Exactly how does a prospective client have anything like a ‘rock solid’ assurance that they are being introduced to a ‘top-notch’ interim manager or interim leader? (an interim leader being an interim manager operating at or around leadership level). How does an interim know they are good, or even great?
All too often over-used words such as ‘incisive’, ‘expert and ‘over-qualified’ litter an intermediary’s website and many CV’s. Yet words can be empty, subjective and unquantifiable – what do they really tell you about someone’s interim management and leadership qualities? In a bid to measure this elusive quality some intermediaries (interim providers and recruitment consultants supplying interim managers) resort to a combination of standardised competency and personality tests. Bottom line, these are near-meaningless indicators which cannot pretend to capture or understand the complexities and nuances of a senior-level executive who operates across very different business cultures on each assignment, nor their fit in a given organisation. Senior-level interim managers, who each have their own unique style, approach and experiences, can’t be compared against each other with the equivalent of a litmus test. It’s nonsense and it doesn’t work!
So, what does it boil down to? Working with some of the leaders in the field has provided some essential insight and suggests the following golden rules for successful interim leadership, selection and recruitment:
First, nothing compares to or replaces the knowledge gleaned from regular face-to-face meetings with prospective interim managers and prospective clients. A few years ago I began working for the founder of a leading senior-level interim firm – his work was groundbreaking in what was a new industry. A real leader himself, who successfully placed thousands of top-level interim managers. Fundamental to his practice was spending quality time with each and every person to gain a complete understanding of their personality, their vision and what they could bring to an organisation. Of equal importance was the time spent with directors and CEOs of prospective clients.
In this age of high speed and rapidly evolving technology, it is all too easy to forget that the best way of understanding the multidimensional skills of potential interim managers and the diverse needs of any business, is generous listening: find out what makes them tick, what they have to offer and what they need. Any intermediary worth their salt will want to spend time with both potential interim managers and the clients they will support.
Second, the value of ‘emotional intelligence’ to an interim manager and their prospective clients cannot be underestimated. A quality intermediary will forge relationships with both candidates and prospective clients in order to make the best possible match between both. In-depth knowledge of the requirements of the business and of an interim manager’s skills and particular approach ensures that a good intermediary consistently provides short lists of outstanding and suitable candidates to a client for interview. This uniqueness each interim brings – an ability to instantly understand their client and provide the right support – must be appreciated by all good interim providers.
But most important of all, resounding feedback from previous clients and organisations is the single objective and quantifiable indicator of an interim manager’s ability to deliver results on a consistent basis. In today’s business world where flexibility and responsiveness is key, it’s not just about the task-based skills an interim manager can bring to an organisation but how they fit into the culture of the organisation, their ability to insert themselves seamlessly into the business, leading with vision and mobilising employees at all levels to meet shared goals.
Great interim managers will get great feedback (interim managers should always ask for it at the end of an assignment). Prospective clients should be prepared to give honest feedback. With straightforward and regular feedback you will know if you are a really great interim manager, and what it takes to become one. With that added assurance, clients will also be more likely to hire you!