3 questions to ask yourself before becoming an interim manager

by | 19 Mar 2024 | Insights

By Steve Rutherford, Partner

The majority of Interim Managers I work with on assignments have long track records in the delivery of projects. This is partly market driven – our clients prefer it – and partly out of my own personal preference. When entrusted with a client’s ‘problem to solve’, it is reassuring for me to work with someone who has handled similar issues before and can point me in the direction of a catalogue of satisfied customers.

I do, however, believe it is also my role to ’evangelise’ Interim Management, and hence I do spend a little time each week talking to people who are thinking of joining my world or, perhaps, are already taking their first footsteps as Interim Managers. I do this for two quite different reasons – essentially, to encourage those who I believe have something to offer and to turn off those for whom Interim Management would be a mistake. 

In the course of these conversations, I typically find that the individual concerned has spent a good deal of time thinking about why they might want to be an Interim Manager. These are as unique as the people concerned. Often they are sensible, reasoned and honourable, with only the occasional occurrence of the misdirected and delusional. No, Interim Management isn’t a lifestyle choice which one can use to fill in between periods of permanent employment!

What I do find surprising is that most of the people I speak to haven’t asked themselves the three most important questions that should determine whether they should go down this path. 

  1. Do I have the required experience?
  2. Does the specific experience I have lend itself to Interim Management?
  3. Do I have abilities in Sales and Marketing and, if not, am I prepared to learn fast?

In respect of the first question, I do speak to the occasional lost soul who approaches me without the length or depth of experience to be an Interim Manager, but this is rare. Typically, this will be a person who sees the expressions ‘Contractor’ and ‘Interim Manager’ as interchangeable, and a respectful prompt in the right direction will send them to industry colleagues better able to help them at this point in their career. For those I speak to – the majority – who have many years working at, or close to, ExCo level, Interim Management might be an option.

Question 2 is more challenging, and particularly difficult to answer as a new Interim Manager who hasn’t actually been an Interim Manager yet! There are no hard and fast rules but my general view, based on knowing many very successful Interim Managers, is as follows:-

  • It would be beneficial to have an early career built in larger successful corporations where process, rigour and delivery focus are central to the business DNA. ‘Knowing what good looks like’ is very helpful as an Interim Manager and the early CVs of many have names like PWC, Rolls Royce, Toyota, GSK and Tesco in abundance. This helps immeasurably when assessing a client’s problem, mapping and then delivering a solution to plan and budget.
  • While a strong start in a major corporation builds the foundations of an Interim Management career, it is optimal to have spent the later career in mid-cap businesses. Most Interim Management opportunities exist in businesses or divisions of between about £50 and £500 million turnover, and hence leadership experience gained in these will be reassuring to the client who wants to make sure the Manager ‘gets’ what they are all about. 
  • Most Interim Management opportunities are found in businesses where there is a problem, perhaps an existential one. Hence a career built on being a ‘good picker’, climbing the greasy pole and enjoying the bonuses, LTIPs and wafer thin after dinner chocolates, doesn’t map that well to my world. Turning around stressed or distressed businesses, functions, regions and projects is at the core of what Interim Managers do, and a successful career in BAU roles isn’t a good preparation.
  • Neither is career success built entirely in the boardroom or the glass corner office. Interim Managers always have to be hands on, even from the most senior seat in the business, and all of the ones I know will admit that they are often at their most fulfilled when ‘on the tools’.

However, the most important question, and the one that most nascent Interim Managers haven’t even considered, is the last one. It is the one which will determine whether they will ‘get going’ and, ultimately, whether they will make a long-term success of themselves. 

Put simply, being an Interim Manager is two roles – one which takes place when on assignment and will be a fairly close approximation of what has gone before – and the other role, which for many is new, scary and sometimes pretty unpalatable.

Managing Director of your own 1-person Interim Recruitment Consultancy, with only 1 candidate on the database – you!

This isn’t hyperbole, it’s fact. When off assignment the role of the Interim Manager closely resembles my own when I am developing business with new and existing clients. This is a whole range of activities – everything between picking up a telephone to speak to a prospect to writing articles like this one – and for most new Interim Managers it will be the core focus of their role. I find most people I speak to know what to do, and being senior people have a reasonable grasp of how to do it. Their success, or otherwise, tends to be determined on whether they are actually prepared to do it. 

This never goes away and to have a long career as an Interim Manager one has to embrace being able to sell one’s proposition, often in cold and uncomfortable circumstances. Hence, before even thinking about the first two questions, the prospective Interim Manager needs to reflect on this third question and, at the very least, develop a coping strategy for the times where they are off assignment and forced to tout for business. 

It’s half the job.

However, to provide a little reassurance before I sign off, I will leave you with two takeaways. 

  1. I have now been involved in Executive Talent for over 30 years and in Interim Management for the past 7. If it wasn’t fun, fascinating and – sometimes – frustrating, I would have found myself something easier to do many years ago. Many new Interim Managers will find that marketing themselves will be a similarly positive experience.
  2. I noticed that a paradox exists in respect of my comments above when I relate them to the busiest Interim Managers in my network. Those who sell themselves well, and enjoy it, end up having the least time available to do it.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that being willing and able to sell is the most important element of being a successful Interim Manager.

But it’s close!

If you would like to learn more about how Valtus UK can support your business through its transformation projects and enhance the performance of your sales function, please reach out to us today at: enquiries@valtus.uk.

If you are looking to become an Interim Manager with Valtus, follow this link.