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What should you look for in an interim manager?

by Emma-Claire Kavanagh on 07 May 2019

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If you’ve decided that your business could benefit from hiring an interim manager, whether it’s to help with a transformation project, implement a new system, or rescue a failing project, you’ll now be focused on identifying the right person for the task.

You know that interims will be used to dealing with tight deadlines, high-pressure circumstances and adapting into established teams, so you’ll expect to see evidence of this in their CV.

But what exactly should you be looking for in an interim? And how do you know when someone is a good fit for your business?

We’ve compiled a list of the key things you should be looking for in an interim manager.

Successful track record

It goes without saying that you need an interim manager with ample experience and a strong track record. But it’s not just senior level experience you should be looking for.

Ideally, you want to find somebody who already has solid experience of working in an interim capacity. More and more people today are opting for a career in interim management, so this shouldn’t be a difficult task.

What you really want to find is someone with a proven track record who has solved similar problems for other businesses. If you need someone to lead a transformation, seek out someone who has successfully delivered similar changes in other organisations. If you need someone to rescue a failing project, look for an interim with a track record of doing the same in other businesses.

It’s not just about their experience though. You want an interim manager who is high impact and time-focused. Look for evidence that they are able to make a significant impact quickly and can deliver the desired outcomes within the set parameters of an assignment.

Skills and expertise

Interim managers are often experienced in multiple sectors and disciplines, with a more sophisticated skill set than any permanent position would normally demand. However, it is their core specialist skills that make up their unique selling point.

In order to be successful in your company, an interim doesn’t necessarily need to have experience in your sector. The key requirement is that they have the core skills to deliver the desired outcomes. In fact, the most successful career interims are good because they have broad experience to bring to the table.

Ultimately, the right interim manager for your needs will have a solid understanding of your strategic requirements. You’ll get a sense of this when you meet them in person and discuss the assignment.

Emotional intelligence

High emotional intelligence is recognised as a key attribute of first-rate interim managers. Though delivery-focused, interims need to be able to understand people, their actions, and their emotional state. They also need to be adept at handling any resistance with diplomacy.

Primarily, it is through understanding the complex web of people within your organisation and their relationships that interims can help teams function as a more cohesive unit and accelerate results.

To get an insight into their emotional intelligence, pay attention to how they behave around others and how they talk about people they’ve worked with in the past.

Ability to engage and develop others

It’s likely that you’ve decided to hire an interim over a management consultant because you’re looking for someone who can come in and take a hands-on approach. And one of the biggest benefits of this is the opportunity they bring to build up internal talent.

A good interim will have the capacity - and the willingness - to develop and empower internal talent and leave an ongoing legacy for after the assignment ends. Look for evidence of how they’ve demonstrated this in their previous assignments and ask them to provide examples.

Lack of status or ego

The focus of an interim manager should be on making your company look good. They should be motivated to help you succeed and less interested in what this means for their own position or status. They are not political players and won’t be distracted by any previous involvement or investment in your company.

A good interim manager will generally be at a point in their career where they feel comfortable in their own skin. They recognise the value they bring and are not afraid to challenge constructively.

Ultimately, you need to be able to trust that the interim you hire will not let ego or status get in the way of delivering results. You should know when you meet them face-to-face whether you believe they can do that or not. It’s a case of trusting your instincts on this one.

A desire to get stuck in

From a personality point of view, many interims might describe themselves as “adrenaline junkies” who thrive on “fixing” the issues presented to them. They may lean towards extraversion or possess some extravert qualities. This probably isn’t surprising. An interim’s success hinges on their networking abilities and they have to be bold enough to put themselves out there and ask the difficult questions.

One of the biggest draws of an interim manager is that they are able to make an impact fast. You know your own people. And once you’ve met an interim in person, you should be able to get a sense of whether or not they have the gusto to make change happen - and if you think they can do it without ruffling too many feathers.

You’ll get a feel for all of these things both from an interim’s CV and from meeting them face-to-face.

However, you might decide that you could benefit from a specialist interim agency to help you identify and assess potential candidates. An agency will have access to a talent pool of cross-functional experienced executives, all of whom will have already been met and vetted.

An agency can act almost as a guarantor. They’ll know the interim’s history and will have inside knowledge of whether past organisations who hired them have achieved the desired return on investment.

Whether the need is to drive change, fill a skills gap, or turn things around in times of crisis, an interim manager can be a truly valuable asset to your organisation. It’s important you know exactly what to look for, as the best interims tend to get snapped up quickly.

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