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Interim thoughts: How to bring about change using interim managers

by Nigel Batty on 06 Feb 2017

interim_managers

A FTSE100 change management director reflects on three years of involvement in a complex, global shared services programme.

Talking with my peers, I hear among the war stories some very different experiences of working with interim managers. These range from the sublime to the disastrous. This is my personal view of the benefits and critical success factors, based on my experience of leading the establishment of a global change management team over three years.

To set the scene, I was working in a global FMCG business with more than 150,000 employees and an ambitious growth agenda. The business had a strong track record of driving transformation, having implemented SAP and outsourced significant elements of its back-office services. In 2010, the business took a step change decision to create an integrated group organisation covering all aspects of global employee services; everything from recruitment to room booking, from IT to invoice management.

This function was key to delivering growth without increasing internal costs. It would also ensure everyone working in the business had the tools and support needed to perform effectively. It significantly extended the scope of shared services in the business, as well as driving an unprecedented wave of standardisation and globalisation for the tools and processes used by all employees.

Adapting to change

Despite its record, establishing global services presented a new level of challenge. The scale, complexity and pace of change created a demand for change management resource far beyond the capacity of the business to support. There were simply not enough people with the skills or experience to deliver a programme at this level, and not enough time to develop this capability internally while "in-flight".

"It's clear that we could not have delivered the near vertical take-off we achieved without the capability and energy from the 20-plus interims that joined us. Moreover, the outcome exceeded my expectations."

It was recognised from the outset that external support would be required to fill the gap. The choice was to outsource change management to one of the major consulting houses or to go for an internally-managed, blended solution of internal and interim change managers. I decided that the blended solution offered the best opportunity to bring in seasoned change management professionals to help deliver the first wave of changes, and buy us time to develop internal capability.

When I now reflect on that decision, it's clear that we could not have delivered the near vertical take-off we achieved without the capability and energy from the 20-plus interims that joined us. Moreover, the outcome exceeded my expectations so here are some lessons I think are worth sharing.

The benefits of using interim managers

The interim managers we brought into the business were certainly the proactive, experienced, delivery-focused individuals you should normally expect. But they brought much more than that. By sharing experience, becoming role models for internal change managers and contributing directly to our change process methodology, they left a valuable legacy. That legacy centres on improved capability, and it will be leveraged by the global services organisation, and the wider business, for the next stage in the transformation journey.

Looking back, the key factor behind this success was, principally, the quality of the interims that came into the business. They were experienced not only in the generic elements of change management, but also in the functional and service areas they worked in. They also understood the specific challenges that these presented and spoke the "language", so were quickly able to gain credibility and influence. But more than this, they struck and held the balance between adapting to and challenging our prevailing ways of working – a very fine line to tread.

"We received CVs for no more than two or three people for each role, any of whom could do the job – it was just a case of finding the best match. BIE also scored highly on the aftercare once an interim was in place, ensuring role delivery but also that the relationships with sponsors and project leads remained healthy."

My main advice to any business planning to go down this route for accelerating the development of change management capability is first of all to be very clear on the requirement: invest time in thinking through and articulating the qualities needed in a change manager (internal or interim). This is not always as easy as it sounds! Get help if you feel you need it.

Second, take time to find an agency with a strong track record in providing the expertise area you are looking for; one that will devote time to really understanding your needs and then match candidates with care and precision against that requirement. This too may sound obvious and easy. But, in practice, many agencies out there are very transactional. They operate a numbers-based approach, believing that if they send you enough CVs, some of them will be right. Maybe, but have you got time to find the needle in the haystack? This approach is anathema to the aforementioned consulting-led agency.

The agency that we worked most closely with was BIE Executive. By investing time to understand the context for change, BIE was able to develop a pool of interims with the experience and qualities we required at numerous levels, from project-based change manager to programme change leader. Just as importantly, it was a pool of people that could fit into our culture and ways of working in the various service functions. Then, as the specific requirements became clear, BIE was able to exactly match people to the role.

It was generally the case that we received CVs for no more than two or three people for each role, any of whom could do the job – it was just a case of finding the best match. BIE also scored highly on the aftercare once an interim manager was in place, ensuring role delivery but also that the relationships with sponsors and project leads remained healthy.

In short, this has this been a very successful and collaborative business-business relationship – one that is far removed from the usual client: recruiter interaction.

In case this is beginning to sound like an advert for BIE, let me assure you it isn't. They are not the only interim management provider we worked with, but they are the template for the way that we now select and work with others; the benchmark against which others are measured. 

A Guide to Interim Management

Topics: interim management, change management

Nigel Batty

Written by Nigel Batty