Having been with Alium for a couple of months now, Resourcer Ben Davies gives his first interim industry impressions and the challenges he has identified so far while working with the Higher Education Practice.
Interim Industry Impressions
The fast paced and quick turnaround environment of interim management is quite different to the political environment I used to work in, but one challenge remains the same: perception. The question of what an interim actually is seems to be one that persists, especially in the Higher Education space that I am currently focussed on. Many candidates that I have spoken to thus far see interim management as a tool for change and transformation, others as a stepping path or staging post in their career. Successful interims however, know that it is important to be able to leave a sustainable legacy in each organisation they work in – and the strategic nature of this work is something that is becoming increasingly important.
The challenges for universities, both pre and post 1992, is the commercialisation of the sector - as my colleague Sally Wilson puts it: “students are now customers.” HEIs who want to survive must start thinking of their organisations as businesses, and many already are. Similarly, interims who want to break into this area, must be able to display broad skill sets and a tacit understanding of the challenges facing institutions. An important distinction between this and other public sector environments is that candidates do not necessarily need to have HE experience, just the ability and track record to bring about the change and transformation needed. This however comes with a role-based caveat – the more senior the role, the more education experience is likely to be desirable.
The Cultural Element
Lastly, there is a cultural element to consider here. Not just the cultural fit in terms of an interim, but the cultural change needed in the university or college to realise what interims can do in such organisations. From the candidates that I have spoken to, many have experienced challenge from the highest levels and a lack of understanding of how interims may be able to help. However, as much as the universities need to have a progressive attitude, candidates must also have a flexible approach and be open to working on short-term specific projects as organisations adapt to this increasingly commercial environment.
Have you worked as an interim in the Higher Education sector? What do you see as the challenges for organisations and interims? What are your interim industry impressions? Post your comments below.