Understanding excellence in Interim Management

Dave Lea | 17 April 2024

With voting under way in this year’s Institute of Interim Management (IIM) Survey, it seems an opportune time to look at the qualities of what makes an outstanding interim manager.  

The IIM Survey ranks excellence throughout interim service provision, and New Street Consulting Group (NSCG) was proud to be recognised as the UK’s leading interim management provider in last year’s Survey. Part of this success is down to NSCG’s ability to build an unrivalled community of interim leaders. 

Dave Lea, Managing Partner at NSCG, works closely with his team of interim consultants to serve this community, and here, lifts the lid on some of the exceptional values and skills that drive success for the organisations utilising interims. 


Masters of transition 

In many instances, interims will be brought in by organisations to lead change management and transformation projects. The IIM Interim Management Survey 2023 shows that ‘Change or Transformational’ are the principal roles being undertaken by interims (39%). Interestingly, project / programme / transformation / change director and manager roles have increased back to pre-2022 levels, with a rise of 5.1%. 

The change and transformation discipline requires the careful transition from ‘old’ to ‘new’, to ensure strategies and processes are embraced by all stakeholders. Interims often excel here, because they are so adept at switching between short-term projects and working with numerous different employers and teams. Around (33%) of interims undertook two different assignments during the last 12 months, while 26% worked on three or more assignments, according to the IIM Survey 2023.   

Exceptional interims have the confidence to step into a role and the ability to quickly build credibility. For example, Louise Clifton is in her seventh year as an interim and is a master of transition. She starts each new assignment with a strong desire to build connections with teams, so that she can properly understand the motivation behind a project and any possible barriers to success. Taking this approach allows Louise to effectively fight in peoples’ corners and unite everyone in striving towards the same goal.  

We’re often told by clients that their teams forget Louise is an interim. This is the type of feedback that personifies excellence in interim management. An individual who can work seamlessly as part of a team can bring the fresh perspectives, insights and experience that organisations demand, and better accelerate the transition from ‘old’ to ‘new’.  


They relish ‘riding the rollercoaster’ 

Louise has often described the role of an interim as being a bit like riding a rollercoaster. Not in the sense that an assignment can be full of highs and lows, and twists and turns, but more to do with the initial ascent of a rollercoaster. The best rides start with a steep climb to a high summit, with the steeper the climb, the greater the reward for the thrill seekers. The initial ascent can prove daunting and cause a build-up of anticipation. It can even prove off-putting and reveals the unique – and highly valued – mindset of an exceptional interim.  

Interims will walk into an assignment knowing they are likely to face some form of uphill struggle. There might be apathy to change, differing opinions or conflicts of interest. Addressing these challenges proves motivational, and the bigger the task, the greater the appreciation there is of reaching the summit – the point where the interim’s solution and strategy starts to deliver, and when they enjoy the ride even more.  


Respectful and resilient  

Craig Dean is another outstanding member of our interim community. He recently won the Long-term Achievement Award in NSCG’s inaugural Interim Awards, and perfectly defines excellence in resilience. Interims are often valued for their outside, bias-free views. They are free from the confines of day-to-day working and politics, which can otherwise skew the originality and objectivity required by organisations.   

As such, the best interims are only too aware that not all their decisions will prove universally popular. This requires a thick skin, but there’s so much more to it. Interims must also have the emotional intelligence and aptitude to show understanding and empathy. By doing this, they are respectful of different opinions and suggestions, and able to positively manage these to minimise conflicts and disruption that can otherwise detract from hitting end goals. 


Legacy makers  

Both Craig and Louise epitomise one of the most defining characteristics of excellence in interim management and leadership. They approach short-term projects with a long-term view. The 2024 European Survey of the International Network of Interim Manager Associations (INIMA) acknowledges a trend of large-scale corporations utilising interims to optimise operations, drive growth, and enhance efficiencies. These improvements are the legacies of skilled interims.   

From the outset, an exceptional interim will think about how sustainable their strategy and solutions are. They actively want to make decisions and implement practices and processes that will long outlast their tenure. This requires an in-depth knowledge and understanding of how workplaces function and gaining this comprehensive insight at speed. An interim can then deliver solutions that leave a lasting legacy.  

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