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The rise of the Headrenters: experience is the difference.

16th March 2017

Judging by the number of recruitment firms now offering an interim management service, you could be forgiven for thinking that interim management is just a branch of recruitment. I’d argue that the two are almost entirely unrelated.

The whole purpose of interim management is to facilitate the process of business change and to manage transition and crisis situations by importing specialist skills and experienced during the period. Or to put it more bluntly: bring in a heavyweight to shake things up and add a sense or urgency.

Does that sound to you like recruitment? No, the objective of interim management is quite different. Interim executives’ main aim is to exit, leaving you in better shape or getting you through an agreed journey. The candidates are different. The process of selecting them is different. The providers should therefore be different. There is really no similarity!

First let’s take the interim candidates. They are, in the main, professional interims – not job seekers. Either they are currently free or they are not – they should not be lured out of their current jobs. It’s the sign of a good interim management provider (a firm which specialises solely in introducing professional interim managers) that they know when the right executive is available. Interims must be a bigger profile than you would recruit for the full-time equivalent job. Over-qualification secures rapid and successful delivery and minimises the risk of things going wrong. It’s about bringing in experience.

Second, consider the role of the talent provider. A good quality headhunter is an expert in helping clients hire executives and build teams for the medium to long term – they know, through quality research, where to find the next generation of talent. By contrast, a headrenter (the interim management provider) is an expert in helping clients manage change and transition and knows where to find executives skilled in managing change situations, often within hours. These executives are then ‘rented’ out to a client for the term of the assignment only. No ‘up front’ fees, no ‘cancellation’ fees.

Finally, think about the process. It can take six to nine months to recruit a senior executive. But an interim executive needs to be in place within a matter of days. There’s no time for repeated rounds of interviews – an interim is often selected on the basis of just one meeting. So, to ensure the selection of the right person, the methodology of the headrenter needs to be really slick. It’s not unusual that they will have spent years assessing a candidate before they are needed by a client. I currently have interims working for me who I’ve known for more than ten years. This allows the best providers of interims to offer shortlists of ‘known’ candidates quickly. Sometimes within hours.

To emphasise the differences, let’s look at the roles and objectives of the two types of talent provider:

Provider’s immediate objective
Recruitment agency/headhunter: They draw up a credible short list and offer the client a choice.
Specialist interim provider/headrenter: They hand-pick and often recommend the right interim manager for the assignment rather than giving you a list of candidates for you to then choose from. They know the candidates well already and should be able to advise you accordingly.

Time taken to fill a vacancy or open situation
Recruitment agency/headhunter: Six months – sometimes longer.
Specialist interim provider/headrenter: Six days, often far less, and candidates can often be introduced within hours.

Fees charged
Recruitment agency/headhunter: Clients are usually committed to paying an “up-front” fee to the agency for delivery of a shortlist of candidates – even if none of these candidates is selected.
Specialist interim provider/headrenter: There is no ‘up-front’ fee or ‘retainer’, nor any ‘cancellation’ fees. All fees are paid as ‘rental’ during the period of the assignment, usually as a simple mark-up on top of the interim manager’s daily rate. Only the days worked are charged for. If the interim is not appointed there is no fee levied. It’s transparent what a client is paying for.

Recruitment agency/headhunter: They are used to picking corporate candidates still on a permanent career trail with three to five years potential in mind who will initially be stretched by the demands of the job.
Specialist interim provider/headrenter: They are used to picking over-qualified candidates for a six to twelve month assignment who can manage the situation straight away.

Pool of likely candidates
Recruitment agency/headhunter: Can pick from a cast of thousands – both those in work and those out of work.
Specialist interim provider/headrenter: Picks from a few hundred specialists who are not in permanent work and do not want permanent work. Their motivation and focus on the situation at hand differentiates them from a permanent candidate.

The process
Recruitment agency/headhunter: They usually start the search after the briefing with the client and often use researchers to find potential candidates, often from scratch.
Specialist interim provider/headrenter: They are engaged in an ongoing interviewing and assessment process to maintain a pool of pre-interviewed, pre-selected candidates. This ensures that interim managers can be up and operational within days if needed.

Background of the providers
Recruitment agency/headhunter: Usually professional recruiters, experts in advising clients on competency profiling, organisation development and succession planning.
Specialist interim provider/headrenter: Often from a business background, with a knowledge of the demands on CEO’s. They are specialists in hand-picking interim executives who are proven in the management of change, transition and crisis from an immediate start.

The client/candidate meeting
Recruitment agency/headhunter: Seen as an employer/employee ‘interview’.
Specialist interim provider/headrenter: Seen as a business meeting to discuss a business situation or assignment and agree a solution – it’s not a job interview.

Attitude to immediately available candidates seeking permanent jobs
Recruitment agency/headhunter: Not screened out – in fact, ‘try before you buy’ is often encouraged as an extra revenue stream for recruitment companies. Offering these so-called ‘interims’ is a lucrative spin-off from the research lists they have generated from previous mandates. However, the pool of candidates is restricted to those who are out of work and not necessarily those who can deliver change from day one. There is a big difference.
Specialist interim provider/headrenter: Candidates seeking permanent jobs should be screened out. Job seekers are high-risk interims – they may not complete the assignment because their motivation is to take up a permanent job, which could happen at any time.

Headhunting and Headrenting each have their place when external talent is required by companies. When choosing which route to go, clients should consider the situation they are dealing with. ‘Renting’ executives to manage change, transition or a crisis is a specialist service which has little in common with the recruitment of permanent executives.

I’ll leave the last word to one of the UK’s most experienced interim CFOs, who concludes with this thought, “If you wanted heart surgery, would you go to your GP? I suspect you might opt for the specialist.”


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