How Do You Know You Need an Interim Manager?

In the past, hiring an interim manager was about reacting to crisis. If a senior manager left, interims were C-suite temps. Today, interim managers have functions and benefits all of their own.

Interims operate across functional areas, working in a wide range of public and private sector organisations. Interims are troubleshooters and change enablers, turning around or transforming businesses on a fixed timescale, for a fixed daily rate.

A senior manager taking a leave of absence, or resigning suddenly, is the clearest reason to recruit an interim. But what about when your leadership team remains intact?

The lack of crisis doesn’t mean everything is running smoothly. When growth slows, mission creep sinks in, targets get missed, or when the urgent trumps the important (new initiatives, products or services), an outsider’s perspective could be just what your organisation needs.

Management consultants are one option. Interim managers are another.

How do you know you need an interim manager?

Making the choice to hire an interim isn’t an easy decision. Some senior managers might feel offended that you brought in external support. Some might question their approach or strategy. Therefore it is essential to get buy-in early, from senior managers and staff.

Be as transparent as you can about why and what this person will accomplish. Create a simple functioning hierarchy, before you bring an interim onboard. They work for a fixed period, with clear objectives, so ensure that all stakeholders understand the reasons for this hire, and how it will impact on them.

An experienced interim – one with a steady run of interim assignments will have a depth of experience in senior, which means they’ll instinctively know how to address any challenges your business is facing, or help deliver the project you need.

Here are some of the top reasons you might think about, when considering an interim.

1. You have a mission-critical project that needs implementing

Most organisations have at least one or two projects that could make a huge difference to bottom line growth. Whether this means launching a new product or service, overhauling processes and systems or creating a team that will cut costs or increase revenue.

The challenge comes when you hit a resources bottleneck. When organisations lack the manpower, resources or time, these projects gather dust. This even happens to initiatives that would make a huge difference to revenue and profitability.

Eventually, they are quietly shelved and forgotten about.

Businesses, nonprofits and government organisations use interims when they get tired of putting off implementing projects. Often they become incentivised to do so because the organisation is stalling because of inaction. Interims can be specifically tasked to make an idea actionable, take the initiative and get a project off the ground.

It helps that interims come in without politics, baggage or personal bias.

All that matters is what is in the best interests of the company, where they can add value, how they can change systems and policies for the benefit of all stakeholders. Boards will also feel reassured, knowing a mission-critical project is in the hands of an experienced manager.

2. Do we need a management consultant or an interim manager?

Management consultants perform similar functions. They assess, they advise, but crucially they don’t tend to implement.

Another difference is whilst they are trained with certain specialisms, they are, at the end of the day, consultants. Not managers. Consultants may have lots of experience; they have support teams and expert knowledge. This doesn’t always translate into the operational skills you need to get the job done.

An interim has to get their hands dirty because they are working directly with the teams responsible for transforming ideas into reality.

3. A business function or division needs an overhaul?

There are times when the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ attitude, simply isn’t good enough.

Every organisation over time becomes political. Factions form. Senior managers create and defend turf against other departments. Pride and ego will, unavoidably, play a role in decision-making. Humans are political animals, which means organisations evolve according to the personal and professional motivations of those we work with.

Normally, this shouldn’t be a problem. Providing everyone gets along, targets are hit and customers are happy, a bit of office politics is manageable.

However, politics can become a roadblock to change when functional areas or divisions need to be overhauled. A fresh perspective and outside expertise is often the best way to manage egos. When hard decisions are needed, an interim doesn’t have the personal bias that could make implementation difficult, if not impossible.

Change isn’t easy, but it can be made easier when an outside perspective allows you to view organisational challenges more clearly.

4. Do you suddenly find yourself with an unexpected C-suite vacancy?

Although most interims are brought in for a specific planned reason, there are times when you need operational leadership fast.

Senior managers aren’t superheroes. They need time off too. Whether for health, a major life event, or to take a sabbatical. Sometimes, a sudden departure, either board or market directed, forces a business to appoint a caretaker manager to steady the ship.

Whilst far from ideal, these are the times when a quick mind and a solid track record are crucial for reassuring stakeholders, customers and staff.

Cost benefit: interims vs. consultants vs. permanent

Rather than being more costly than a permanent hire (as many would expect), interims are paid a day rate, without the expenses of tax, NI, benefits, pensions, holiday pay and golden parachutes.

Consultants also don’t come with all the costs associated with a permanent hire. Depending on the scale of the project (and your budget) they come with a support team, whether on-site or in their office. However, as stated, they don’t implement. Whereas an interim runs with the ball once they’ve got approval from internal stakeholders.

For an interim, your team and assets are the equivalents of a consultant’s resources. The difference being, that when an interim leaves, their operational impact keeps working within the organisation.

Recap: do you need an interim manager?
  • You have a mission-critical project that needs implementing?
  • You have a business function or division that needs an overhaul?
  • You suddenly find yourself with an unexpected vacancy?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the above, an interim could be the solution. We are always interested to hear your experience of hiring and using interims in your organisation. Can you add to the points above, or offer further advice for board members weighing up the pros and cons of an interim appointment? If you can please leave a comment below.