There are similarities between interim executives and management consultants. Both must have immediate credibility with their clients. Both are hired to help an organisation where particular expertise and experience aren’t available ‘in-house’.
But their offerings are really quite different. Put very simply, one ‘advises’, whilst the other ‘does’. When clients are managing change, they must decide what kind of help they need.
Employed and directed by a consulting firm, management consultants are often brought in to help businesses which have identified a need for change. After analysis, the consultant advises a client on a strategy, recommending one of their methodologies to implement. They may recommend bringing in their own teams to manage this – some could be interim executives operating under the consulting firm’s banner. The intellectual property remains the property of the consulting firm. It’s not usually part of their business model to transfer knowledge or skills. Whilst the consultants may insist on sticking to their methodology, this may not suit the client’s needs.
An interim executive works as part of a client’s management team. They are given a brief to implement a change, which may be a methodology from a management consulting firm. With the advantage of years of business experience, an interim executive is usually brought in after the client knows what change or strategy they want. The benefit of hiring the interim at this stage is that they will ‘sense check’ the consultant’s plan, then make it happen in a way which suits the client’s needs. The real added value is that interims transfer their experience and knowledge, giving a thorough handover at the end, so that the interim exits cleanly and the client can accelerate its business in a sustained way.
A clear understanding of these differences is crucial when deciding how to resource and deliver business change programmes. Consultants help clients solve the ‘what’ of business change, interim executives help clients manage the ‘how’ of delivery.
Here are six areas of difference to consider when deciding to hire management consultants or interim executives:
Skills & Experience
• work as part of the client’s management team, supporting implementation of an agreed strategy or planned change;
• have business experience at executive level, ensuring change programmes are rooted in what’s best for the client.
• employed and directed by a consulting firm, providing analysis, recommending alternative strategies;
• may only have worked in consulting, with limited or no experience of implementing change in business.
• benefit clients with years of learning and practising tried and tested solutions in real business situations;
• bring cross-sector experience, introducing best practice from other industries facing similar situations;
• work with the client, helping them implement their change plans;
• provide a bespoke, experience-driven service, not an inflexible methodology.
• apply implementation methodologies, which may suit what the consulting firm can do, rather than what the client needs;
• lack business experience which can mean the advice offered needs to be ‘sense-checked’ against what’s realisable;
• operate within industry practices, which inhibits cross-industry learning.
• will normally charge day rates ranging from £800 to £3,000;
• charge transparently, just for the days worked, against an agreed goal and timeframe;
• pass no corporate overhead cost on to a client.
• charge up to and beyond twice interim executive rates, which makes using them for implementation costly;
• sell wider services often not budgeted for at the outset and which will have longer-term cost implications for clients.
• interim management providers shortlist the best interim executives for the client – those who are available and want to work on the client’s assignment;
• the client, not the consulting firm, chooses the interim – selecting them for their relevant track record, approach, and experience;
• works each day with the client.
• consulting firms select from those employees who need to be utilised – covering overheads, rather than the best consultants for the client;
• client doesn’t choose which consultant works with them;
• a consulting partner (equivalent to an interim executive) may be the client’s point of contact but is not always onsite.
• work as part of the client’s management team, with a reporting line into a board member or the client’s executive team.
• work alongside the client, but managed, directed and employed by the consulting firm.
Skills and Knowledge Transfer
• offer years of business experience and learning at executive level;
• have the experience and credibility to act as a coach/mentor and ‘sounding board’.
• are motivated to help clients, transfer knowledge and leave a strong legacy.
• apply their methodology to a client rather than transfer business experience, knowledge and skills;
• encourage client dependency on their presence by guarding their intellectual property and knowledge, which is not necessarily passed on to the client.
In conclusion, use a management consultant to help decide on a strategy for change. Use an experienced interim executive to ‘sense check’ it alongside what your organisation needs and what will actually work. Experienced interim executives are skilled at managing the interface between clients and consultants including the transition between a consultant’s strategy and the realities of change implementation.In conclusion, when clients need external help, both interim executives and management consultants have their place in the business of change. Given the differences between the two services provided and their pricing models, it is essential that clients understand the relative benefits of each to ensure the cost effective and successful management of change. Interim executives and management consultants can and do complement each other. However, before hiring external help, clients should first be clear about the support they need.
Over-extending the stay of a management consulting firm can have significant implications. First, clients could be paying high prices for consulting skills when they really need delivery experience. Interim executives, experts in the practical delivery of change, can cost half the daily rate of a consulting firm partner. Second, if it’s experience, knowledge and skills clients want their teams to pick up, consultants aren’t known for spreading these through a client’s organisation. Because they work as part of a client’s management team, interim executives take a leading role in helping to drive implementation, whilst they pass on their experience, knowledge and skills each day.
The decision whether to hire an interim executive or a management consultant can boil down to the level of operational experience and engagement required. When growing your business, management consultants can suggest a plan. To successfully realise a plan for your business, hire the experience of a proven interim executive.