Prepping for the interim…
How should you prepare for the arrival of an interim manager and what should the organisation do to ensure the success and lasting value of the commission?
Sue Smith, Executive Director, BIE Interim Executive, offers some guidance, with input from Tim Way, Interim HR Director.
The central point of hiring an interim manager is that you get someone sensibly overqualified for the task in hand, one with a track record of delivering against whatever expectations surround the particular task in hand, whether that’s a change project, an expansion, functional leadership or any of the myriad other tasks interims are asked to carry out nowadays. These people are, by definition, used to being dropped into complex situations at short notice, listening carefully, analysing the situation and making their presence felt positively in a short space of time.
So given all this, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s little for Human Resources to do, other than oversee a successful hiring process. Well, to an extent that might be true when it comes to the strict confines of some, routine interim assignments. But if you want to capture and keep the most value from a senior-level executive interim for your organisation, you need to be prepared to put in a little more effort to secure the other side of the hiring process – a ‘successful exit’. That’s because a good candidate who has chosen interim work for a career rather than convenience (and there are plenty of the latter around currently) brings with them two intangibles that are hard to gauge and therefore tricky to fully exploit once they’re arrived in your organisation.
Interims have absolute neutrality, and no allegiance to anyone or anything you’ve done before; they are impartial about your history and your culture; and they are not ‘on their way up’, so have no career aspirations with you. The second factor is their experience beyond the primary reasons that make them right for your particular assignment. Unless you’re a veteran at hiring interims, understanding these factors, identifying them in potential candidates and fully exploiting them once the assignment begins, can be tough.
Interim management services providers should provide the essential ‘glue’ between you, the interim and the organisation. They understand organisations and businesses because they employ people who’ve worked outside recruitment in senior and line management roles. They consult carefully with you, in person, to help scope and define the assignment, they hand-pick two or three high-quality candidates and they stay close to both you and the interim during the assignment to minimise risk and maximise value.
Hiring an interim is unlike hiring for a permanent role, where an exact match against pre-set experience, achievements and qualifications is normally sought. You will usually be hiring in high-pressure circumstances; for a critical and urgent task (two to ten days is the typical cycle range from brief to placement). HR can help keep a fast momentum by identifying, in advance, which responsibilities of the role should/could be pushed down or outwards, leaving the interim free of distractions to concentrate solely on a smaller number of critical tasks.
There is little time for the standard immersion process of getting to know colleagues, direct reports and other key people because the interim will only be around for a few months. HR directors can, however, use their know-how of the organisation to help the interim navigate both formal and informal channels for getting things done. HR might also help by facilitating quick and easy access for the interim to the relevant senior management team members. But before that happens, it is imperative that whoever is the interim’s sponsor within your organisation, has communicated clearly why the interim is arriving; not just the ‘what’ (the task) and the ‘who’, but also the explicit, credible reasons why this is a job for an interim manager and not an existing employee. This should be more than just an email – behaviour must follow the words; the sponsor needs to be seen to be involved.
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