How to make the most of your career interim

By Jessica Mullinger | 27 November 2019

Currently, one of the most difficult tasks as an interim recruiter is wrestling a good interim manager away from their client at the end of the contract! This is a trend that has grown over the last couple of years and this reducing pool of leadership capacity is quite possibly the result of a lack of training, development and talent management across the sector in the wake of the financial crisis of 2009/10. We also see a significant drain from local government to other sectors, as well as many of our sector’s leaders taking retirement.

As council priorities have changed, budgets have been slashed and organisational director departments cut back, the war for talent has intensified, as key skills gaps have appeared across the sector. While some excellent work is being done to bring talent through the sector, those gaps are still keenly felt in a number of regions and across a number of specialist areas of expertise.

So, its no wonder in these circumstance that a good interim manager can been seen as the ideal solution, at least, for the short-term. The key however, is to fully utilise the skills, knowledge and expertise on offer for a limited period of time, without getting hooked for the long-term.

It is easy to see why some organisations become dependent on an interim manager. Often a seasoned executive interim will be less concerned by role title and seniority and more by the details of the role and task involved. This can mean you end up with a very experienced person undertaking a relatively low level post, but often delivering something massively impactful.

While this is great for an interim period and means that you get good bang for your buck, it can certainly make it more difficult to recruit permanently when the time comes around. It is all too easy to become dependent on the knowledge and expertise offered by candidates who have operated at a more senior level. This means the ‘step up’ candidates that may come through a permanent recruitment process can seem comparatively lacking in experience, confidence, ability or skills.

While candidates in the permanent market often move up through the ranks throughout their career, it is common to see managers reach a certain level and then choose the interim route. At this point they are likely to operate at that level or below for the rest of their career. This means they will be extremely experienced and well-seasoned operators at this level, they may have undertaken in excess of five to 10 assignments, giving them in-depth and varied experience in similar roles – across a range of different contexts.

They will also have worked with five to 10 different chief executives and top teams, meaning they will be able to very quickly adapt their style to suit your organisation.

They will also have worked with numerous political structures and political leaders, so their ability to work with a range of members should be second-to-none.

As an executive interim it is expected that you will not get involved in the politics of the organisation. This enables interim managers to speak truth to power, without fear of repercussions. This can make an interim manager a very valuable resource – and a very valuable voice.

Of course, there needs to be consideration, respecting the culture of the organisation as well as interacting with members and senior officers skilfully to get the right outcome, but certainly removing the fear of job security and the desire to ‘get along with’ colleagues can be helpful in some situations. So, how can you get maximum return on investment from executive interim managers without getting hooked?

Be clear on the brief and be clear on what kind of interim you are appointing. If there is a permanent recruitment process planned, discuss this up-front with your interim manager. A career interim will not be interested in applying, but those who are more flexible may be and so its worth knowing this from the outset.

It may also be worth discussing the types of contract they would potentially consider, for example a fixed-term contract may be an option.

If you take on a career interim, ensure you communicate this to your top team. Be clear from the outset that access to the skills and the expertise they bring will be time-limited.

Encourage knowledge transfer throughout the lifecycle of the contract to support and upskill your internal teams and to create sustainable change.

Executive interim managers often have a range of skills at their disposal, so make sure you get to know them properly and fully utilise all of their skills and expertise.

For example, they may be a qualified coach, so you could task them with supporting and developing potential internal applicants for the permanent role. They may be a qualified mediator, and therefore able to tackle thorny people issues that might have been festering for some time. They may even be able to support you in planning and preparing for the recruitment process and assessing the applicants. Whatever their skillset just make sure you get maximum return on investment during their time with you.

All the while, try to keep in mind that executive interim managers are highly skilled and experienced individuals. You are paying (often in excess of the salary for the permanent role) for the depth and breadth of experience that may not be replicated in a field of permanent applicants. Your experience of using an interim manager should not cloud your judgement during any subsequent recruitment process.

So, if you want to avoid sounding like an 1970s disco band when it’s time for your executive interim to fly on to pastures new, try not to follow the teachings of KC and the Sunshine Band: 'don’t go, don’t go-oh-oh-oh-oh, don’t go aw-ay, please don’t go.' Instead, it’s better to sound like a 1960s rock band and always remember the wise words of the Beatles – ‘Hello, Goodbye’!

Jessica Mullinger is head of interim management at Solace

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