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When interim management goes wrong, who's to blame?

Everyone seems to be getting into interim management these days. Some people are genuinely made for it while others are simply looking to kick-start their careers or kick the can down the road until something else turns up.


Interim managers bring enormous benefits to customers by providing a platform for further growth and development; professionally, they are at the top of their game, experts in their chosen field and hungry to deliver successful change. A good interim manager aims to push the boundaries of how an external expert can deliver effective solutions.

Being an effective interim manager brings with it very different challenges, particularly in work structure and styles. The new interim soon finds out that a client’s expectations in weeks one and two are nothing like those in the first 100 days of an executive role. There is no training available, so any knowledge gaps are expected to be covered in one’s own time and at one’s own cost – and fast. 

On top of all this, the administration of running your own company can be a little more than expected, especially when compared to receiving a salary with statutory deductions accounted for. Then there is the aspect of holidays and other benefits. These often have a higher cost than was originally considered, coupled with the fact that the recruiter potentially negotiated a below market daily rate in order to slip the sale through more quickly.

Although the reasons vary, the outcome tends to be an early exit. 

But these pitfalls can easily be avoided. Creating dialogue and investing time in rigorous due diligence of a candidate’s potential is key to the success of any placement. Using this knowledge, the successful candidate will have the potential to make the step up and it is these individuals that the interim management community needs to engage with and promote as ambassadors.

Creating dialogue needs to be constructive. It helps those entrepreneurs who are committed to interim management achieve their goals. Conversely, those who decide it is not the route for them will walk away with a greater appreciation of what the Interim industry can deliver – and will very likely be an advocate of for using similar people in their own business.

And that is why it is interesting to see the emergence of generalist recruiters now building excessive databases to try and enter this specialist market. In doing so, it has become common practice to reduce the level of due diligence on each candidate, not so much introducing an expert as introducing the owner of a CV with matching key words who happens to be available quickly. 

It comes as no surprise that when a large database is exercised instead of a quality-grown network, a large proportion of these types of project arrangements end in failure. Frequently, the deliverables are not met or, if they are met, they are achieved way beyond the original timeline and budget. This is not a good outcome for the customer and it generates a distrust and negative view of interim management.

Is it the fault of the interim manager, perhaps caught up in the opportunity while failing to investigate the realities? Or is it the recruiter, who was perhaps insufficiently qualified to consult on the project objectives?

From talking to both sides, I am inclined to say both are each to blame, but in different ways. The recruiter could be at fault because too often the short-term transaction is more important than the long-term success of the client’s project.  

The would-be interim may also have contributed to the problem by not having fully considered what this project means to the client, whether they have the skills needed to hit the ground running, or if they possess the requisite skills and understanding of what setting up a business actually means.

Interim management isn’t for everyone; the people who thrive in this environment tend to be career-minded entrepreneurs who are committed to the cause and completely focussed on what they can offer. If a person demonstrates potential, but their ideas need refinement, then a good interim recruiter will help to offer perspective and a reality check, whilst encouraging the way forward for the right reasons.

Daffyd Wright is head of RSA’s interim management business unit where he is responsible for expanding RSA’s interim management service across the life sciences sector