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Using Interim Managers

by Roderick McInnes


The Benefits Of Using An Interim From Outside Your Sector

Interims are in more demand than ever before. In our recent interim survey we found that 45% of interims were in assignments for over three quarters of 2015, up 2% on 2014 and a trend that demonstrates how heavily utilised senior interim managers are.

Organisations in the public and private sectors are deploying interims, as “hired guns”, rather than consultants, to drive growth, implement change and turnaround projects. Interims are known for walking into an organisation and demonstrating their value, fast.

They are experienced, have held permanent roles at a similar level, or in companies of a similar size and don’t waste time since they are usually hired for between six and nine months. Interims are unencumbered by the kind of baggage that would make a similar task difficult for an internal leader.

According to our research, there are some sectors that are more inclined to use interims than others. Over the last 12 months, surveys of clients have indicated that financial services (40%), the public sector (32%) and IT companies (31%) are more likely than others to need interim managers at senior levels. Sector experience, however, is a hotly debated question amongst clients and interims. Is it necessary every time? Are core competencies and transferable skills more valuable?

The Value Of Sector Experience

Interims are by their very career choice, flexible and more adaptable than those who stick with one or two sectors during their working lives. Some fields naturally require higher levels of technical or scientific expertise, making sector experience not only relevant but in many cases, essential.

However, that isn’t always the case; given the flexibility factor, many skilled interims are adept at handling change easily, even when they are hired for one role and get tasked with something different. In her recent guest blog post for Alium Shala Hosein, a communications interim, said: “I was recruited as a business partner, but a couple of months later I had to develop and deliver the communications for a restructure. However, working in various sectors has given me experience in becoming a more flexible worker and I don’t get easily distracted by the changes happening around me.”

There are many situations where sector-specific experience can blind a manager to the power of change, whether through new technology, processes or cultural innovations.

The most obvious answers aren’t always the right ones. Not when trying to accelerate growth or make long overdue changes to an organisation. An interim with a background in your sector will most likely listen to the same thought leaders as your managers, read the same media, share the same best practice examples and attend the same training courses. In that context, it can be harder for them to answer what should be an essential question when hiring an interim: “What insights or new ideas can you bring to our organisation?”

Innovation Accelerated

Interims are brought in to fulfil a mission, then leave. Hence, the short-term nature of their appointments, which almost always work out more cost effective than a permanent hire or consultants’ fees. This is one reason we have seen more organisations recruit teams of interims over the past few years, with transferable skills and assignment-related experience valued more than an industry background, especially in financial services, the public sector and IT/software.

An interim team can come in, set everything up for a permanent team, hire them, train them, and then depart. One reason this approach has a better success rate than a senior leader doing the same work is the aforementioned baggage factor, which is heavier when someone comes in with an industry background.

Full-time staff are encumbered with two types of baggage.

  1. Sector-specific knowledge, which can be an enormous asset, except when a fresh perspective is more useful,
  2. and organisational baggage, also known as office politics.

Humans are political. We can’t help this fact. In many ways, this is also an asset. Those who can play the game often have a lot to contribute to an organisation, except when playing politics gets in the way of vision, values, growth and long-term objectives.

This also creates loyalties that can impede innovation and growth, especially when personal rivalries and internal politics mean that managers don’t hear the advice they need to make changes. An interim with a deep knowledge of a sector will be more inclined to lean towards solutions ingrained in that industry, which can unintentionally impede their ability to deliver long-term value.

Bringing on-board an interim with experience solving specific challenges, such as establishing a new division, implementing an IT overhaul, helping an organisation deal with new legislation (e.g. regulation in the commercial buy-to-let lending market), can be more advantageous than someone with operational experience in a certain sector.

Transferable Skills

Consequently, innovation is accelerated within organisations that use interims. When it comes to bringing in those from outside a sector, the key is to look for useful transferable experiences. For example, Shala Hosein said, “working in a public body wasn’t a deterrent to my understanding of the regulatory environment of a bank.”

Transferable experiences can either come from a similar type or size of organisation (e.g. a pubic sector and bank) or from working on similar projects, such as communicating change management or digital deployment. The recession made career and sector hopping more common, which means transferable skills are more valuable and accepted than before.

When it comes to understanding these skills, potential employers should dig into the narrative of the person they are considering hiring, whether interim or perm. Specifically, try and understand why they switched careers, sectors or professions. Aim to get a sense of how these transferable skills will benefit your organisation.

Keeping ahead of the competition means taking ideas and new ways to innovate from unexpected sources. Going outside the sector, which isn’t unusual for many organisations when they hire permanent staff , can bring a perspective that you can’t get within your industry’s echo chamber. No organisation can find fresh perspectives and new ideas when they hire the same sorts of people or look in the mirror for advice. Innovative organisations aren’t afraid to expand their horizons and look outside their sector for game-changing insights.

What do you think about hiring interims or permanent senior executives from outside your sector? Please share your thoughts and experience using the comments box below.

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About the Author

Roderick McInnes

Roderick is responsible for all aspects of the marketing and communications mix, ensuring Alium maintains its market position as the leading provider of interim and transformation talent in the UK and internationally.

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