The Debate Over Defining Interim Management

Written by EO Executives on Nov 03, 2014

Those not immersed in interim management might be surprised to learn that there’s quite the controversy over its definition. Almost every interim management provider, as well as trade body the Interim Management Association, address the issue via their websites and marketing material and all differ in their opinions.

Most agree on a definition that involves engaging an experienced manager or executive in a limited-term professional services contract either to bridge a gap in a management team, or to deliver a specific business result – typically associated with project or change management.

However, many discussions about what constitutes interim management go well beyond that. Interim management providers can be observed in the press and on LinkedIn, asserting and debating what they think true interim management is. These debates are, of course, partisan, and the positions taken reflect differences in the way the providers do business.

At Executives Online we know that there’s a huge advantage for the international business community in growing the interim market. For us, an experienced flexible workforce is a key driver of growth while the economy recovers. However restrictive practices taking place within the recruitment industry itself have the potential to negatively impact this growth. Here are a few of the assertions being made that concern us:

  • A true interim will never take a permanent role
  • Those who haven’t done an interim assignment yet can’t be seriously considered as candidates for interim roles
  • Someone who begins to practice as an interim manager yet is open to the idea of a permanent role is not a true interim manager
  • The number of true interim managers is small, numbering only a few thousand people
  • Generalist recruiters operating via large databases cannot successfully fill interim roles

Interim management recruitment differs from regular executive recruitment in many ways: the importance of the brief (as opposed to just a job description), the pace of interim recruitment, the professional services contract, and industry regulations that apply. Defining good interim recruitment process serves the clients and interim managers well.

However, assertions about exclusivity and the small size of the industry and talent pool aren’t about ensuring good recruitment process. Describing the industry as small is about hanging on to market share, and to a degree, about price protection:  typical monopolist/oligopolist behaviour, plain and simple – which is never about serving the customer.

Neither is making interim management seem small and exclusive about serving the interim managers, unless they’re already among that small and exclusive number. This approach just makes it harder for an aspiring interim manager to get their first assignment.

 In our experience, the main thing that clients care about is whether the interim manager they engage will deliver the results they need. The best evidence for that, in their view and ours, is in the candidates’ prior track record in similar situations. How many assignments they’ve had, their openness to the idea of a permanent role, and the size of the database of the provider introducing them aren’t factors in the client’s decision about whom to engage. Our approach and the services we provide are different to those of other recruitment companies in the following ways: 

  • We’ll happily give a first-time interim manager his or her first assignment, if that person has the required track record and makes it on to our short list via the same rigorous briefing, interviewing and vetting process we conduct with all candidates.
  • We routinely send our interim briefs to numbers of candidates other providers would no doubt deem too big, reaching out to members of our Talent Bank who possess the necessary industry, functional, and skill profile, so that no one misses out. 
  • We have relationships with interim managers who’ve worked through us before, and we draw on those to create the best short list for our clients.  At Executives Online, that’s an important part of our process and value proposition, but it’s not all we do.  We invest in the most sophisticated, award-winning search marketing program in the industry so that we are constantly bringing new interim managers into our Global Talent Bank, and we conduct a complete search on every brief, not simply pulling someone from the “bench” .
  • In the event a client invites an interim manager working through us to take up a permanent role in the organisation, we don’t have prohibitive transfer fee provisions in our contracts which make it uneconomical for the client to do so.  In fact, we see transfers to perm as a great validation of our work.

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