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Does the grind of day-to-day IT management, office politics and pointless meetings get you down? Do you fancy being a troubleshooter, sweeping in to save the day and get things moving? If so, maybe your next career move should be into interim management.
Interim managers are typically hired for three to nine months in senior but hands-on roles to help organisations undergoing major change, trying to implement a critical strategy, or looking to plug a critical management gap. Organisations usually hire interim managers because the role in question is not a permanent position or because a permanent manager cannot be found quickly enough.
Brian Soffe, an interim manager who is nearing the end of an assignment as IT director for the Engineering Employers' Federation, says the big difference between interim management and permanent roles is that "there are very specific goals to be achieved, and you start the contract knowing that those things have to be delivered by a certain date. The mindset is that from day one you are planning your exit strategy."
That difference dictates the skills that interim managers need to be successful, says Simon Berry, a director with Interim Assignment, which provides workshops, coaching and other tools to help new and existing interim managers win contracts. The key attribute, he argues, is "the ability to solve problems and a track record in doing that." He suggests you are likely to be successful in interim management "if you look back at your last five years in corporate life and see it as a series of projects solving problems that other organisations will face." Soffe agrees that "experience is crucial. You need to be able to quickly assess problems and requirements, and very quickly come up with an approach to how you will tackle that, and you need experience to do that."
Johhny Walker, an associate partner at interim agency Green Park, who specialises in placing interim managers in technology and IT change management roles, suggests interim roles typically also require the ability to do some or all of the following: "network and influence at board level, construct a business case for board level presentation, have a positive impact on the profit and loss of an operation, construct metrics for performance and manage people, and mitigate risk in delivery."
Interim managers need to hit the ground running. Agencies placing interim consultants typically look to get someone in place within a week of being briefed on the assignment, and you are expected to start delivering in days not weeks. Interims are also generally on short notice periods, usually one month. However, Walker says, very few assignments are cut short - if they are, it is usually because the interim is failing to deliver - and most interims have little trouble finding their next assignment.
Having top-notch skills and experience is not, however, enough on its own. "You need the motivation and willingness to go out and market yourself," Berry warns. "The best interim managers do not necessarily get the best assignments if they are not in the right place at the right time to get it." That means taking a proactive and selective approach to networking in order to meet potential clients or people who can help you meet those clients, as well as looking for contracts through agencies who place interims.
Soffe, for example, got his first contract by word of mouth almost as soon as he left his permanent job. Since then, he has taken on seven contracts in the past seven years, each lasting between five and twenty months. Most of his contracts have involved delivering specific strategic changes within a defined timescale, but he has also worked as a troubleshooter for IT functions that were not delivering in some way.
Greater control over his career was part of the motivation for Soffe to move into interim management. He was frustrated by having five bosses in the course of a year when the large European company he was working for was going through a period of continuous change. "I believe someone managing an IT department has a shelf-life of about three years, so if you're going to be forced to change jobs that often, you might as well do it more often, develop a skillset and get paid more for it," he says.
However, when first embarking on a career as an interim, you need to have a clear idea of what you can offer and be able to articulate its value to clients. Walker suggests talking to your peers - who would be in a position to hire someone like you as an interim - to find out how they perceive you and what kind of roles they would hire you for. "That will help you understand what you can deliver to the market as a quick win," he explains.
As with any role, there are downsides. The main one is the uncertainty and risk involved in not knowing when and where you will find the next contract. You need to be able to cope with your income fluctuating significantly, as there will be some months when you are earning nothing while you are between contracts. "Being an interim is a little like being a landlord," Walker points out. "You can plan on receiving ten months' income every 12 months. In the two months spare, a landlord refurbishes the property and looks for a new tenant, while an interim updates his or her CV and looks for a new assignment." When you do earn, you will find rates compare very favourably with permanent roles, with a typical day rate for an interim manager of around £700.
Simon Berry, Interim Assignment 01844 342239
Brian Soffe, interim manager 07774 456615 - contact supplied by PR agency for ExecutiveS Online: Zoe Lacey, Clothier Lacey 0191 293 9897 email@example.com
Johnny Walker, Green Park 020 7399 4300 - PR is Nicola Hunt, NHPR 020 7183 0383 firstname.lastname@example.org
This was first published in August 2008