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Interim Management increasingly part of the plan

Interim Management – increasingly part of the plan
Interim management has traditionally been seen as a reactive response to organisational failure. Increasingly, a new breed of interims are emerging – people who regard interim management as a career and have transferable leadership skills to work across sectors. Building in organisational capacity to accommodate career interims ‘as part of the solution’ is discussed.

Interim management saw rapid growth in the private sector in the 1990s. It experienced a decline as the downturn bit in 2000 but has shown signs of picking up in the last eighteen months. In the public sector interim management has been slower to take off but has seen rapid growth in the last two to three years, first in London and then throughout the country. As with the private sector, interim management was associated with organisational failure but is now slowly being seen as part of the solution.

In both sectors – private and public – many corporate HR specialists, as well as group managers, are only just beginning to see the potential in recruiting interim managers as part of their change programmes. As such, interim management is still very much an untapped resource.

Below, we explore these issues in greater depth with Linda Booth, Group HR Director for United Utilities, a FTSE100 company. The interview is interspersed with real life examples where Veredus interim managers have been brought in to help organisations.

Has there been a growth in interim management used by your company?
“Yes, but very gradual. At United Utilities group level we have used no more than possibly five to seven interims in the past two years. This, out of a total of 120 staff. We have three recruitment streams: from headhunters and executive recruitment brokers, from single independent contractors and from larger consultants who can offer specialist services. Within the larger group of 17,000 employees business managers have the capacity to recruit their own interim staff. In the main we don’t use headhunters but rely more on independent contractors. My personal view is that interim management is still largely an untapped resource which, if used properly by organisations, could support forward thinking programmes.”

Part of the solution – Veredus case study
Increasingly interim managers are being used by central government in a more strategic way. In one part of central government an interim manager has been placed to oversee the establishment of a new agency with a high political profile. The interim has been responsible for setting up the corporate governance of the agency, establishing the structure of the new organisation and working with civil servants on recruiting the senior permanent staff team. In this case, interim management is being used as a resource to set up executive structures in a newly formed national organisation.

What are the qualities/skills you look for in an interim manager?
“In the main we are talking about senior managers. So, someone who comes with good technical skills and can ease into the role smoothly, someone who can quickly understand the organisational culture and work with the grain, someone who can offer a challenge to the company and identify where improvements can be made, someone who is focused, has delivered before and can form easy – but not collusive – rapport with colleagues. Also, someone who can see the bigger picture. Equally important is the ability to not get ‘pushed back’ – someone who can stand their ground in the face of opposition once having agreed ‘the brief’ and has a clear definition of the role. Good interim managers come with a degree of maturity – they tend not to be phased by the ‘ups and downs’ of an organisation and have the ability to get on with the job. They know they are only going to be around for a limited period and can ride the stormy bits. Good interims get on with the job, can be set free quickly and want to make things happen.”

Has interim management changed in the last 2-3 years in terms of skills, talent and age?
“Most definitely. My sense is there has been a big change. Alongside those who have retired or taken early retirement is a new group of interim managers. Not just people with good technical skills but people with transferable management and leadership skills who can effectively move between sectors. Also people who appear to have more flexible lifestyles, who see interim management as a career – either as a medium or long term opportunity – and who are prepared to travel. My other feeling is that they are getting younger. Good project management skills are essential but increasingly so are good leadership and management qualities. Only now are we becoming aware of the pool of talent available.”

Part of the solution – Veredus case study
A national rail infrastructure company was awarded a £3bn contract as part of a private/public sector package. Part of the business plan was to look at different elements of the contract and consider options for more rational and cost-effective models of service delivery. For example, whether to outsource or keep in-house some aspects of the service as well as how to turn round failing parts of the organisation. In this case, interim management being brought in at an early stage to consider future strategic options for the company.

Is there a place for interim managers to be seen as part of your longer term business strategy?
“Generally we don’t plan for interims as a part of our business cycle. As I mentioned before we still use interims as a reactive response. Using interim managers or technical experts as part of a planned development is still relatively new and undeveloped. I can see how built in capacity can be valuable to an organisation given the need to stay ahead of the game and give us a competitive edge. Not only technically but also managerially. Particularly in scoping either a new role or a new development where some uncertainty exists about long term viability. Less personal upheaval may result as well as less business instability. Certainly an idea that needs to be developed.”

Part of the solution – Veredus case study
A medium size unitary county council had recently appointed a highly able Director of Children’s Services. The new director had previously turned round a failing social services and was now expected to do the same for the education (schools) in the newly combined service. The authority agreed to bring in an interim manager – on a project basis – to work on poorly performing service blocks. The interim manager was previously a successful director of education. From the beginning role boundaries were made clear. The newly appointed chief officer would have complete responsibility for the management of the service but would use the interim as a mentor in getting to grips with the schools agenda, and as a resource in quickly drawing up action plans for ‘fragile’ parts of the education function. An example of interim management as a coaching resource and providing capacity to move forward quickly in getting the whole service up to speed.

In a nutshell, how would you summarise the qualities of a good interim manager?
In a nutshell, people who provide you with immediate access to high quality talent, who come with good track records, represent low risk and maintenance and can offer you more instantly by seeing things through a fresh pair of eyes. It’s interesting to speculate - coming back to the question of using interims as part of the solution - what came first. Did organisations identify a need or were they reacting opportunistically to a more talented and flexible pool of talent. My feeling is that it was a bit of both. Either way, we need to use interims in a more creative way and develop a clearer understanding of what interim management is.

About the Author: Dennis Simpson has worked for Veredus for the past six years as a technical assessor in the areas of social care, health and criminal justice. More recently he joined the Veredus Board as a non-executive director. Prior to that he was director of social services with the London Borough of Southwark.

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