With 25% of interim managers reporting that they have replaced management consultants in recent assignments (Alium survey, 2012), Bruce Mair looks at the key differences between the two and the reasons why interims appear to be taking the place of management consultants:

The Differences Between Interim Managers vs. Management Consultants                                                  

1.       Counting Cost

Management consultants, especially those that come from “the big four” firms, can have price tags that run into thousands of pounds a day over an elongated period of time. By contrast, expert interim managers can be hired for a fraction of the cost (Alium interims generally start from £500 p/day) and will have a defined time period to deliver, enabling the client to control the cost from the outset.

2.       Land & Expand

Many management consultants are under pressure to sell on to a client when they first start a piece of work – this is known as “land and expand.” Although this model can bring in additional expertise, it also brings in additional cost. By nature, an interim is usually hired on an individual basis for their expertise and ability to perform a role. Although teams of interims are on the increase, these are for larger scale projects – the only driver for an interim is delivery.

3.       The Graduates

Many clients who are looking for assistance in running their company or improving performance, sometimes need help with identifying issues inside the business first. Larger management consultancies have been known to send graduates or trainees in to do this work first, using the client as a testing ground before sending in the more experienced team. Although there is logic to this, by hiring an interim, the business gains immediate access to the expertise it needs, rather than a “pre-team” of researchers.

4.       Knowledge Transfer

Interim managers have absolutely no qualms about handing over their knowledge and IP to a client if it means that job will be delivered with a specific solution. Management consultants however need to protect their IP, holding back on the solution in some cases, which can be detrimental to the end user.

5.       Implementers not Advisors

Primarily, the key differentiation that clients who have had experience of both management consultants and interim managers point out is that consultants can advise you how to do something in your business to improve performance or enact transformation, whereas interims will recommend and implement too.

Have you had experience with both interim managers and management consultants? In your opinion, what are the important differences between the two? Share your thoughts with us in the comments. 

photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

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  • Mike Thompson

    Traditionally management consultants were more closely aligned to providing advice, conducting studies and writing reports.

    With the interim manager being the skilled practitioners to identify, create, and deliver value added services.
    Today those lines are more blurred and the roles can and do overlap.
    Both are involved in strategic change, and the case of the interim, by definition of their expert role, must include giving advice.
    The rounded interim manager differs in that their focus is on pragmatically delivering a change improvement for the client - in my own case, in a hands on way.

    Even change is moving to BAU, with more and more businesses
    restructuring and reinventing themselves, wholly or in part, on a regular
    The interim understands the need to learn fast, deliver results and secure a transfer of knowledge on leaving.

    • Bruce Mair

      Thanks for the comment Mike - all fair points.

  • David Abbott

    I broadly agree Bruce’s comments, and note that on my last assignment I replaced a boutique advisory firm that wasn’t performing.

    The (higher end) consultant proposition is about offering high powered brain-cells in abundance to solve blue sky problems. There is also of course the perceived cachet of using a Tier-1 consultancy. But do they offer value?

    The reality is that 90% of everything is delivery: success in delivery comes from experience. Dare I say ‘Grey Hair’? In a market where margin growth is the primary objective of corporates, interims offer a more valuable solution to commercial problems because they ‘do’ efficiency.

    • Bruce

      Absolutely right David. I would argue that the interim market is full of high powered brain cells too.