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Everything you wanted to know about hiring an interim.


3RD SEPTEMBER 2020


Interims will arguably make the difference over the coming months and years in many situations between a business thriving or failing during difficult times. They bring with them years of experience as powerful catalysts for positive business change.

As management and business environments become increasingly uncertain and turbulent, there is a growing need for the contributions of interims to the continuity and long-term future of organisations. Demand for their services is increasing not diminishing.

This blog covers the following important topics to help those who are considering hiring an interim executive.

  • What is an interim?
  • What do interim executives do?
  • How many interim executives are there in the UK?
  • When should you hire an interim?
  • Is an interim executive the same as a management consultant?
  • How do you manage an interim assignment?
  • Do interim executives fall outside IR35?
  • Do interim executives need knowledge of our industry?
  • What core competencies are needed by successful interims?
  • How do you integrate an interim executive into your business?
  • How do you select an interim management firm to engage with?
  • Are interim executives committed to delivering results?
  • Is hiring an interim a risk?
  • How much do interim executives cost?

What is an interim?

An executive with at least twenty years’ experience across a range of organisations at leadership level. They have demonstrated that they can manage many types of change or transition situation, regardless of type of business environment.

What do interim executives do?

Interim executives help organisations manage change, transition, uncertainty, turnaround or crisis.  They bring extra experience to organisations for a period of time, to cope with planned or unplanned change.

How many interim executives are there in the UK?

Interim executives are a rare and special breed. Holdsway estimate that those who can deliver assignment after successful assignment at leadership level number between 2500 and 3000 in the UK. These are senior executives who have completed three or more successful assignments. These interim executives each have the ability to deal with a wide range of change and transition situations and frequently work across the UK and a growing number overseas too.

 When should you hire an interim?

Hiring an interim executive makes sense when:

  • The situation needs urgent management attention. If it needs dealing with now, then it’s unlikely you can deal with it without extra help, at least for a short period of time. An interim can start immediately and work with you for weeks or months, as needed.
  • No internal resource is available fast enough with the required skills, competencies and experience.
  • The company requires the objectivity of someone from ‘outside’ the organisation who will not be afraid to scrutinise plans.
  • The skills and experience required are a ‘one-off’, not available within the company and not needed after the assignment is completed.
  • Your company would like to implement a plan you have already agreed. Interim executives are a great option for taking a plan, ‘sense-checking’ it and managing, with you, its implementation.
  • You’d prefer to maintain control and direction of a change programme, rather than leave it to a consulting firm to manage. Interim executives are not only a cost effective option, but work with you, as part of your business, to deliver change.
  • You would like to benefit from the transfer of experience, knowledge and skills into your organisation. Interim executives are entirely motivated by passing on their experience during the course of each assignment.
  • You aren’t sure how long you need help. Whilst you should always agree an assignment brief with an interim executive, there are rarely lengthy, inflexible contracts. Flexible, immediate experience are the watchwords of interim management.

Is an interim executive the same as a management consultant?

The key question to ask is what stage are you in managing change? Do you know what needs to be done or do you need external help you work out what to do next?

Whilst a consulting firm will be useful when a company needs to work its plan out, experienced interim executives are good at taking that plan ‘sense-checking’ it for your organisation, then, with you, making it happen.

Make sure you deploy the right resource at the right time as the cost structures of each service are different. Using a consulting firm to implement a change programme can be costly, you don’t have full control and you won’t necessarily get any transfer of knowledge and experience.

How do you manage an interim assignment?

Our research with Surrey Business School in 2019 outlined for the first time a clear framework for interim assignments – the interim assignment cycle™.

The cycle identifies four clear stages: ‘preparation’, ‘entry’, ‘delivery’ and ‘exit’. Knowing where you are in the cycle will keep all parties on track and helps define a clear beginning and an end. Rather than being open-ended, successful delivery should be when you expect it.

The preparation stage is when hirer and interim executive define the terms of reference and scope of the assignment.  Let the interim meet key stakeholders and give them an understanding of the organisation and its culture. A ‘schedule of work’ should be agreed and signed off. The preparation stage is usually one or two thorough meetings. Make sure you establish rapport and decide whether you can work with each other.

The entry stage covers the few weeks of the assignment as the interim executive commences the key tasks and, albeit temporarily, joins the business. This stage comprises encounters with key stakeholders when the interim establishes their credibility across the business.  It is also a time for the organisation to review the assignment brief or ‘schedule of work’ with the interim to see if it needs modifying.

The delivery stage is the undertaking and completion of the main objectives of the assignment. It entails the sustained effort of driving through the objectives of the assignment.

The exit stage comprises the transferring of knowledge, competence and understanding to stakeholders and permanent employees. An effective interim makes certain that their departure is well-managed and timed to ensure durability and sustainability of their work.

 Do interim executives fall outside IR35?

Interim executives hired to help businesses manage change and transition situations don’t operate as employees. They are there for the sole purpose of delivering a specific brief and don’t expect work to continue, open-ended. Use the interim assignment cycle™ to help you focus on the assignment. Make sure there is a clear brief with a beginning, an end and clear results.

Do interim executives need knowledge of our industry?

Experienced interim executives have shown their ability to adapt to a wide range of industries and sectors. The best have worked in a different business environment each year. It can also be extremely beneficial to choose someone who can offer fresh insight. Your own team will have specialist knowledge of your business, whilst the interim is a specialist in managing change. If an interim with knowledge of your industry is required well-networked interim firms should be able to find an interim with experience of at least a similar business. However, it’s worth remembering that you hire an interim executive to

What core competencies are needed by successful interims?

Of critical importance when delivering change – even more so today – are people skills. In a recent British Academy of Management webinar, Professor Cary Cooper extolled the importance of emotional intelligence (EI), the ability to empathise and to communicate with people when leading or managing in difficult circumstances. The most successful interim executives will measure strongly in EI.

In their paper on Effective Interim Leadership and Management, Woods et al. (2019) discovered that executives who are successful at managing change on an interim basis are distinctly people-focused. Having interviewed some of the UK’s most effective interim executives, the most critical competencies identified were those which allowed them to engage with people: communication, emotional intelligence, sensitivity and patience.

Above all, what sets interims apart is a courageous spirit, enabling them to walk into most change and transition situations and instinctively know what to do next.

How should you integrate an interim executive into your business?

  • Announce who they are, why they are there and how long they are with you – this will get them off to a flying start and remove any concerns about ‘taking over my job’. Underline that they are there to help you and the organisation.
  • Ask the interim for a detailed review of what they find in their first week – it is a unique opportunity to get high quality and objective feedback. They’ll probably volunteer this insight anyway.
  • Take them into your confidence – hide nothing when you are briefing them – you are only wasting their time and your money if they have to peer under every rock to see what’s really going on.
  • There is no need to be too formulaic, but you should certainly agree the desired outcomes in a ‘schedule of work’ and the preferred management style if there is one.
  • Have a monthly review where the interim can outline major findings, decisions, and outcomes for the past few weeks and the planned actions for the forthcoming month.
  • Above all, make sure it’s a proactive, positive and result-led business relationship.

How do you select an interim management firm to engage with? 

There are many interim firms to choose from. Larger ones aren’t necessarily the best for you. Shortlist those who look relevant and pick out the consultants who look like they can help you.

You should consider these questions when choosing which interim firm to work with:

Is confidentiality important?

If so, talk to one interim firm you trust. Don’t unnecessarily put information about your organisation into the market.

Are they a specialist interim management provider?

Some recruitment firms try to do everything, including mixing their databases of interims with those people looking for a permanent job. With some exceptions, genuine interims exhibit competencies, motivations and track record which make them a very different proposition to someone looking for permanent employment.

Do they meet a client each time there is a brief to discuss?

Whilst you might think someone understands your business, there is no substitute for a face to face meeting to discuss the current environment and situation you need help with. In a world of viruses, you can still meet and share invaluable insights via video link.

Do they identify one or two hand-picked candidates or present many?

If you need an interim, then you haven’t the time to trawl through lots of people you don’t know. Choose an interim firm you trust and get them to give you their best two or three interims they actually know well. Ask them for their candid insight and views on them. They should be recommending a course of action and who you should hire, not giving you a longlist of unknown candidates.

Are they artificially ‘siloed’ by function, industry or market?

Many large firms split themselves infinitely into practices as they grow. Most either divide themselves by industry or role function. This silo approach risks missing the best interim for your organisation. It also misses the point. Some of the most effective interims have worked in eight to ten different types of industry in as many years. Some roles are so broad that to categorise them with one particular role function means you may not get the interim you need. Interim firms should focus mainly on an interim’s areas of expertise rather than worry about the sectors they’ve worked in.

 Are interim executives committed to delivering results?

Yes. Professional interim executives are only as good as their last assignment. Their reputation depends on a succession of good, enduring results. As each assignment is a potential future reference. Their focus is always about delivering value, knowledge and a real legacy. If they don’t deliver, they won’t find work in the future.

Is hiring an interim executive a risk?

Everything depends on sourcing the right interim. One of the interim firm’s key roles is to ensure that the best executive is selected. But don’t assume that all agents and interim providers are the same, or that they have access to the same pool of interim talent, or that they will make the same judgement.

Proven interim executives are in demand because they have a record of successful assignments. Because they are providing a professional service, interims offer the added comfort of professional indemnity insurance.

How much do interim executives cost?

Interim executives usually charge a daily rate for their work. These range from £700 to £2,500 or so, depending on the type of assignment.  Interim firms will charge a daily ‘hire fee’ on top of up to one third. This should be compared with the cost of not dealing with a critical business change situation.  The flexibility of hiring an experienced executive is a cost-effective investment in terms of time and money.

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