Interim managers’ contribution to business success
An interim manager is a temporary manager who can support organisations for a certain period in projects, staff shortages or absences. Particularly in the current labour market, Anthony van de Ven, Consultant Interim Management at international recruitment specialist Robert Walters, says that organisations increasingly value flexible professionals because they can be deployed very quickly and for a limited period of time.
Anthony talks about his experience with interim management recruitment and the benefits it can offer organisations.
Carefully weighing up costs and benefits of bottlenecks and vacancies
Organisations' need for interim managers, both nationally and globally, is constantly increasing. According to Anthony van de Ven, demand has increased significantly since mid-2021, with a renewed rise in the second and third quarter of last year. A short-term absence of an employee - whether due to redundancy, pregnancy or, as has often been the case over the past 2 years, an extended period of sick leave - can place a heavy burden on a team. Managers tend to take on the extra tasks themselves or try to manage them with their staff. This often fails due to a lack of resources, competences or the necessary expertise. This behaviour puts managers at risk of not completing a project adequately and professionally. At worst, they stagnate, are delayed or even abandoned altogether. Due to the lack of support, resentment and excessive demands spread within the team. Anthony explains: "Business leaders often shy away from the cost of an interim manager. However, this usually backfires. Instead of putting extra strain on the team during peak times or staff shortages, or leaving positions completely unfilled, weigh up the costs and benefits. External forces are often the wisest solution."
This investment pays off in both the medium and long term. He therefore advises business leaders to be open to bridging vacancies with freelance technical, management and trade specialists.
Acceptance in the team
It is desirable that the rest of the (management) team supports the decision to appoint an interim manager. It may occur that an interim manager is not welcomed with open arms. Often, the decision for an external manager is taken at a time when the team is already rumbling, and employees are overworked and frustrated. Moreover, they view the daily rates of externs with scepticism. "Business leaders should therefore ensure that the team works well with the interim manager and does not see him as a competitor, because: these experts are there to relieve the permanent staff in the short term and make improvements. After all, interim managers have no intention at all taking over the permanent positions of other colleagues. Their goal is to complete the task for which they have been hired with the help of the existing team and then leave the company again," Anthony says.
Value for money?
Interim managers are highly skilled, readily available technical, leadership and subject matter experts. They have extensive experience and have often performed similar tasks successfully in the past. They therefore know better than anyone else what needs to be done. Their neutral position allows them to view situations more objectively. Anthony: "Interim managers also question processes that no one else would question. If something has been running sub-optimally for years, internal employees often don't even notice. An important advantage is that a temporary expert can spring into action after a short familiarisation period and the necessary competences do not have to be built up over a long period of time. Especially for difficult tasks, it is a great advantage that someone with the right experience and knowledge takes over."
What does an interim manager cost?
Professionals in finance and human resources are in high demand. And they make you pay for it. The demand for professionals, including on an interim management basis, is ever-increasing. Anthony: "Our candidates work with an all-in daily rate on a mixed calculation basis, so that the costs for the organisation can be planned."
Even though the cost may seem high at first, you only pay for what is effectively done. "Once there is no longer a need, the contract can be terminated quickly," Anthony says.
If a company hires a true expert capable of implementing processes quickly or improving them sustainably, these costs can be offset many times over.
On-site or remote interim manager?
Anthony believes that a shift away from traditional thinking about the compulsory presence of employees is timely and useful. Interim managers also increasingly value flexible working hours these days. Anthony: "So also for cost reasons, the question always arises whether the presence of the interim manager on site is really necessary. In most cases, it has proved useful for him to be present in the organisation for the first two weeks for a smooth onboarding and to get to know the processes and contacts. After that, remote assignment may be an option." This gives his clients two advantages: The pool of interested candidates is larger and for organisations it is cost-effective alternative. "Because some professionals also charge for travel time, which is not incurred with remote," Anthony says.
Are there jobs for which remote is not an option? Anthony knows from experience: "There are projects for which working from home is not suitable, for example when it comes to leading a particular team and possibly identifying problems within teams or certain processes. Or in an HR project. There it is necessary, for example for better absence management, to have on-site discussions with employees in production in order to optimise work location or resources if necessary."
Anthony continues: "It is different in the case of a project manager in an ERP implementation, for example. Here, working on site is not necessary. Or in the case of a regional controller who has no on-site contact." He estimates the ratio of remote to on-site work to be around 80:20.
Plan your budget carefully
"Ideally, prior to interviews with potential candidates, organisations make it clear what the maximum budget is for the bridging period or have the required budget approved. This saves a lot of valuable time." And only when the cost factor is clear, decide if the expert's qualifications are sufficient to solve the client's problem.
"First come, first served" - quick action is required
Often, experienced interim managers within finance and human resources have several assignment options to choose from and opt for the one that suits them best. Anthony advises: "Plan the introductory meeting quickly and prepare additional administrative matters such as contracts right away." Especially in larger organisations, you must count on often lengthy processes in the legal and procurement departments. Do you have both a professional and personal click with the candidate? Then don't delay your decision, lest the suitable interim manager be hired elsewhere."
Currently, interim assignments outnumber available specialists. That was different before the pandemic, reports Anthony: "Before covid, there was plenty of supply of interim managers. After the shock at the beginning of the pandemic, the demand for specialists and project managers increased from mid-2021 and then again by leaps and bounds until mid-2022. Since then, there have been more special projects to lead, such as coordinating migration processes, implementing new ERP systems or managing other change processes."
How long should the duration of the contract be?
"Clients usually ask for an interim manager for a period of 5 to 6 months. On average, they stay for 9 to 10 months. A shorter term is not always optimal because the interim manager has to look for the next assignment after a short time." To be able to concentrate fully on the current project, Anthony recommends a longer contract with a flexible notice period.
"If as a client you want to extend the contract, do so as early as possible, but ideally six weeks before the end of the contract. Otherwise, you risk losing a valuable interim manager before the project is successfully completed because he has already offered his services to another organisation."
By the way, it is not unusual for organisations to use their interim manager for other projects within the organisation or even offer him or her an acquisition opportunity, which he or she usually refuses.
How to find the right interim manager?
An interim manager must be able to add value to the organisation from day one. Anthony: "Therefore, choose someone who fits the task and the team both professionally and in terms of personality. In many sectors, there are more and more young interim managers, whereas before, experienced specialists of 50+ were common. Professionals of the digital generation are performance-oriented and especially appreciate flexibility and freedom and do not want to commit to a specific period. It used to be not uncommon to stay with one company for your whole career. Nowadays, that hardly ever happens."
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