A combination of skills shortages, rapid disruption, transformation and ongoing uncertainty due to the pandemic and Brexit have all seen demand for interim leaders rise. Yet despite the key role interims play in today’s working world, there are some persistent myths that continue to perpetuate. Here, Doug Baird dispels the ones he most frequently comes across.
Myth one- Interim managers are expensive
A good interim manager with the required skills, expertise, motivations and behaviours should not be cheap. If they are you should probably run a mile! However, a great interim on a fair and reasonable day rate can deliver an excellent return on investment.
Interims are often used when there is a need to plug a short-term leadership gap, add in expertise to deliver large-scale transformation or to increase capacity to reach strategic goals at crunch points. They bring vast amounts of expertise and start delivering results from day one with no settling in or warm up time and often with little or no direction. The cost of not being able to do this can be disastrous for a business and far outweigh the cost of bringing an interim on board. And that’s before you factor in the additional benefits an interim can bring to the party- fresh eyes thinking, objective feedback, the political freedom to constructively challenge, that can be hard to put a financial figure on.
Compare also to the fees of management consultants that often get used for similar reasons. With fees of between £800 and £2,500K per day, seasoned interims have the expertise of senior management consultants but cost the equivalent of junior principals.
The right interim for your business with clear objectives and a transparent fee structure will be a short-term cost but one that really pays off.
Myth two – Interims are either retired execs or those that can’t get a perm job anymore
Virtually all the interims we work with are professional interims who have actively chosen interim management as their career path. This aligns with the industry as a whole; the 2021 survey by The Institute of Interim Management showed less than 3% of interims were in an interim role because they were in between permanent roles. In contrast the average length of time of being an interim was just under 11 years. Whilst interims by their very nature of being experienced professionals in their fields are in the latter halves of their career with an average age of 54, there are an increasing number of those in their 40s adopting interim as their chosen way of working.
Myth three – Interims and management consultants are the same thing
There are similarities between interims and management consultants. Both are brought onboard to add capacity or capability that is not available in-house. Both tend to work on very specific remits for a limited amount of time. And both must have immediate credibility and buy in from the business. But they are not the same; there are some key differences between the two. Management consultants tend to advise clients on a strategy to address a particular business need using their own methodologies and intellectual property which they retain ownership of. They may then recommend using their own team to deliver (often interims operating under the umbrella of the consultancy brand aka associates) or that may be as far as their engagement goes. An interim leader tends to be given the remit to implement the strategy. This may be the strategy and methodology that a consultancy house has recommended. A good interim will deliver the strategy in a way that makes most sense for the client and transfer their knowledge to the business as they do so. Of course, there are also interims that advise on strategy but typically management consultants tend to advise on the “what” whilst interims deliver the “how”.
There is a place for both interim management and management consultancies. The two models should be complementary and when used correctly, can work incredibly well together. The key is knowing exactly what you need to be achieved and selecting the right option for the right stage of the project.
Myth four – Teams see interims as a threat
Professional interims are never a threat to employee’s jobs. They have chosen to be an interim for varied reasons, often linked to the variety and short-term nature of the individual assignments. The challenge can raise its head when people in the business do not understand why an interim has been hired, what their specific goals are or if they are of the belief that interim is a trial run for a permanent hire. Transparency around this can help position interims as they really are; experienced professionals that can come into a business as a temporary booster with an objective view for a limited and defined period to help the team and business succeed.
As interims are often hired when there are leadership transitions or transformation programmes in play, they are cognisant of the uncertainty and resulting concerns that can occur when there is change on the agenda. Experienced interims are sensitive and highly skilled at managing in these scenarios so can not only diffuse any tensions associated with their presence but also provide a calm, reassuring, positive presence that extends beyond their immediate task at hand.
Myth five- Interims will have limited impact if they don’t understand or match our culture
This can be the case but it’s where good interim management firms come into their own. They will ask the right questions, understand your goals and your culture. They will dig deep and challenge what a good interim leader would look like and how they would differ from a great one to find the right people for you. They will know their community of interims inside out. Yes, they will know their unique skill sets, achievements and areas of expertise but they will also know their motivations and the personal chemistry they bring to the table. This helps ensure there is a culture fit rather than a culture clash.
Myth six- Interims are just placeholders with minimal impact
Both parts of these beliefs are wrong. Professional interims have the skills and expertise to make a difference from day one. They are comfortable receiving little direction, require no warm up runway and are skilled at focusing on key issues and delivering outcomes that will shift the dial. They are also not bound by organisational inertia, do not get bogged down with political issues or distractions and are very clear about what they need to deliver by when. Yes, the very nature of interim roles means they are there for a defined and limited period, but they are there with a very clear purpose and set of deliverables. Place holders no, productive professionals yes.