Interims have always had an important place in the transformation space. BIE has been partnering with clients for years, driving their change agenda.
However, in a crisis scenario, businesses still often take what they think is the safest route and turn to one of the well-known consultancy firms for support. And why wouldn't they?
"With a high level of risk involved, I would do the same", comments Ben Hawkins, who runs BIE's Business Transformation Practice, "but there are circumstances where an alternative solution to traditional consultancy led and delivered transformation might be preferable. We are seeing a growing level of maturity from our clients in terms of delivering change. Increasingly, they like to retain ownership of their transformation projects. It gives them not only a higher level of control, but also allows them to learn through the transformation process and to create a lasting legacy within the business."
Interims offer an alternative solution. They have the advantage that you can deploy them in a variety of different ways.
You can simply deploy them to implement what the consultants have told you to do, but you can also ask them to:
Tell you what you need and walk away;
Tell you what you need and build a team to help you deliver it; or:
Tell you what you need, build the team around them and deliver it for you.
This trend is not only visible in the clearly labelled "transformation space". Louise Beales, Director within BIE's finance practice, has also noticed a change in approach when placing senior finance executives:
"Clients like the fact that they have choice and the interims I work with are usually the kind of people who enjoy 'fixing things'. They are excited by crisis, problems and things not working as it offers them the perfect platform from which to create positive change and make a difference. They are used to thinking out of the box in order to get things done and that's increasingly what my clients want."
Louise placed Interim CFO Ed Harding at global hotel group GLH.
Fresh from his 12-month assignment, first as CEO of their new luxury hotel brand Clermont, then as CFO of the wider GLH Group, Ed looks at the advantages of hiring an interim, over a traditional consultant, to drive business transformation in this article for CFO World.
Fresh from a 12-month assignment with global hotel group GLH as CEO of Clermont, their new luxury hotel brand, then as CFO of the wider GLH Group, Ed Harding looks at the advantages of hiring an interim, over a traditional consultant, to drive business transformation.
After an early career in the banking sector followed by eight years as an interim – essentially a posh temp – and mostly still in financial services, hospitality wasn't necessarily a market I would have thought about going into. But an exhilarating year with GLH has cemented my view that as an interim, it really is all about 'skills not sector'.
Interims must be adaptable and their experiences need to be transferrable. Consultants certainly have their place but there is no substitute for a fresh pair of eyes working within, rather than alongside or advisor to, the executive team.
Increasingly in the interim space today, boards expect professional rigour but don't need a third party branded advisor. They need proven operators who can work with them and their staff and from day one really contribute to business operations. As an interim, my brand on commencing an assignment automatically becomes that of the recruiter that I represent and, most importantly, our shared client.
That's not to say consultants don't add value. In technical areas such as tax for example, you clearly need someone who can tell you what to do and you pay for what is, in effect, an insurance policy based on brand power. But the reality is that consultants, well, they consult. They tell you what you should do but they don't actually do it themselves – and often in business the reality is that it can take as long to tell someone what's required as it does to do it yourself.
As an experienced interim I've worked on many projects where getting the badge of a big consultancy is critical but in my view bringing consultants into day-to-day operations from day one can create a dependency that is very costly for the client to maintain. Also I've rarely seen a consultant firm enter a business, do a single piece of work and walk away – it's in their nature to look for that opportunity to cross-sell. The role of the interim is simply to deliver and then exit stage left.
As an interim you're not just there to bring a key skill, or set of skills, that the business doesn't have. You're there to take the strain and give the main team the bandwidth to concentrate on 'business as usual' (BAU). Quite often when companies go through a major period of crisis or transformation they don't actually know what they are going to need along their journey, so they need someone who can work across lots of areas and be trusted to make the right decisions. As a director of a recent client put it: "You're here to know which balls to catch and which ones to drop".
The job of a good interim is to quickly fit in and be an integral part of the executive team. You have to have the executive experience and interpersonal skills to be able to professionally interrogate a business, seek out its problem areas, navigate obstacles and identify talent. The interim role gives a degree of latitude to the hirer that you simply don't get from a traditional consultancy contract.
At its best, if you get the right interim at the right time, you can get the senior input of a partner-level consultant, embedded into your core business activities, for a fraction of the overall cost with reduced implementation risk.
Clearly the interim life isn't for everyone – but as a career CFO I couldn't think of a more fulfilling role. Firstly, unlike when you're wearing a consultant badge, you're usually welcomed into the business as one of the team. People know that you're not going to put everything they tell you into a report that will probably end up on their boss's desk, so you tend be accepted more easily and are granted a far broader license to operate and be creative across the business.
Secondly, you very quickly amass huge amounts of experience without needing the grey hair to prove it. You're given the opportunity to share experiences and learn faster with many more executives than you would in a typical permanent role. Generally speaking assignments come about as a result of transition, crisis or change – quite often its major project work. In any case, as an interim you get to bypass the routine day jobs and concentrate on the tricky, interesting stuff.
Finally at the end of an assignment you get the satisfaction of being able to walk out of a business knowing you've left it in a better state than you found it in.
My message to any CFO or senior executive, whether they're looking to take on an interim or become one themselves is that if you're looking to make real change, add value and leave a positive legacy, the posh temp route is definitely worth exploring.
Ben Hawkins can be contacted by phone on: 020 3440 5252 or on email: firstname.lastname@example.org.