The growing need for temp leaders

Interim managers come into an assignment unencumbered by biases

After more than 20 years as an HR professional in a series of executive positions, Matt Hemmingsen now prefers to work on temporary assignments, in senior-level interim positions.

Although he has his own consulting company, Hemmingsen likes interim positions where he can be more involved with an organization.

And as an HR person, he likes the option of hiring managers for temporary assignments. “You are buying a seasoned professional who is able to come and take care of things in a quick period.”

What’s more, interim managers come into an assignment unencumbered by biases. “They are not self-motivated, they are looking at what is in the best interest for the organization, and they don’t have to worry about any organizational politics.”

As the pace of change accelerates, and as organizations increasingly look to contain costs and improve efficiency, more employers are looking for interim managers to fill temporary leadership holes, says David Shaw, president and CEO of Knightsbridge Human Capital Management.

Though employers have often used managers on a contract basis, the big difference now is the increase in demand, he says. There is also a qualitative difference in the kind of people employers are looking for. In the past, temp managers or executives were already familiar to the organization. Today, employers are looking for more highly skilled, experienced professionals who can parachute in and assume a leadership role quickly and effectively. “It is allowing organizations to be much more nimble and more flexible,” says Shaw.

This perceived hole in the marketplace (see box below), prompted Knightsbridge to launch a new interim management service this summer.

Joanne Berry, managing director of Knightsbridge Interim Management, says some employers are tired of paying the $1,500 to $5,000 per day that consultants charge. And they need someone to roll up their sleeves, get involved and solve business challenges without adding permanent head count.

The practice offers flexibility and immediacy, in contrast with a typical executive search that can take three months to fill a role, she says. Placing an interim manager can be done in less than 10 days, she says. And while the demand is there for interim managers, there is also an increase in the number of people willing to take interim positions, she adds. Just since July, Knightsbridge has built a pool of more than 500 interim managers.

Though using contract or temporary workers may raise issues about stability and the ability to develop strong bonds between managers and employees, the practice has other benefits, says Shaw.

“They are not worried about office politics, they are not worried about getting ahead in the company. All they are worried about is the task at hand.”

Bill Wilkerson, CEO of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, says it takes a certain kind of personality to be an interim manager.

In many cases, they are moving into a crisis situation, which they are expected to solve while still seeing to the day-to-day operations of keeping the business afloat, he says.

Wilkerson speaks from experience, having taken on a number of interim management positions. This includes a short spell as CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, almost two years as a “transformational CEO” overseeing Liberty Mutual Group’s takeover of Ontario Blue Cross and a stint with the National Hockey League.

To be truly effective, the manager has to have the authority to act, he says. “And I don’t recommend interim management to anybody who is overly methodical or cautious or inexperienced.”

In some cases, interim managers struggle to establish their authority, Wilkerson adds. Employees know the manager is not there for long and simply won’t treat him with the respect they would give someone in a permanent position.

And despite the benefits of hiring an interim manager, Hemmingsen says organizations should not count on interim managers for an extended period of time. “If it goes beyond six or nine months you have to revisit it to decide if you want a permanent employee.”

Demand for interim managers

According to the Knightsbridge Human Capital Management survey of 75 Canadian employers, almost all organizations are familiar with the concept of interim management, and just more than 50 per cent have employed an interim manager in the past. Of those that have used an interim manager:

•Common motivations include finding a manager for large projects, finding a short-term replacement for a sudden vacancy or trying out a manager before hiring full time.

•Just 8.5 per cent were in roles for less than three months. Most (54 per cent) were in the role for six to nine months.

•43 per cent were hired into full-time positions.

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