“You’ve got to sell your idea and solutions in different business contexts – adaptability is key”
In the next of our series of articles exploring interim management, we look at the skills needed to succeed as an interim manager. So, what are the secrets to interim success?
“The most successful interims are the ones with the strongest networks and a demonstrable track record of delivering. They’re adept at assessing situations quickly and immersing themselves in different business cultures,” says Gavin Wingfield, Principal Consultant at NSCG. “They take stakeholders on a journey, are natural influencers, highly adaptable and very resilient. They stick to what they’re good at and take assignments for the right reasons.”
Organisations hire interims because they have a problem that needs to be fixed. They don’t have the resources inhouse so they enlist an expert who can remove that burden. “Companies want reassurance and so they want to secure the services of an expert with a proven track record, a safe pair of hands who they can entrust to hit the ground running and strategically deliver on their project. With hybrid working now commonplace, how much time you spend in the office will obviously depend on your role,” notes Wingfield.
The industry background and specialist niche or technical knowledge must be accompanied by excellent all-round interpersonal skills. “Interims need to be consummate professionals, and not only for the more technical parts of the job. For example, they must be self-aware about how things might land with others in the business and ensure that there is minimal disruption when they come into the business, which they must seek to protect,” remarks Wingfield.
As well as transferring knowledge, interims must be effective communicators with a flair for engaging with internal stakeholders, from the company chairman to workers on the shop floor. According to Wingfield, there’s one skill above all others that sets the best interims apart, “You’ve got to sell your idea and solution in different business contexts – adaptability is key. This will vary from assignment to assignment, as you might be moving from a scale-up project to deliver business growth to a financial turnaround with a business on the brink of collapse.”
The skills and attributes of successful interims
The best interims bring a considered and measured approach. “Emotion can’t come into it,” says Wingfield. “While you have to be matter of fact with the information you have and the decisions you take, you must not lack empathy. For example, you might be going into a long-established family-owned business, which might need restructuring. You would have to be sensitive to other people’s emotions at such a difficult time.”
Financial resilience is also important when things might not be going so well. “You need to have that financial safety net to see you through the downtime periods. As we saw during the pandemic, you have to be ready for the unexpected. Some returned to permanent employment for the benefits such as sick pay, holiday pay, pension contributions, private healthcare etc. As an interim, you’ve got to take care of all these things yourself. You might be on an assignment for a year, so your holidays may take a back seat for a little while,” he continues.
For those who have doubts about leaving their permanent role and transitioning to interim, deciphering why you’re unsure is critical. You’ve got to be 100% committed to the switch, Wingfield stresses. “Going into the interim space is a bit of a leap of faith but your gut feel is usually right. Many are put into a situation where they fall into it. But if you’re in a permanent role and decide to hand in your notice, then you’ve got to put yourself on the market so that you’re immediately available. It takes courage and confidence to take that step.”
With the majority of businesses restructuring during the pandemic, this has paved the way for interim opportunities. Hiring volumes are returning to pre-pandemic levels. “Despite the challenging times of the past 18 months, organisations are looking at their strategic workforce planning and a stronger pipeline of projects means greater demand for interims,” says Wingfield. “Hiring is buoyant in areas such as HR and finance and this will only increase due to Brexit. We’re in a positive place in 2022 as the market has stabilised following the lifting of COVID restrictions.”
Wingfield offers one last piece of advice to budding interims. “As much as your network is everything, so is credibility and reputation. You’re only as good as your last assignments, so make sure they’re ones that you’re going to excel at. You’ve got set objectives and you will be held accountable if you don’t deliver. There is nowhere to hide as an interim.”
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