Complete Guide to Interim Management

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Interim Executives are the guardians of business sustainability. They are often the difference between a business failing or thriving and transforming from good to great.

Holdsway offers deep insight into the interim management industry with years as a leading player. We answer the key questions people ask about interim management whether you are hiring an interim or working as one.

Read our insight from research co-published with Business Schools, and from years of experience recruiting interim executives.

We discuss what defines a successful interim and how clients can hire interims and manage successful interim assignments.

Interims offer proven hands-on, operational experience of leading businesses through change, uncertainty, or even crisis. Successful interims will often have at least twenty years of leadership-level experience. They will also demonstrate the competencies and behaviours needed to deliver and accelerate change.

Companies hire interims to deliver an agreed set of tasks: often called the interim assignment. Each assignment has the aim of accelerating change. Interims can also be brought in quickly to cover critical elements of a permanent role when needed, enabling leadership transition.

We refer to interims although this term is interchangeable with interim executive and interim manager. What interims deliver is much more important than a job title.

Businesses hire interims to accelerate change and provide extra leadership and experience. The most common reasons include enabling business growth, improving efficiencies and implementing better processes and systems. Interims also offer extra leadership bandwidth when responding to competitive pressures and unexpected market changes.

Consider the following questions when deciding whether to hire an interim:

  • Do you have change management experience in-house? Interims are experts in managing change and are used to joining businesses quickly when they are needed.
  • Do you have enough management bandwidth? An interim overseeing change frees up management time to focus on keeping day-to-day operations running smoothly.
  • Do you have the luxury of time? We can’t spend time twice. Hiring an interim gains leadership teams time – sometimes to just breathe and think. Most interims have more than twenty years of experience at the change management coalface. They know how to accelerate into an assignment and take the workload off leadership teams.
  • Is your change project urgent? Change waits for no one and you will need extra help, at least for a short period of time. An interim can start an assignment at short notice and will know how to make a rapid impact.
  • Is there a gap in your leadership team? If an executive has left the company suddenly interims offer the competencies and experience to step in quickly. If you need time to find a permanent replacement, an interim will provide immediate leadership cover. Experienced interims take the pressure off, deliver what’s important now, help you re-hire and ensure a smooth handover.
  • Do you need external objectivity? Interim executives provide independent experience and insight. Interims will not try to sell extra services, but they will advise on the best way forward from their experience. They bring change management expertise with the added benefits of practicality and objectivity.
  • Do you really want to outsource your change programme? Hiring an interim allows businesses to keep control of change programmes and their implementation. The added benefit of interims is that they share their relevant experience, leaving capability in place. An interim will help avoid handing the control and management of change programmes to outside organisations.
  • Do you need implementation expertise? Experienced interims know how to take a plan, sense-check it for your business, and then make it happen. They can do this because they have the practical experience of quickly understanding what will work for each business. Interims don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach – project delivery is entirely focused on what is best each time.

If you hire an interim the benefits of doing so are compelling when extra experience is needed rapidly. Hiring an interim should be an option when businesses are managing change, transition, and facing uncertainty. Here’s why:

  • Interims have years of hands-on business experience. They know how to interpret and implement what is best for your business.
  • Interims won’t waste your management time. They have delivered many successful assignments already and won’t need managing.
  • Interims always pass on their experience. They are motivated by leaving capability in place, giving others the benefit of their experience.
  • Interims focus on implementation. They are a highly efficient resource. Give them a change project, and they’ll deliver!
  • Interims provide experience at short notice. You can hire them quickly to manage change, uncertainty or smooth leadership transition. Interims are in business to give a ‘shot of adrenaline’ to organisations.

Organisations usually hire interims for at least six months to deliver a specific brief or set of tasks. There is no time limit, although it’s always best to agree a work schedule and an initial time frame. Agreeing this upfront will help you keep the assignment on track and on schedule. An experienced interim will use this time to embed delivery and to ensure a thorough handover on completion. Interim assignments average around nine months and are often extended to take on the next set of tasks. This is also a recognition of the value that interims add to businesses.

It’s critically important to engage with people when delivering change. Interim executives know the importance of emotional intelligence (EI) – the ability to empathise and communicate with people. This is a core competency of successful change leaders in difficult circumstances. The most successful interim executives measure strongly in EI and associated skills such as influencing.

In the ground-breaking paper Effective Interim Leadership and Management (2019), we identified that interim needed very strong people skills to be successful change leaders. We interviewed some of the UK’s most effective interim executives and the competencies found in abundance were those which enabled interims to engage with people: communication, EI, sensitivity, and patience.

Have a clear idea of what must be delivered by an interim executive before you hire them. It’s important to have an idea of timeframe too. We suggest dividing the assignment brief into outcomes. This will provide a specification for the type of experience and person you need to bring in on an interim basis.

The assignment brief becomes your schedule of work which should be agreed between you and the interim you select. It also forms the basis of interviews with potential interims. During the interview discuss the assignment brief with the interim. They should tell you ‘how’ they would deliver it. This is the key reason you hire an good quality interim executive.

Tell your colleagues that you are hiring an interim and make sure everyone is clear why you are bringing them in. It’s also important to agree the start and end points of an assignment and certainly review the interim’s progress against the schedule each month.

Once you have clear idea of the change you need to deal with, you’ll need to hire an interim executive. Even if you haven’t quite finalised what you need, interims are experienced in finessing assignments and schedules of work.

Here are our key tips on hiring an interim:

  • Use your network: There may be someone you already know who you rate and trust to help you deliver change.
  • Talk to a specialist interim management firm: Personal networks often only generate one or two viable and available candidates. Specialist interim firms focus entirely on benchmarking and placing interim executives. The real value is that they will provide comparison candidates to allow you to make an informed choice. They should also know their network well so that they can respond with a shortlist quickly. Interim firms are expert in understanding assignment brief and translating them into relevant shortlists rapidly. The second big reason for working with interim firms is time – if it’s urgent they should be able to find interims, they know within the day. Talking to a good specialist interim firm saves you vast amounts of time.
  •  Be open about what you need: Take interim executives, and interim management firms, into your confidence. Hide nothing when you are briefing them. Don’t waste your time and money by making interims look under every rock to see what is really going on.
  • Agree a Schedule of Work: You should be clear what you are hiring the interim for. Clarity or purpose is key to a successful interim assignment.
  • Produce a schedule of work. This summarises what you are hiring the interim to do. It clearly defines what you expect the interim to deliver and how long that may take. This clarity ensures that you and the interim are starting the assignment with the same expectations. It also helps you measure progress and performance. The last thing you want when dealing with change is drift and unnecessary cost.

There is no need for you to be too rigid, but you should agree on the desired outcomes. Experienced interims will know how to interpret your brief and help you fill in any gaps. Make sure the interim is aware of If there are cultural sensitivities in your business that are important to know about. Once the assignment starts have a monthly review. Ask the interim to outline major findings, decisions and outcomes. A brief review is also an opportunity to confirm the planned actions for the forthcoming month.  Once you have a schedule of work with agreed terms and timescales with the interim, you are ready to start.

Introduce interims to your colleagues, say why they are there, and how long you expect them to be working with you. This will get the interim off to a flying start and prevent concerns from colleagues about ‘taking over my job.’ Be clear with people that the interim is there to support the business and enable and accelerate change. The interim will help you do this, as most are good at building rapid rapport and engaging with people. Above all make sure you build a positive and result-led business relationship.

A structured approach means effective interim assignments. If you set out the assignment clearly from its start to finish you will have more chance of keeping it on track. You will also be able to measure how effective the interim has been. Woods et al. (2019) outlined that using the Interim Assignment Cycle helps avoid an open-ended assignment and significantly improves the chances of meeting the assignment objectives.

The Cycle identifies four clear stages: preparation, entry, delivery and exit.

  • Preparation stage: the hirer and interim executive discuss the assignment. Specialist interim firms can also help you define a clear brief. This is the moment to establish the terms of reference and scope of the assignment. Introduce the interim to key stakeholders and give them a good understanding of your business and its culture. The preparation stage is usually one or two meetings which are opportunities to discuss what you would like the interim to do and hear their ideas on how to approach the assignment. It’s important that you establish rapport together at this stage and decide whether you can collaborate. Interim management firms will make candidate selection quicker by presenting shortlists of candidates with the right experience. You can then devote the interviews to choosing who you would like to work with. Produce a schedule of work and agree it and sign it off with the interim. The schedule confirms what the interim will deliver and over what timescale.
  • Entry stage: In the first days of the assignment the interim executive starts the key tasks and, albeit temporarily, joins the business. They engage with key stakeholders and establish their credibility early on. Review the assignment with the interim after a couple of weeks to see if it needs modifying.
  • Delivery stage: the interim focuses on the delivery and completion of the objectives of the assignment.
  • Exit Stage: The interim makes sure that they transfer their knowledge and skills to stakeholders and other permanent employees before departure. All professional interims manage their departure and handover well and to the agreed timetable. This ensures the durability and sustainability of their work. A good exit stage assures the interim’s legacy and the long-term impact of the assignment.

Interim executives charge a rate for each day worked, invoicing through a limited company. Alternatively, they may charge a fixed price for an assignment. Interims will work full and long days focused on delivery rather than hours worked. You get a lot of value from that day rate.

Interims charge day rates ranging from £700 to £2500 or more. If an interim management firm introduces an interim an introduction fee is billed too. Day rates charged depend upon the level and type of expertise required.

Clients hire interims for a minimum term of six months which gives enough time for initiatives to take effect. Assignments can be longer and can be extended, depending on what needs to be done.

The cost of hire should reflect the benefits of bringing in extra experience quickly to accelerate change, as well as the risks to the business of doing nothing. Few professional services can match the benefits of hiring an interim when operational experience is needed quickly.

Interims know how to engage quickly. They offer the experience and skills needed do the job required from day one. If an interim is covering a line role such as finance director they will therefore have a lot more experience compared to an equivalent permanent employee.

Companies hire interims to accelerate and deliver change. This can be a change programme or a change in leadership. Interims deploy expertise, knowledge, and competencies that aren’t always immediately available in a business. The level of expertise interims offer is not usually needed in the long term. Interims are hired because they know ‘how’ to deliver change and have the competencies to be effective from day one.

Interim executives are able to adapt quickly to different clients and assignments every eight or nine months – the UK average. This versatility means that interims are a rare breed. We estimate that there are as few as 3,000 senior-level professional interims operating from the UK. These are experienced change leaders who have completed three or more successful interim assignments. The UK is also a significant ‘exporter’ of interim management services, with interims working for overseas clients.

Everything depends on sourcing the right interim for the situation. As with any professional service, triangulate recommendations, referencing, interviews, and network checks. A considerable amount of risk can also be mitigated by getting the help of a specialist interim management firm.

Specialist interim firms like Holdsway spend years meeting, interviewing, benchmarking, and placing interim executives. Because these firms do the interim assessment legwork upfront, they can present a shortlist of comparable candidates very quickly. This helps mitigate the risks of hiring the wrong candidate.

You can limit risk of failure significantly with a clearly defined assignment brief. Make sure that you have also been as open as you can with the interim about the situation you face. A well-chosen and accurately matched interim will have the experience and competencies required to deliver a successful assignment every time.

Our advice is always to keep lines of communication open. Review progress every month against the schedule of work and flag any concerns early. Sometimes the focus of an assignment needs to be adapted along the way. Experienced interims are used to recharting course when required.

Yes. Their reputation depends on a succession of good, enduring results. Each interim assignment is a reference for their next assignment. Most interims who have delivered several successful assignments have chosen this as a career path. They view it as a profession and a business. It is their name and reputation which generates work – so they are totally committed to completing assignments successfully.

The Interim Assignment Cycle (Woods et al. 2019) confirms the importance of structuring interim assignments. Like any good narrative, there should be a clear introduction, a beginning, a middle, and an end – with no drift. Interim executives know that about halfway through an assignment they should be preparing their handover and exit.

An interim will always focus on delivering value, knowledge, and a real legacy. They want to move on, leaving the business in a far stronger position than before. Interim CVs are full of proof of delivery – ask them to talk you through them.

Our case studies provide examples of assignments and their outcomes.

Experienced interim executives will have shown their ability to adapt and contribute to a wide range of industries and sectors. Hiring an interim demonstrates the benefits of bringing in someone from outside your industry. They provide new insight, innovative ideas, and share best practice.

Interims have the competencies to learn and adapt quickly to different industries rapidly. Interims with experience in a particular industry can be found – although this may limit the pool of suitable candidates.

Our advice is: focus on what you need the interim to do, rather than be too concerned with sector experience.

Interim management firms should help you select the best interim for the assignment. To do this they must have strong networks.

There are many interim management firms to choose from. Larger ones aren’t necessarily the best for you. Talk to those which look relevant to your needs and pick out the consultants who look like they can help you. There is one independent survey produced each July in the UK by the Institute of Interim Management (IIM). This gives a list of the highest-rated interim firms by quality of service.

Our advice is to consider the following questions when choosing a firm to work with:

  • Are they interim management specialists?

Some recruitment firms try to do everything, mixing their databases of interims with those people looking for a permanent job. Interims exhibit competencies, motivations and track records which make them a vastly different proposition to someone looking for permanent employment.

  • Do they really get to know your businesses and requirements?

Whilst you might think a recruiter understands your business, there is little substitute for meeting to discuss what you need, the situation and cultural fit. Let them ask plenty of questions. Ask them to prepare an assignment brief for you.

If the recruiter is also meeting and screening interims properly, they should be able to provide an accurately matched shortlist quickly.

  • Do they identify one or two hand-picked candidates or present a long list of CVs?

If you need to hire an interim, you don’t have the time to trawl through lots of CVs. Choose an interim firm you trust and get them to give you their best two or three. Encourage them to give you candid insight and views on them. They should recommend who to hire, not simply send a lengthy list of candidates for you to choose from.

  • Are they artificially ‘siloed’?

Many large recruitment firms split themselves infinitely into ‘practices. Most either divide themselves by industry or job function. This silo approach risks missing the best interim for your business. It also misses the point. Some of the most effective interims have worked in eight to ten different industries in as many years. Some roles are so broad that to categorise them with one job title means you may not get the interim you need. Interim firms should remain generalist, focusing on what the interim does.

Selecting the right interim management firm can make life a lot easier when managing change. Interim firms should earn their money. They can save you time by demonstrating their knowledge of the best and most suitable interim executives available.

Confidentiality is key when a business is managing a critical change programme or dealing with an executive’s departure. So why broadcast your plans to the market unnecessarily? Talk to one firm in the first instance and work closely with them. They will be motivated to deliver, fast.

Hand-pick your interim management firm carefully. Otherwise, as experience shows you could end up with the wrong interim, which proves costly in the end.

The off-payroll working rules (IR35) can apply when temporary workers provide their services through a limited company to a client. The client is the organisation that hires the services of a temporary worker. They may also be known as the engager, hirer, or end client.

IR35’s aim is to make sure that temporary workers and employees pay the same Income Tax and National Insurance. It is targeted at those temporary workers who HMRC views as employees for tax purposes, based on its key tests.

There are three key tests and some secondary considerations on which HMRC relies. They use them to determine whether a temporary worker is an employee for tax purposes:

  • Control (of how work is carried out)
  • Mutuality of Obligation
  • Right of Substitution

These tests should be reflected in contracts between interim and hirer and should mirror actual working practices.

Inside or outside IR35?

Interims covering office-holder roles such as chief financial officer are usually considered an employee for tax purposes. This is known as being ‘inside IR35’.

An interim can remain ‘outside IR35’ in an office-holder role if they are delivering a series of change initiatives. The work they are doing would not be carried out by a permanent employee in the medium and long term.

If an interim is hired to deliver a series of change initiatives or to lead a change programme then this is not considered employment. Assignments with a change agenda are usually considered to be ‘outside IR35’. In this case, change leadership skills are needed temporarily and are not required in the longer term.

What do hirers need to do for IR35 compliance?

When hiring an interim executive you should complete and exchange the following with them:

  • Status determination (SDS): declares whether an interim is inside or outside IR35
  • Schedule of work: expresses in clear terms the assignment brief, what is to be delivered, and over what timeframe
  • Contract: including clauses on control, mutuality of obligation, and the right of substitution


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