The pressure is on, the you need expertise and you need it fast. You have managed to hire an experienced interim manager to take over that delicately poised programme of work. So, how do you make sure you avoid any of the potential pitfalls like low engagement, lack of influence and growing costs? Don’t worry, there are tried and trusted ways to ensure, as a hiring manager, you get the best out of your time and investment.
I should know, I have been placing senior interim managers in blue-chip brands for longer that I care to mention (okay, it is about ten years now), and, over that time I have developed a nose for what makes things work smoothly and what does not.
First things first, you need to make sure you understand what an interim manager is. There are differences between an interim manager and, say, a fixed term contractor on one end, and a consultant on the other. Understanding this subtle difference helps set you up for success. A contractor can be someone with junior to mid level experience and hired to fill a defined role. A consultant is brought onboard to come up with the high level plan (not so much the execution). The role of the interim manager is someone who bridges the gap between.
Let’s go back to the beginning, it helps set up the context. The term “interim manager” first became common place in the Netherlands in the late 1970s. Many businesses found the outrageously long notice periods and non-compete arrangements when they hired senior senior managers left them with a leadership void for up to six months. So, the ability to parachute in an experienced professional to steady the ship during that period became the norm. This phenomenon replicated itself in East Germany post the fall of the Berlin Wall when large state owned corporations needed senior leadership for a defined period of time. Again, senior managers were brought in for an interim period while the existing staff and leadership adjusted to their new reality and came up to speed before taking over the reins. Since then it has come to mean different things for different people but we stick to the original definition for our business.
In summary, they are a senior professional, committed to making an impact over a contracted period of time, and then, moving on. They can be a major boost for the team and bottom line when managed well, or, they can become a costly contractor adding a small amount of value at odds with the level of your investment. How do you make sure it is the former?
Make sure you take the time to evaluate the interim manager coming in. Although time is of the essence you still need to work with a trusted recruitment partner who specialises in this area to make sure the person you meet has the technical and professional background to accomplish what needs doing, leaving you to focus on the cultural fit and match up with the team and organisation as a whole.
SUPERCAR IN THE GARAGE
Once onboard you need to commit to a one to one meeting and regular facetime. You can make this time efficient and useful by setting out what your interim manager needs to get up to speed on and then letting them go and achieve that. You then circle back to make sure it is done. This way you are directing the interim manager and not getting that sinking feeling that you are investing more time and energy now, than if you hadn’t bothered hiring them in the first place. Put the onus on them to come up with the plan. You provide the access and gather the feedback. An interesting option to maintain this consistent and efficient feedback loop is to run daily stand up meetings. You address the agenda from the day before and only take action to fix roadblocks in a ten minute standing only interaction (this is borrowed from the agile software development process and works well in other spheres). What you do not want is to have an expensive investment hamstrung from achieving because of a lack of structure on your behalf.
LET THEM AT IT
You need impact, to do this they need influence, so you have to arrange a bit of a fanfare at the outset. Make sure there is a company wide, or at least department, wide email. Arrange for an all hands meeting to introduce your new management hero, and, make sure you personally arrange face time with the key stakeholders they need to get on-board. Crucially, be sure to get 360 degree feedback in the first week on how these meetings went. Take action immediately if there are tensions or obvious blockers. Investing time and energy like this upfront will save you twice as much in the longer term.
PLAY THE PITCH
Business planning and strategy should be in their wheelhouse, so, don’t be afraid to get their outsider’s perspective alongside the “day job”. They are a good sounding board for ideas and half written plans that could turn into real innovation if massaged along the right path. Don’t be fearful of overloading, have them pitch you solutions to some of the long standing issues that never quite get resolved, if you find a path for one then you are better off, and, it keeps the interim manager challenged and engaged outside the scope of their programme.
DON’T LEAVE ME NOW
If you are looking to extend an engagement try and get that signed off with at least six weeks to go until the end of the contract period and communicate this and other updates to your interim manager as you have them. Even a “no update” update at a certain point lets them know you are thinking about them and that progress is being made. If the engagement is coming to an end, then, that is also an easy conversation; get it done early and allow your interim manager to prepare next steps.
If you can follow most of the advice above, and, if you have hired an experienced interim manager who knows their brief you will have a good outcome for your business. Sometimes it helps to think of an interim manager like an agency partner who happens to be onsite. This helps you maximise the return on your investment. Good luck.
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Photograph – Stuart VivierByEdward