your brief – however brief – and deliver it. Most important to the client, they will plan for their departure and give a proper handover, rather than drifting away at the end of the contract. The goal of an interim is to exit successfully, having delivered and handed over what was agreed at the outset. Not every available executive can do this. Not every recruitment firm, or provider of interims, recognises this.


Clients should be as clear as they can about the brief. Even if it’s a ‘one-liner’ as in the above assignment. An interim will be happy to start there. Ask an interim what they do, see what they say. Is it crystal clear to you? Do they know the benefit they bring with their experience? Crucially, have they delivered something similar before? If an organisation is unsure about the specification of the interim assignment, there’s a chance that the wrong candidate will be hired. Recruitment firms, and some providers of interims, are not known for offering business advice above promoting their candidate.

Clients should be alert to the introduction of candidates who happen to be available, who look okay on paper and interview well, irrespective of whether they are suited to delivering interim assignments. Holdsway, for example, only work with senior-level managers and executives proven to deliver change and transition situations.

Returning to the crisis at the start of this article, this was a client brief I managed. My firm provided a shortlist of two interim CFOs. Following a thorough face-to-face briefing with the client, the chosen interim instantly began working closely with the existing team, resolved cash-flow issues, retained existing contracts, helped the sales team win new business and planned his exit by hiring a new finance director. This took 8 months from start to successful handover.

Under pressure to manage a crisis, change or transition, be sure to hire a genuine interim rather than a pretender.

To find out more about hiring proven interims who will help you build, change and grow your business:

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