“At first, I was very surprised”.
I am talking to my fellow Valtus partner, Olivier Marret, about one of his early assignments here in the UK.
“The client didn’t want me to attend their interviews with my shortlisted interim managers”.
At Valtus, we know that our market offering is somewhat different. Our partners have typically held senior roles in major corporations, our networks have been built through recommendation rather than LinkedIn, and the support we offer to both client and interim manager on assignment is the benchmark in our industry. This has led to our being the leader in Continental Europe and a growing presence in the UK.
However, an integral element of our offering – attending the first and/or second meeting between the client and the shortlist – often elicits an unfavourable response from the client.
“I find it strange”, continues Olivier.
“The client has shared their ‘problem to solve’ in depth, we have written a detailed proposal which they have signed and then we have produced a robust, qualified shortlist. To step out at this critical stage, only to pick up after the crucial conversations have taken place, seems totally illogical. Why wouldn’t the client want you there if you are prepared to give up the time?”
My two penneth, with thirty years’ experience of challenging and (occasionally) accepting the norms of UK talent acquisition, is that there are two reasons why the client doesn’t want us there.
Habit is definitely one. Like all unhealthy habits, this is ingrained and difficult to kick. While our counterparts in Executive Search would regularly sit on a panel, and be seen to be adding value, it just isn’t the norm for an Interim Management provider to be there.
Bad habits can be broken, but my suspicion is that the other reason why clients want to fly solo is harder to overcome.
They don’t want us there because they feel we will unduly influence the outcome – salt the deck – make sure our preferred option becomes their preferred option and generally just get in the way.
Olivier has something interesting to say about this.
“I am absolutely there to influence the outcome; I want to ensure that I have the right interim manager to work with to deliver my client’s requirement.”
Well, that’s let the cat out of the bag!
However, our reasons for doing this are honourable. Most clients have little experience of interviewing interim managers and none of doing it well. Every C-suite leader will have spent hundreds of hours interviewing permanent candidates. Every C-suite leader will probably have been on every course about competency-based interviewing, eliminating unconscious bias and values-based assessment. This is good and valuable stuff.
It is of no relevance at all to Interim Management. Back to Olivier.
“Interim Management isn’t recruitment. It is something completely different. It is the fixing of a major problem, more akin to management consultancy.
“Would you assess KPMG’s fitness to deliver a transformation programme based on how well their lead partner can remember and articulate their CV?”
The first meeting between our client, our interim manager, and Valtus, should resemble a consultation and diagnostic with a surgeon rather than a conventional interview.
“Clients like the idea of this, once properly explained, but have little experience of conducting this kind of meeting”, says Olivier.
This isn’t the client’s fault. Most senior executives have risen through businesses by doing good stuff in good companies, and, if they hit a problem, jumping onto a faster escalator in a better business. They get things right.
Interim managers inhabit a parallel universe – the sub-optimal – and are best assessed by people skilled in the methodology of Problem, Diagnosis and Cure.
“We add considerable value when the client lets us”, says Olivier.
Not only by attending the meeting, but by actively participating and sometimes leading, the client gets the benefit of our experience.
They get something else too.
“The tri-partite meeting is not only the end of the selection process, but also the kick off point of the delivery”, says Olivier.
Having the three key players at the ‘diagnostic’ meeting means it is much easier to draft up the project plan. The plan is clearly owned by the selected interim manager, but it is produced with the support of the Valtus partner, and the latter takes on the responsibility for the ongoing support of the assignment.
“This is so much easier to do when you have actually been there when the client and interim manager have agreed the plan,” says Olivier. “Otherwise, you’re relying on reported speech and the accuracy of recollection. I do a better job when I am relying on my own detailed notes.”