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The time for interim executives – and the organisation to help them make it work

22nd July 2020

Nick Diprose, founding partner of Holdsway – a top-10 UK provider of interims – met Derek Cribb recently to discuss the business case for hiring people like him.

The sun may be shining in a hot summer sky, but we all know these are dark days: for the country, the economy, and the job market. In the turbulent months ahead, however, there is one group that is likely to be more in demand than ever: interim managers.

We know that demand for freelance executives and contractors generally increases in times of economic uncertainty and turmoil. Businesses become more risk-averse and cautious about taking on new employees – but still have situations to deal with.  Hiring of highly skilled freelancers, which includes interim managers, has grown 50% since the financial crash of 2008 according to research by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE).

Why should this be? In essence, interim managers are courageous problem-solvers: they walk unfazed into challenging situations to steer through a major change project or steady the ship and guide it through choppy waters. With a 20.4% drop in UK GDP in April, the economy and businesses across the UK will need experience of navigating rough seas. Many businesses will need rapid access to interim managers – proven at managing change – to guide them through the coming months.

This is no ordinary recession. Covid-19 is still in circulation; many social distancing measures remain in place and we are still a very long way away from returning to anything like normal life. As businesses come out of crisis-imposed hibernation, they will have to adapt to a very different world: from social distancing and travelling less to the workplace; to restoring financial flow and navigating the end of the government’s furlough scheme.  In other words, there will be an enormous number of major change projects underway that need experienced managers. But why interims?

IPSE, which is Europe’s leading membership and influencing organisation for the self-employed, have themselves hired an interim CEO, Derek Cribb. I spoke to Derek recently about his personal experience as an interim in such a high-profile assignment.

Nick:   Why were you hired as interim CEO at IPSE?
Derek: I was brought in as interim CEO to help create a clear future strategy in these challenging times, drive operational efficiency and design a new product and sub-brand in March, on day one of lockdown.


Nick:    How have you been able to engage the organisation during lockdown?
Derek:  Three months on, I still haven’t set foot in IPSE’s offices or met my staff in person.  Yet, we have had our most successful month in over two years and the new product ‘Essential Package’ and new sub-brand ‘Freelance Corner’ are growing at a healthy rate.

Nick:    Successful interim managers have several core competencies. What is it about you which gets things done in these challenging circumstances?
Derek:  Having meetings and forging essential relationships virtually is something we have all had to adjust to. But for an interim it’s several magnitudes harder to suddenly join an organisation and have instant credibility. Doing this without meeting face to face can be ‘off the scale’ in difficulty for most people.  I like Woods’ assignment cycle model. As long as you have a structure to each assignment – a clear brief, delivery and exit – everyone knows what you are there to do. The experienced interim can then just get on, engage, and deliver.

Nick:    So, successful interim managers are strong on emotional intelligence too?
Derek: Totally. People like Professor Sir Cary Cooper really believe in the importance of emotional intelligence – the ability to empathise and to communicate with people when leading or managing in difficult circumstances. And he’s right. It’s hard enough engaging people face-to-face in challenging times.   Working virtually, you need to be able to pick up on all the cues, use your experience of having managed many situations and act accordingly to take the right decisions for the organisation at the time.

Nick:    What other core competencies make you successful as an interim CEO?
Derek: Professor Steve Woods of Surrey Business School published a paper last year on the competencies which make interims successful. Being unfazed as you walk into a change or transition situation needs courage. The IPSE team didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them. You’ve just got to go for it and believe you can do it. But also being able to communicate a vision and direction with employees in a clear and honest way is vital to bringing people with you, which in turn leads to successful outcomes.

Nick:    The irony that you are interim CEO for IPSE won’t be lost on many. How does the organisation you are re-shaping help the interim industry?
Derek: There is a world of opportunity for interim managers – and their clients – at the moment, but now, more than ever, to seize those opportunities, interims also need stability and support. Joining IPSE, I’ve actually learned how valuable it can be for people like me.

I think there’s a tendency for interim managers, when mid-assignment, to overlook help from organisations like IPSE. But we’re definitely seen by many interims as helpful to their professional careers. In fact, the Institute of Interim Management (IIM) has a partnership agreement with IPSE, with many shared members.

Nick:    What is the key benefit to interims, and their clients, of joining IPSE?
Derek:  Prior to this assignment I was CEO of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. We established what was effectively a ‘kitemark of quality’ for employers and actuaries. Each side recognised the importance of best practice, governance and service standards. What businesses want most when hiring someone to manage a critical situation is peace of mind. If an interim is fully prepared with contracts and insurance, then clients just need to focus on making sure candidates have the right experience. As IPSE members, interim managers can get contract reviews to make sure their next engagement is watertight, as well as tax advice and a 24-hour legal helpline. There is also business interruption insurance of up to £10,000 and jury cover of up to £5,000, as well as discounts on vital business insurance like professional indemnity. And by the way, IPSE can help negotiate the IR35 minefield too!

Prospective clients benefit too, knowing that work is being carried out under a clear legal framework. Interims provide a service and we’re there to make sure it’s a professional service!

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