What is an interim executive?
“Interim management is the provision of effective business solutions by an independent, board or near-board level manager or executive, over a finite time span. Such complex solutions may include change, transformation and turnaround management, business improvement, crisis management and strategy development. Interim managers are often experienced in multiple sectors and disciplines.” “Guide to interim management”, Institute of Interim Management (IIM)
Interim executives are commissioned at a senior level on an assignment basis and take full line or project responsibility from day one, reporting directly to their client organisation. The average assignment is intense, usually lasting between six and twelve months, five days per week. Therefore, to be immediately effective, interim executives must be overqualified for the role, with a strong, proven track record and competencies that match the needs of the job in hand.
Interim executives are not to be confused with someone working on a temporary or non-permanent contract basis – in fact, the difference is clear. The term “interim management” is sometimes wrongly used to describe middle and lower management short-term contract roles. However, these managers can lack the authority to bring about significant change; they are usually brought in to “hold the fort” during planned periods of absence, to provide extra resource at peak load times or to carry out a narrowly defined project. They require direct management time, whereas an interim executive does not - they will manage the situation and deliver a transition or change if required.
Additionally, interim management is not “try-and-buy” recruitment. Maintaining objectivity is critical to the success of an assignment and, so, a correctly selected, overqualified interim executive would typically refuse a full-time position. An interim contract can be “bought-out” for an agreed fee to maintain the interim on site for a longer period, but there are always very clear and defined objectives for doing so.
Reasons why your business may need an interim manager
What does “good” look like?
There are a number of qualities which differentiate interim executives from other types of temporary employees and make them unique within the workplace environment.
Often, an interim arrives when the situation has become critical and after others may have already tried and failed. To make an impact from the start, they don’t have time to settle in and learn the ropes; they must be independent and hit the ground running. In any case, they are not looking to further their career, but to capitalise on their knowledge and capabilities - and their reputation is dependent upon a continuing string of successful assignments. Whatever position they occupy, an interim executive is entirely focused on outcomes.
Here are some of the key characteristics that you should typically look 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.
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.
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.
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
An interim should be motivated to help your organisation succeed and less interested in what this means for their own position or status. 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.
What are the benefits?
Interim managers can take the lead on vital projects that may be outside the skillset of the business’s permanent employees. They can execute projects to drive your business forward and impact your top and bottom line. Here are some of the key benefits that an interim manager can deliver.
Speed and agility
Interim managers can parachute into an organisation and start making an impact straight away. This approach means that urgent projects can be tackled quickly. Interim managers are well-versed in stakeholder management and relationship building and used to adapting to different company cultures, allowing them to easily navigate the business to make quick decisions. Furthermore, interims have the capability to adapt and flex to meet new challenges as they occur; they are rarely daunted.
An interim manager’s rates can depend on the sector, the application involved and the level of experience required, as well as the length and duration of the assignment. They are typically paid a day rate which 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.
Interim managers are a quick start solution, meaning they are able to make an impact straight away. They are hired for a specific requirement, and this is their focus from day one. Unlike permanent members of staff, there’s no time lost to a settling in period. Interim managers are well-versed in stakeholder management and relationship building. They are used to adapting to different company cultures, which allows them to easily navigate the organisation and make quick decisions.
A focus on delivery
The point of hiring an interim manager is to ensure your organisation achieves its intended business goal. That goal might be to successfully implement a new system, deliver a major change programme, or ensure a smooth merger or acquisition. Whatever it is, an interim manager will take a laser-focused approach to achieving that goal.
Interims are focused solely on outcomes and results. As they will only be in the business for a finite time, they aren’t distracted by worries over their future in the business. Nor will they concern themselves with internal politics. And this allows the interim to remain impartial, focused squarely on the best interests of your company.
A fresh perspective
Interim managers are excellent strategic thinkers, able to plan and execute the quickest, most effective strategies to achieve results. And as an independent party, they have the added bonus of being able to bring a fresh perspective and an objective view on what is best for your business.
Interims are free from any previous involvement or investment in company processes, staff relationships, or office politics. This means they are often able to identify problems and solutions that may not be visible to those within the organisation. And they aren't afraid to ask questions and challenge thought, even if it means treading on some toes.
A lasting legacy
During their assignment, interim managers will work alongside internal teams and spend time mentoring and coaching them. This will ensure not only a smooth transition when the contract ends, but that they also leave a lasting legacy so the organisation is better equipped to respond to challenges and opportunities in the future.
Hiring an interim manager
Benefits of using an agency
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.
The hiring process
Selecting the right interim manager to meet your business requirements is key. We’ve broken the hiring process down into five steps:
1. Build the business case - Once you have identified a need for an interim manager, whether it is to lead a change or transition, to act as a bridge between permanents, or to get a failing project back on track, you will need to establish a strong business case with clear objectives and outcomes. This will help you to get all stakeholders on board and determine the skill set you require
2. Determine your ideal candidate - If you are looking for an interim manager to help implement a new system, you will need someone who has successfully implemented something similar in another organisation. If you require an interim manager to lead on a business transformation, your ideal candidate will be well-versed in leading organisations through similar change programmes.
3. Recruit - Typically there are two options for recruiting an interim manager. You may reach out to interims directly through LinkedIn or your own personal network, or you may decide to enlist the help of a specialist interim agency. While LinkedIn can be a great resource, specialist interim agencies are often better able to guarantee both quality and choice. An agency will have access to a wide pool of cross-functional experienced executives, all of which will have been met or vetted. If you do choose to reach out to an agency, make sure you choose one that understands your specific requirements and goals.
4. Agree key objectives and set clear expectations - The objectives and expectations should be agreed at the outset of the assignment. This should form the basis of a statement of work that should be adhered to at all times.
5. Communicate plans to your employees - Support from employees will play an important role in enabling the interim to deliver the desired outcomes. Once you have committed to bringing an interim on board, make sure you communicate your plans to staff. Make sure they know why the interim has been hired and the outcomes they have been brought in to deliver.
What should be included in an interim assignment brief?
The brief should be a true reflection of the situation and demands and parameters of the role so have a clear idea of what you need you need an interim executive to deliver before you hire them, along with timeframes.
We recommend dividing the assignment brief into objectives and outcomes; you can then use the brief to set out the schedule of work which should be agreed between you and the interim you hire. This will also provide a specification for the type of person you are looking for as well as questions to cover in interviews with potential interims.
Tips for hiring success
- If you do decide to use an agency to assist with recruitment, the Institute of Interim Management’s list of approved suppliers is a good place to start.
- Be realistic when setting timescales. A good interim will be honest if the proposed timescales are unachievable.
- When agreeing on a rate, consider how the interim will add value to your organisation, rather than allowing the salary of a similar permanent employee to dictate it.
- Have everything in place to allow the interim to get started from the moment the assignment begins. Inform the team and have information ready that allows them to get going right away.
- Meet regularly with the interim throughout the assignment to discuss progress. It will benefit you to stay up-to-date with key milestones.
- When the assignment comes to an end, make sure there is an exit plan in place that allows them to leave a legacy that the team can build upon.