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What you should know about interim managers

28th January 2015

Interim management is one of the most transparent and direct ways to transfer knowledge, ideas and deliver business change. But there are some things you ought to know.

I ran into an interim manager friend of mine recently and asked him how things were going. Badly he said. He had just failed to secure the assignment he thought he was well-suited to. Apparently it was awarded to someone cheaper, arguably less experienced and from exactly the same sector as the potential employer. “If only they understood the mistake they were making, then they’d be hiring me,” he said grimly.

Experienced interims the world over must be thinking this each time a client takes the ‘easy route’ and hires on-the-cheap or to an over-precise job spec.

Life can be made even more complicated for hiring companies and interim managers when so-called interim providers don’t bother explaining what real interim managers are all about and the value of hiring a broader profile. That’s not always helpful when a business is at stake.

So here are some plain-speaking answers to the questions clients and interim managers most frequently seem to want to ask.

Is it risky hiring an interim manager?

If you hire the wrong one then it is. Everything depends on sourcing the right interim. It’s crucial to do all you can to select the best person in the first place. If you’re using a recruiter or an interim provider, can they give candid and knowledgeable advice about who to hire. Will they recommend a short-list rather than simply send you some CV’s? Otherwise you may as well do it yourself.

Interim providers have become so indistinguishable these days that they simply punt around the same CV’s. The good ones will make an experienced judgement call and steer you towards the most suitable interim manager. This will help you hire the right interim for your particular situation. Using the right interim provider who really knows their network will go a long way to helping organisations mitigate risk in transition and change situations. The complete opposite is true if your hire the wrong interim!

What do interim managers cost?

Interim managers and executives are normally paid on a daily rate basis, with a rolling monthly notice after an initial contract term.  At senior-level daily fees will range from £700 to £3,000, depending management responsibility, deliverables, expertise required, as well as the length of the assignment. An agent will typically charge another 25%-33% mark-up on top. A client recently grumbled that a very well-known recruiter (I shan’t shame them here) routinely charges 50% on top. Interim pricing should be transparent and avoid this rip-off. Always ask what mark-ups are.

The costs of hiring an interim should be compared with the costs of not hiring an expert to manage a transition or change situation. Clients have no employment costs to pay and no expensive redundancy costs when hiring an interim manager.

However, paraphrasing the Guinness commercial, each interim is as original as the next. Each interim, within a reasonable banding, will attract slightly different daily rates – even for the same role. I’m often advising clients, and interims, on daily rates and am always happy to do so as each situation can be quite different. Good interims are worth their rates!

How many professional interim managers operate from the UK?

Although there are around 4 million ‘freelancers’ in the UK, interim managers and interim executives are a rare and special breed. Holdsway estimate that there are as few as 1,500 senior-level professional interim managers in the UK. These are senior executives who have completed three or more successful assignments and who will instinctively know what to do in pretty much any situation.

Interim managers at this level are those who genuinely bring leadership to organisations for a period of time, giving the Board breathing space, time and comfort because they are there.

Just make sure you hire an interim manager who knows how to deliver what you need!

Why not use someone already employed in your company?

In his book “The Outsiders” William Thorndike of Harvard Business School argues the advantages of hiring in external leadership to bring in fresh perspectives to an industry. What I call a better ‘angle of running’ that a well-chosen interim manager brings can make a huge difference to a company looking to build, change or grow.

However, I always advise that it only makes sense to hire in an external interim manager when no internal resource is available fast enough with the correct skill-set and, crucially, the desire to deliver. Even if that expertise is available an interim manager can add a lot of positive value when a company requires the objectivity of someone ‘outside’ its internal agenda.

Do they have enough specialist knowledge about our particular industry sector to do the job effectively?

Experienced interim managers and executives will have shown their ability to adapt and contribute to a wide range of industries and sectors.  For many situations it can be more beneficial to choose someone from outside the industry who can provide new insight and fresh ideas. Specialist knowledge of a sector can always be found to support an assignment, but the ability to deliver lasting improvement and rapidly apply best practice is the universal stuff of interim professionals.

How do you make sure that the right interim executive is selected?

The process is critical. If you get it wrong at best you waste valuable months, at worst it may have a very negative impact on your business. Whether you hire through an interim provider or not, personal interviews are crucial. In contrast to corporate job interviews, encounters with interim managers tend to be more uninhibited, blunt and more informative. They should focus on the specific assignment (not an over-specific job spec) and how the interim has delivered this before. The interim manager should also be able to advise their recommended course of action too. It’s more an audition than job interview. Having auditioned 1000’s of interim managers I prefer this more straightforward and transparent process. At the end of the day, decide if you can trust them and work with them!

How much value do interim managers really add?

Good interim managers have a special combination of qualities and are of course hard to find. Amongst the legion of immediately available and out-of-work managers real interims are the ‘diamonds in the rough’. Managers don’t automatically become interims simply because they leave their jobs and become immediately available.

They must be able to manage themselves efficiently (into and out of assignment), and satisfy demanding clients who have high expectations of immediate results. If they weren’t adding value they would either have their contracts terminated early or not find work again (unless an unscrupulous recruiter/interim provider hasn’t bothered with their checks).

Often the interim manager arrives when the situation has become critical and after others may have already tried and failed. In my experience more than 85% of my interims’ assignments are extended, which suggests a good match between interim, assignment and the client. It’s also confirmation that the client believes value is being added.

Adding value is a key requirement of survival and success. The interim manager’s reputation is dependent on a continuing series of successful assignments. They should always be able to demonstrate this to you. I assess interim managers every day and each time my first questions are “Why were you hired?” and “What legacy did you leave in place?”

Interim management is one of the most transparent and direct ways to inspire a company to the next level.  It should be about the delivery of something better by those with the experience and desire to help you and your company do so. In action, the best interims will leave none of these questions unanswered.

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