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Annie Hayes

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HR interims: The ‘crunch’ beaters

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HR_interimsIn an economic downturn where immediate and fluid resources win the day, HR are seeing the ‘plug and play’ capacity of the HR interim as a positive. Annie Hayes reports on a market that is beating the credit crunch.


Soaring demand

According to HR resourcing outfit Ochre House, demand for interims is up by nearly 10% on this time last year, and similar findings have been reported by Chiumento consultancy, which found that organisations are now so lean they’ve lost the key skills and talents and are looking to interims to fill the gap.

“The fluidity of the interim market is attractive; it’s a resourcing solution that you can turn on and off like a tap.”

Graham Bird, Chiumento

Yet Louise Davies, director HR Resourcing, interim management at Ochre House, says that it’s not a new phenomenon: “Demand for interims has been on the rise for some while now, not just in this economic climate, but during the past six to seven years, organisations are seeing the benefits an interim manager can bring to them.”

Experts agree. Nick Diprose, managing director of BIE Interim, believes it’s not as simple as saying it’s all just down to the economy, however, and says the market is still subject to the usual peaks and troughs: “If you go back to the spring and early summer the market was fairly turgid. Since August it’s been very busy. Clients have been calling us saying we need people now.”

And Graham Bird, director of interim management at Chiumento, says interims can benefit from both upturns as well as downturns.

“Interims can benefit particularly in a downturn where headcount freezes take place but business goes on. Clients have to address the resourcing need. The fluidity of the interim market is attractive; it’s a resourcing solution that you can turn on and off like a tap. There’s more immediacy too, you can get them onboard in a week or so,” says Bird. And according to the experts the future is set for steady growth.

A promising future

Constant change is the interim’s friend and in a market where redundancy, lay-offs and mergers and acquisitions are not unusual, interim managers are bringing considerable expertise to the table. Davies says: “As organisations are shaping up for a change in market trends, interim managers are being sought to help many of these organisations go through considerable change. Again, a great many organisations are turning to the interim talent pool and asking them to help shape and deliver this change.”

Bird further notes that interim management is also seeing a sea change in the way it is being viewed by those in the role: “More people are choosing interim as a positive career decision, some as an option following redundancy. Interims are high-achievers, no permanent job is for life now and in a career many people experience redundancy once or twice.” This in itself has opened up the talent pool with the typical interim profile moving on from the traditional stereotype of a male in his mid to late 50s.

Bird says there’s a more even gender split too. Overriding this, however, is the need for quality, which Diprose says has moved up a scale, explaining that the future for interim management looks good as long as this is maintained.

Getting the most from the HR interim

No one likes to over-stay their welcome and Bird and Diprose both agree that establishing an end-point to the assignment is a crucial aspect of interim management.

Diprose says: “The right interim looks for an end-point to hand-back, it’s not about trying to stay for as long as possible. It’s about transferring knowledge and skills to the HR function.”

Davies believes that part of this exit strategy should include a transfer of knowledge once the interim has moved on: “The majority of interims are in a position where they are able to impart information through employees working alongside them. HR can help bridge internal skills gaps with their own people by shadowing the interims and therefore leaving a legacy behind, which will enable the customer to carry on once the interim has left – this is a fantastic resource to have access to and organisations are paying for this individual and should be making the most of their skills whilst on-site.”

Peter Long, director of Mayo Learning International, and former HR director for global organisations including Xerox and Fujitsu, knows a thing or two about interim HR management, having performed in the role himself and managed several.

He says that it’s crucial to get the right fit from the outset, in the hope that the rest will follow: “You try to be as structured as possible when interviewing an interim but it’s about making a judgement call too. Look for key stakeholder initiatives they have undertaken, previous references and how quickly they established themselves as well as their ability as a self-starter.”

“The right interim looks for an end-point to hand-back, it’s not about trying to stay for as long as possible. It’s about transferring knowledge and skills to the HR function.”

Nick Diprose, BIE Interim

Judging the organisational landscape and its associated politics is all part of the job and gaining credibility quickly is a must, says Long: “The first reaction of the line is very important you don’t have the classic bedding in time with an interim.”

Diprose believes that part of the key to finding the right person is understanding why you are bringing them on board in the first place: “You’ve got to agree the deliverables; the client says we’ve lost our HR director and need someone next week, so understand what needs to be covered and expect that it might not be an exact copy. In my experience interims are brought in for three reasons: to handle a turnaround, to ‘plug and play’, or to deal with a planned change.”

Of course there are the warning signs. Long has seen at first hand the pitfalls of recruiting the wrong person who can’t handle the challenge: “There are those that assume they’ve done it all before and if that’s overplayed it can be a handicap, there is a balance of listening and the tendency to dive-in that needs to go on.”

All this means is, that however highly recommended the interim comes, they need a certain amount of managing. And with high salaries now being commanded, it is crucial to get a return on the investment.

For Bird, this couldn’t be more crucial as organisations steadily witness the regular creep of the interim onto the payroll, but he believes a mindset change still needs to occur: “It’s still seen as a distress purchase rather than being a strategic move.”

Those who are buying into the power of the interim have already taken onboard this idea and their gamble is starting to pay off. As the credit crunch bites, their competitors are failing to deal with the troughs of an economic downturn that requires change and transformation expertise – something the HR interims appear to have by the bucket load.

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Annie Hayes

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