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Is interim management dead?

by Kate Scammell-Anderson on 04 Jul 2016

interim_management

In short, the answer is no. In fact, perhaps the question we should be asking instead is: are we all interims now?

Permanent contracts are still dominant in businesses – and it is set to stay that way for the foreseeable future. But does a "permanent" position really exist in this day and age? How beneficial could it be for us all to adopt an interim mindset – regardless of our actual position?

In an age of business disruption, where there are no certainties - as macro forces combine to place intense pressure on organisations across the spectrum - there is a necessity to be agile. Business leaders have to be prepared to change course at a moment's notice and progress is often tracked project-by-project, rather than year-by-year.

To survive in this new environment and to create competitive advantage for our businesses, we may all find ourselves needing to take more of an interim approach to leadership. 

Amid technological disruption and now Brexit, we are in the thick of a revolution in the business world. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be difficult to adjust to. Even the most gifted of business leaders can find themselves feeling slightly rootless as they face unprecedented changes within and outside their organisation.

So should we all be embracing an interim approach to work?

According to the Institute of Interim Management (IIM): "Interim managers bring well-qualified skills and expertise to bear at short notice, without the overheads and shackles associated with employment. They consult, plan, advise, implement, and embed the lessons, then exit, handling a range of key strategic and tactical interventions. As businesses in their own right, they offer independent expertise, free of company politics, and take responsibility for delivering results, not just offering advice."

Without doubt, this is an approach that we can all learn from. With higher expectations of pace and impact, reliance on networking and an independent view - an individual working on an interim basis faces intense pressures. They have to make quick, but well-thought-through, decisions within a set timeframe, in order to bring about the desired outcomes. In many ways, this is leadership intensified. 

Attributes of a successful interim executive

Therefore, interims need to boast specific attributes. According to the IIM, the differentiating "hallmarks" of professional interim managers and executives from other types of temporary or fixed-term contract resources are:

  • High-impact: interim managers are practised at making a significant difference quickly, assessing and working with the company culture and often with little in the way of a formal "brief". They do not need time to warm up or to settle in, but focus quickly on the work in hand.
  • Independent: they remain outside of company politics and so are able to address issues from a position of neutrality. This can be particularly useful when difficult and unpopular decisions have to be taken. They also act as trusted advisors who tell it as it is.
  • Professional: interim managers are micro-businesses in their own right, usually operating as limited companies. They trade with the hallmarks of business, not employment, such as professional indemnity insurance, business email and, often, their own business website.
  • Senior: operating at board or near-board level, interim managers are managers and executives, who have gravitas and credibility. They are used to leading businesses, functions, and departments. Suitably well qualified, they advise then deliver effective solutions.
  • Transformational: interim management is often focused on activities related to change, transition, business improvement, crisis management and turnaround. Even when their assignment addresses a gap or shortage, they add value and energise the workplace.
  • Wide expertise: with a strong track record of completing a variety of assignments, interim managers typically combine depth and breadth of expertise in their chosen sectors and disciplines. Their agility gives them the wide reaching expertise to deliver results quickly.
  • Time focused: interim managers are available at short notice. Once engaged, they will focus on providing significant value within the agreed fixed-term time parameters, seeing the assignment through and for not longer than needed, to a conclusion.

SourceGuide to interim management (IIM)

We should all have an interim mindset now

So aren’t these attributes applicable for achieving competitive advantage for a business, regardless of our employment contract?

Speaking to BIE earlier this year, Teri Ellison, who spent five years working as an interim manager, before returning to a permanent role, put it like this: "I still very much have the interim mindset in terms of thinking: What am I going to do this quarter? What are my quick wins? How am I going to get impact? How am I going to move things forward?

"I've found that my drive is at a very different pace. Like an interim, I'm continually thinking that I am only as good as my next three months and that really does speed things up – it impacts on the way you interact with people and the way you’re prepared to take more risks."

Teri explains: "The interim spell definitely honed my leadership skills faster than would have been the case in a permanent role. To suddenly lead a team of people who don't look at you as a permanent employee or their manager and to have them follow you to build teams really challenges the way you lead."

"At the same time, you're learning to act as a genuine business partner to the client, helping them to think about where they're growing their business, how they are driving their business and what impact you can have on their success."

As disruption continues to make its presence felt, the ability to flex and adapt is crucial. What can we all do more of, regardless of our employment terms? Looking to the world of interims for inspiration could be just the tonic business leaders require.

So interim management is very much alive and well – in fact, it’s thriving. As the business world continues to turn on new axes, the skills and mindset of the interim manager can help leaders to adapt to new challenges and flourish. Whether your organisation hires an interim or simply employs their attributes within your working culture, we can all benefit from walking the interim path.  

A Guide to Interim Management

Topics: interim management, Leadership, business disruption