The HR domain has changed dramatically during and after the corona pandemic. The covid period has brought about a new way of working, which has accelerated technological innovations. Moreover, automation is taking place in the labour market, forcing workers to rapidly develop new skills.
In this climate of fast-paced change, business leaders are increasingly seeing the value of temporary managers, both to tackle large-scale HR projects and to manage the day-to-day operations within the HR department. At the same time, HR professionals are gradually finding their way to self-employment and turning to interim management.
Ann Maris and Julie Bruneau are consultants within the interim management division at international recruitment agency Robert Walters, specialising in HR assignments. They share their insights on this evolution.
Ann: "The traditional interim HR assignments at executive level are still there, but we also see a growing demand for specialised, operational profiles such as Payroll Specialist, Talent Acquisition Specialist or Talent Manager. Assignments as HR Business Partner are also on the rise, where you act as the bridge between HR and the business, as it were. In concrete terms, business managers therefore call on interim managers for very diverse assignments: this can include day-to-day HR activities, but also supporting the business by drawing up KPIs together, mapping out training needs to lift employees to a new level and optimising business results, measuring productivity and working out the bonus system."
Julie: "The course of assignments is very diverse, depending on the type of role and your specialisation. If you specialise in hard HR, you deal with company figures and policies in the context of quality improvement, retention, increasing productivity and reducing absenteeism. On the other hand, today we also see assignments where soft HR is more involved: you develop and/or deliver onboarding training, you work out staff training programmes, and so on."
In addition, the rise of digital tools has increased the need for help in digitising HR processes. Organisations are calling on the help of interim managers to implement these new tools and streamline HR processes. Technical skills and experience with HR software, combined with an in-depth understanding of the business, are valuable here.
"We find that demand is highest among companies facing major changes," says Ann. " This therefore ranges across various sectors and regions. It concerns both small, medium-sized and large companies finding themselves in a digitisation process, but also, for example, in the case of mergers, acquisitions and organisational changes, there is often an urgent need for HR expertise."
Companies are increasingly realising that strong HR policies have a direct impact on productivity and the bottom line. "Due to the acute shortage of talent, it can be difficult for companies to find the right people in time, for example in case of replacements or large projects," Julie explains. "Interim managers can step in quickly and add value immediately thanks to their extensive experience. They bring specialised expertise, and are strong in problem-solving and crisis management. Moreover, as an objective outsider, they are perfectly placed to train internal middle management in the new processes."
"The challenges faced by the HR department today are of a different nature than before the covid period," Ann knows.
"Autonomy, flexibility and teleworking have become basic requirements for employees - things that were almost not talked about before and that require profound adjustments in employment regulations and business processes."
Julie adds: "More recently, this has included, for example, the 'right to deconnect'. The optimisation of a cafeteria plan and the migration to an all-electric vehicle fleet are also contemporary projects that require the necessary attention and expertise."
Ann: "Most assignments cover a period of 4 to 6 months. When it comes to a large project requiring in-depth expertise, this can easily add up to 12 or even 18 months. Increasingly, we also see assignments being extended because the company is taking longer than expected to recruit a permanent HR professional. An interim manager is the ideal solution to cover the search period."
"Nowadays, it also often happens that a new project forms during the course of the assignment, allowing the interim manager to move into a new assignment with the same company immediately after completion," Julie continues. "Incidentally, this is advice we can definitely pass on to business leaders: if you employ an interim manager for a particular HR project, think carefully about whether there are other - possibly lower-priority - projects for which you can use this professional. Nowadays, HR calls for rapid action, and talent is scarce, so it is better to make full use of the expertise you currently have in-house. Therefore, discuss this with the interim manager in due time, otherwise you risk them already looking for and committing to a connecting assignment."
Julie: "Absolutely! We notice the average age of starting interim managers within HR going down. These days, there are HR professionals in their mid-thirties who are starting out on their own to carry out mid-level operational assignments within payroll, compensation & benefits and talent management."
"This fits completely with the 'Great Resignation' movement we have felt post-covid," Ann explains. "Employees are reflecting on their careers, asking themselves where their passion lies, and what their strengths are. Combined with the many opportunities due to the talent shortage in the labour market, the move to self-employment is currently proving attractive to many HR specialists."
Julie confirms: "Moreover, these days there are plenty of online platforms you can turn to as a newly self-employed person to help smooth the transition. Although, of course, it always remains a leap into adventure!"
Talent retention is more important than ever. Building a solid employer brand will therefore increasingly become prominent. "Today's employee not only attaches importance to appreciation and remuneration, but also takes into account the corporate culture and the social efforts of his employer. This translates into very diverse projects in terms of content, ranging from compensation & benefits, EVP and internal and external communication to ED&I and ESG. A picture in which the interim manager fits perfectly," Ann concludes.
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