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What are the benefits of interim executives?

by Kate Scammell-Anderson on 30 Jan 2017

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Interim executives have been used successfully across all industries at group and divisional level in public, private and family businesses, as well as public sector organisations and across all job functions throughout the UK and globally. 

Whether an organisation is undergoing turnaround, transformation, or another type of change programme, an interim can take the lead on vital projects that may be outside the skillset of the current team. 

In this post, we will explore the benefits of interims and look at how you might become one. 

3 key benefits of hiring an interim executive 

Writing for Harvard Business Review (HBR), Dr Margaret Schweer, of Tammy Erickson Associates, identifies three distinct advantages of hiring contingent workers (i.e. interim executives): 

  • Cost flexibility
  • Speed and agility
  • A boost to innovation 

Let's consider each of these in turn. 

1. Cost flexibility 

An interim can command rates of up to £2,000 a day, depending on the sector, the application involved and the level of experience required, as well as the length and duration of the assignment. At first glance, this can seem like a huge sum. However, hiring a full-time employee entails other hidden costs – for instance, holiday pay, and pension and NI contributions. An interim manager is only paid for the days they work, with no additional costs. This means that businesses can acquire resources as and when they need them, rather than employing permanent members of staff. 

2. Speed and agility 

Interims can parachute into an organisation and start making an impact straight away. This approach means that urgent projects can be tackled quickly. Kalyan Banerjee, a professional troubleshooter, who has worked in senior transformation roles all over the world, told BIE: "You really have to be prepared to knuckle down. There's no getting away from the fact that the long hours in the early days can be very fraught." Furthermore, interims have the capability to adapt and flex to meet new challenges as they occur; they are rarely daunted. 

3. A boost to innovation 

With significant practical experience and a proven track record, interims bring a different perspective to proceedings – and their view has gravity. Interims can introduce measures and execute plans that perhaps the permanent team might have shied away from.

Kalyan said: "I think the thing with being an interim is that you have a huge amount of momentum when you first go in because management has decided to back you because of your knowledge and expertise. Most of the time, people will be behind you. A huge benefit is that you can ask the questions that nobody internally would ask." 

How can you become an interim executive? 

Working as an interim is not easy. Professional interims are only as good as their last assignment. Their reputation depends on a succession of good, enduring results – and, so, there is a constant pressure to perform. Their focus is always about delivering value, knowledge and a real legacy. For many people, it's the perfect job. But how do you make the move into interim management?

A report by the Institute of Interim Management (IIM), Interim service providers survey and guide 2016, found: "Most assignments are not advertised, a trend which has been strengthened by the growth of social media and sites such as LinkedIn.

"Being 'easy to find' is much more important than being good at 'applying' to vacancies. If you are not on an appropriate provider's database, you cannot be selected from it. You can't see a vacancy that is not advertised.

"Most assignments are sourced by being found rather than finding an assignment. This is not passive because you work hard at building relationships that bear fruit later on, whether they are provider based or direct. Either way, being visible and memorable is essential."

Therefore, building relationships is the key to success. It's crucial to think carefully about how you market yourself, to showcase your skillset and USP. What do you want to be known for? 

If you decide to seek work through an interim service provider (ISP), you should spend time researching your market to find the ISPs best suited to your needs. A good approach is to be referred or recommended to a provider, as these organisations will generally only work with interims that they know and trust. Once you have engaged with several ISPs, networking and maintaining the relationship are key – after all, the perfect placement is unlikely to simply land in your lap. You should agree on how you will remain in touch and keep the provider updated on your availability.

Once a potential assignment has been found, you will often have to decide on whether to take it or not quite quickly. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't take some time to think carefully about the offer. There should be a significant emphasis on culture and fit – both you and the client organisation need to be a good match, to achieve a positive result. If you think you won’t be able to succeed in the role – for instance, because the organisation is closed-off to change, or the management team is dysfunctional – then it’s probably not a good idea to pursue the opportunity further. 

For the client organisation, everything depends on sourcing the right interim, while your reputation depends on finding the right assignment – it's a mutually beneficial relationship. Therefore, the process outlined here is critical. Done wrong, it wastes the client organisation's valuable time and resources and damages your reputation. But done right, it relieves the client organisation of a significant burden and enables you to expand your portfolio.

Interim executives are hugely valuable in the workplace, bringing with them a specialist set of skills that may not be readily available within an organisation's current leadership team. Working as an interim manager is not an easy job - but it is a challenging and rewarding one.

A Guide to Interim Management

Topics: interim management, Change