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Stop gap: Interim managers – an expensive waste of time?

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interim management - record earnings
Interim managers have never had it so good; with demand soaring, record earnings are being achieved. Annie Hayes finds out whether interims are worth the expense and effort.


Head renting or executive leasing – better known as interim management – is big business. According to professional body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), people involved with interim management estimate that there are currently between 1,000 and 5,000 interim managers active in the UK and, according to a recent survey by interim management providers Russam GMS, interims can make an average of £585 a day; a figure that is up 5.4 per cent from 2006.

Manufacturing and engineering (13 per cent of all interims) and central and local government (13 per cent), which includes charities, top the sectors demanding the services of interim managers, according to its research.

Charles Russam, chairman of Russam GMS, says: “For the first time ever, we are seeing demand for interim managers putting serious pressure on supply, which no doubt accounts for the daily rate increases.”

So how can businesses ensure value for money is being had?Graham Bird, head of interim management at Chiumento, a multi-disciplinary HR consultancy, remarks that the key is getting the brief right from the outset: “To ensure you get value for money from your interim, you need to prepare a brief with key deliverables to be achieved by the manager. Only when clients themselves fully understand what their needs are, can they set clear objectives in the brief. The next stage is to focus on their delivery by the interim.”

“The best interims are not interested in jobs specs written on the back of fag packets. Time has got to be put into working out what the interim can provide above and beyond the assignment.”

Raj Tulsani, chief executive officer, Green Park

According to Raj Tulsani, chief executive officer of interim management provider Green Park, the key to extracting best value for money is making sure that candidates with the right mentality are selected in the first place: “In my opinion, the quality of the candidates is getting worse. We’re not talking about skills and experience, but finding interims with the ability to be open and flexible to meet the client objectives.”

Muddy waters

Tulsani believes there are many HR business partners muddying the waters by trying to build up their portfolios with interim work and not making a very good job of it. Agents play their part in placing ‘bad eggs’ into the interim market. “A lot of agencies just place strangers off a database word search, and they have no relationship in place with them,” says Tulsani, who adds that placements such as these often don’t work out.

Being on red alert to side-step the cowboys is clearly a good tip, and Tulsani adds that money is wasted where the client isn’t prepared to put the ground work in, to set the objectives for the interim placement: “The best interims are not interested in jobs specs written on the back of fag packets. Time has got to be put into working out what the interim can provide above and beyond the assignment. There has to be a legacy value.”

Bird says that mistakes can be avoided by ensuring the interim provider is a member of the Interim Management Association, and has a track record in delivering high-quality interim managers in the discipline the client is interested in. “It is prudent to ascertain how the providers are recruiting managers to their database, how they check their quality, match them with companies and monitor their performance when on assignment.”

Assignments, according to Bird, usually arise from two scenarios; either as gap cover for maternity leave or the sudden departure of an employee, or to plug a skills gap when a company undertakes a new project.

Tulsani says interims should never be taken on simply as an extra pair of hands, but Matthew Jennings, an HR Zone member and recruitment expert, warns that too often an interim is brought in just for this reason, often as the result of a panic decision: “I worked in recruitment for a number of years and specialised in recruiting medical sales managers at UK management level.

“I found that if a highly valued regional or national sales manager left a team, then the team would often enter a period of flux, appearing to be rudderless and sometimes disintergrating. This often resulted in a panic recruitment of a new manager – who may not have been the right person in the long term. An interim manager would shore things up, provide a fresh perspective for the team and company, and allow a carefully thought out recruitment drive to occur. If an interim manager has relevant experience and can concentrate on the job of management, then they are a sound investment.”

Karen Drury, a seasoned interim, says that interims are often used to do the dirty work: “I’ve just completed an eight-month stint as interim head of communications while an organisation was going through change. Using interims to be the “bad guys” through change is a traditional role, I understand. Thus, I was responsible for restructuring the department, for the communication while the restructure was going on, and I took part in the recruitment of my successor.”

Existing staff

Preparing existing staff for the arrival of the interim is a key part in getting things right. Too often, staff are ill-informed and the interim is made to feel like an unwelcome stranger.

Bird advises: “Before the interim’s arrival, the specific objectives for the project should be discussed and communicated to the interim’s key stakeholders. All involved must be clear on why the interim manager has been brought in.

“Even though an interim manager is highly skilled and experienced, some level of induction will still be needed. Clients need to think about creating a short but highly effective induction programme into a company’s culture and practices for mutual benefit.”

“Even though an interim manager is highly skilled and experienced, some level of induction will still be needed. Clients need to think about creating a short but highly effective induction programme into a company’s culture and practices for mutual benefit.”

Graham Bird, head of interim management, Chiumento

Tulsani comments that providers need to go one step further: “In reality very few providers have the infrastructure, experience or appetite to get involved with performance management for the interim.” And according to Tulsani, the problem lies with the market becoming increasingly transactional, with providers breaking relations and leaving the client to it at the point the job is filled.

Clearly interim management can be much more than a stop gap, especially where an interim assignment is well planned, prepared for and inducted carefully, resulting in a lasting legacy that provides ample value for money.

Understanding why an interim is needed is half way to success, and ensuring a good relationship with the provider is in place neatly sets the scene to ensure failure isn’t an option.

With over half of organisations turning to recruitment providers, according to the Russam survey, building relations with the third party and picking the right one is becoming more crucial than ever.

2 Responses

  1. Procuring Professional Interim Talent Wisely
    The UK market, loosely defined as interims with significant impact on the client through the assignment, is c£1bn of fees currently. It is a rapidly growing market with double digit growth for several years now. The route to market for the interim is either via the provider, or directly through their own network. Best estimates suggest 60-70% of all assignments are sourced by interims directly.

    Establishing a meaningful daily rate is influenced by the subject area, the interim professional’s seniority & the work to be done. Other factors come into play such as industry, scale & state of the client, geography, likely length of assignment & form of payment (fees, terminal bonus, profit share, etc).

    The client must be clear about what it is trying to achieve which makes finding the right person much easier. The concept of ‘interim fit’ in an organisation depends on what needs doing. The professional interim may well be required to “change the way things are done round here”, so being different helps. True professional interims are very flexible. They are used to working in different environments & enjoy the challenge that each new assignment brings. Productive output should occur very quickly. Given this, it is crucial that the client positions the interim’s arrival very well with the staff.

    Good providers have well managed candidate files & maintain effective relationships with their key professional interims. The perhaps cynical client may feel that the relationship between provider & interim is too commercially cosy, so a question to be asked is whether the interim has any independent means of accreditation. They will be registered with several providers but commercial interest remains. The only independent UK accreditation body for professional interims is the Institute of Interim Management (www.ioim.org.uk). Anyone who is a full member or an associate member has been through a rigorous process of peer assessment with no commercial element to success in this process.

    The market is ‘muddied’ by people who use ‘interim’ assignments to find their next permanent role. This will remain a problem to the profession but the client can help by ensuring that they contract with professional interims. The key is to understand the nature & the quality of the tool required to do the job

  2. Good Interim Management is a two way street
    I think that good interim management is a two way street, just like hiring a consultant in some respects:

    1. Clients must know what they really want / need and expect from the interim

    2. The interim management firm must pick the right person rather than rushing to fill slots with whoever they happen to have on their books.

    Like all professions, there will be good people and some less good ones.

    I think the writers of this article have carefully thought about the right way to do this and this sets a standard. I’m not sure that belonging to IMA etc. is sufficient a guarantee of good ethics.

    I’d be inclined to ask an interim company if they have ever refused to supply a manager – probably a good test of their ethics.

    Amongst the people I admire in this field are Castle Interim Management – I know from personal experience that they are willing to say no to work even when the client is trying to put a cheque in their hand. I’m sure that there are others. In those circumstances the £585 a day average fee compares well with PAYE, income tax, pension, holidays, NI, sickness cover and so on.

    Peter Cook

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