by Roderick McInnes2
Agreeing The Interim Brief: Factors To Consider
Appointing an interim is a different experience, for an organisation and a candidate, than hiring a full-time employee. Interims are experienced, often senior-level professionals that are used to being appointed fast and moving at speed.
At a moments notice, they can be dropped into a situation and asked to solve serious challenges or implement high-priority projects. The interview process is meant to reflect the time-sensitive nature of their potential assignments.
Once an organisation has decided an interim is needed, and budget agreed internally, the process should - for the benefit of both parties - move quickly to ensure the client receives the maximum impact from working with an interim. From first contact - whether you go through an interim provider or source them elsewhere - to agreeing on the interim brief, discussions with interims should be a two-way street.
Removing Unhelpful Barriers
Interims should be happy to discuss previous assignments, their contribution and impact; but this needs to involve a detailed discussion of the business issues at stake, the specific problem that needs to be solved or project that needs to be delivered.
Placing barriers, either in the form of gatekeepers, too many interview stages or overly structured interview questions or processes often prevents an interim presenting the solutions or getting the answers they need to start formulating a response to the brief.
Interims don’t approach these discussions with a formulated approach in mind. They rarely respond well when companies take this approach to the interview process. Instead, they prefer to demonstrate value through open, honest discussions of the requirement and how they have either tackled similar issues in the past or would go about working in the current situation.
Managers assessing an interim and framing the brief should expect to be challenged on the assumptions underlying the project or situation. Often, those inside an organisation have certain ideas around a particular way they would progress. These are neither right nor wrong, as far as an interim is concerned. An interim brings new experiences, a new perspective, new skills and an element of fact-based assessment that is usually hard to find within an organisation.
Those assessing whether an interim is suitable would benefit from taking the view that they are a service provider, rather than a semi-permanent employee. Service providers don’t always say what clients want to hear, but they get the job done. Interims adopt the same approach. They are appointed for a finite time, to accomplish a task, then leave.
The other barrier that organisations would benefit from removing is ensuring the interim can speak with the ‘owner’ of the situation, sooner rather than later. Those responsible for the situation that requires an interim are best placed to assess their views on how to solve the problem or implement a new project. Intermediaries only serve to slow down the service delivery.
How to Agree An Interim Brief
Sourcing and appointing the right interim should take a fraction of the time of recruiting a permanent employee at the same level. But that doesn’t mean a client should approach this situation with a blank page, or only a vague definition of the problem or project that needs to be implemented. Here are the stages to follow before and after an interim is appointed.
#1: Clearly define the scope and desired outcomes
Interims are only as effective as the goals they’re measured against. Vague goals result in poor outcomes, and every interim worth their fee would tell a client that. Simply hoping they will “improve productivity” or “increase revenues” are meaningless objectives.
Define the assignment. Document how this situation has come about, or why a project needs to be implemented; what are the overall outcomes you hope to accomplish? Also, it benefits clients to write down the assumptions and other factors that could influence an interim’s assignment, both internally and externally.
#2: Establish organisational boundaries and reporting chains
These should be simple questions to answer: who do they report to? Who reports to them? Where will they fit in the organisation chart during the assignment? What is their authority?
Staff working with them will need to know this to avoid any confusion, and it benefits the interim to understand what the boundaries are, to gain a clear understanding of what is / isn’t possible during their short tenure.
#3: Allow for an effective diagnosis
An interim won’t present a solution or working plan in the first meeting, or even the second. Interims need to diagnose a problem or project and spend time understanding every working component, internally and externally, to ensure they can present a comprehensive proposal.
They are judged on results. At the end of the day, they may not work with a particular client again, but their career is are based on the results of the assignments they undertake. Interims should never propose a solution they can’t back up, stand behind and implement.
#4: The proposal stage
Once a diagnosis has been completed, an interim will present a proposal. In some respects, this can be like a second interview. Proposals don’t always reflect what a client expects an interim to deliver at the entry stage. Assumptions have been tested. New factors considered. Interims can assess internal talent and assets to see whether their ideas will hold up in practice since knowledge transfers and new processes/procedures are an essential part of the deliverables they will implement throughout a project.
The brief and proposal may resemble one another, not unlike the vague similarities between the first and final draft of a book. But rarely will the proposals an interim recommends reflect exactly what a client imagines before agreeing on the brief. This is one clear sign that an interim has considered the situation thoroughly and come to a conclusion that will have a long-term positive impact on an organisation.
You may also like to read this blog post on How To Persuade The Board You Need An Interim.