Interim managers can come in and transform a business. But many organisations aren’t using them effectively. Jon Murphy asks how employers can use interim managers to effect long term change and manage projects
When results are expected immediately and every management initiative is a top priority, business leaders often turn to quick fix, senior interim resource to deliver change, fast. While senior interims can be trusted to be ‘fire and forget’, employers and HR departments need to bear in mind the unique nature of the resource in order to get the best out of it.
When working with interims, the starting point should always be a specific problem that you want fixed and one where you can clearly define what success looks like. When scoping out a role don’t start with a broad brush objective but drill into the detail of the situation and identify the key problem that needs solving. It is always better to keep the task tight, such as ‘solve the responsiveness issue we have with our call centre’ than ‘please help me improve our customer service’.
Beginning, middle and end
Having identified the task, you then need to define the beginning, middle and end of the project. How do you want your interim to interact with your organisation, which teams will they need to work with and what level of authority will they need to be given internally in order to successfully complete their mission? Just because it is a time sensitive issue and interims can be recruited and up and running in a matter of weeks does not mean that the briefing process should not be given due care and attention. It is also no bad thing to involve your selected interim at the project scoping phase. If the interim provider has done their job properly, the individual should have a track record of dealing with your specific task whether it is solving a compliance issue or launching a new digital offering.
Having proper performance indicators in place keeps everyone honest and provides a firm defence against project creep
When it comes to the scoping phase, defining the end point of the project is probably the single most important task. The employer and the interim need to have identified and agreed a range of key performance indicators and have absolute clarity over when a task is completed. Without these, interims can be drawn away from their key task and embroiled in lower priority areas of the business. “What does success look like?” Having proper performance indicators in place keeps everyone honest and provides a firm defence against project creep.
So how do you go about identifying the right interim resource? Unless you already have your own network of senior interims, the best starting point is a specialist interim provider who is a member of the Interim Management Association (IMA). The IMA apply a rigorous membership selection process and ensure that all their members are well versed in dealing with the specific demands of interim selection and placement. Be wary of recruitment agencies that offer individuals who are really after a permanent position or those that have become interims because they had no other choice.
Experienced and energising
So, with an interim in place what can you expect in terms of personality and performance? Good interims should be senior and experienced enough to navigate their way through complex, political work environments. They should possess in-depth, relevant expertise of the task in hand and be able to use this to quickly win the respect of key internal audiences. Pulling together disparate resource and mobilising activity around a particular area should be straight-forward for them given many of their assignments are related to delivering change within an organisation. They often work best when a business has attempted to innovate and change but has become bogged down and needs a fresh, external perspective.
Good interims also want to get things done and move on. They have no interest in becoming embedded within an organisation. Working as an interim is an active lifestyle choice and attracts energetic, high impact individuals who want the richness of tackling different challenges in various businesses and working environments. They are there to make their clients look good and if you’ve found the right one, they should be uninterested in securing plaudits or building their profile internally.
Interims can deliver outstanding business results when properly harnessed. Employers and HR teams need to take time to identify the right individual for them, brief them properly and then provide them with authority required to deliver real change, safe in the knowledge that they will remain 100% focussed on resolving that specific business challenge.
Jon Murphy is Executive Director of ea Consulting Group