The Role of the Impact Interim in the New Business Landscape

November 14, 2017

As a consequence of recent economic ambiguity, an increasingly fast-paced business landscape and a rapidly evolving workforce, businesses of all sizes are being compelled to reconsider their focus regarding both short and long-term resourcing decisions.

Our Associate Partner and Head of Carlyle’s Interim practice, Fiona James-Martin, caught up with Scott Mackay, Interim technology leader and CRM specialist, to discuss the increasingly prevalent role of the impact interim and how businesses can benefit from this non-permanent resource. The highlights of this conversation included: the shift in attitudes towards senior interim resource; how businesses can benefit from impact interim hires; and some key considerations for businesses looking to undertake an interim assignment.

Evolving Talent Requirements

In light of a rapidly changing business landscape, there has been a marked shift in attitudes towards non-permanent hiring, with many businesses now actively considering recruitment strategies that blend permanent, interim and contract resource in order to deliver time-critical, impactful and measurable results.

From a Search perspective, Fiona describes: “Impact interims who can complement more traditional permanent and contract talent pools are in increasing demand within Carlyle’s client base. These are experienced, senior individuals who enter a business at executive and Board level in order to undertake high-impact projects which actively move the needle on strategic objectives.”

Impact interim assignments may include: architecting and leading complex change programmes; setting the roadmap for large-scale digital and technology implementation; undertaking an organisational or functional redesign; or helping prepare for M&A, sale or exit. Such assignments have clearly defined objectives set within a specified time frame, and typically an interim will exit the business upon the successful completion of those objectives.

How do Businesses Benefit?

Preparation: An adept interim will thoroughly research a business before undertaking a role. Ahead of the assignment, they may ask for documentation, organograms, Board papers or other details pertinent to the project they are engaging on. They may also seek pre-meetings with key stakeholders to allow them to create maximum impact from the outset (requesting your interim to sign an NDA to cover pre-agreement discovery is widely accepted).

Experience: From an interim executive, businesses can typically expect a varied perspective, breadth and depth of knowledge, and strong leadership, influencing and Board level communication skills. More importantly, the interim will be capable of applying all of this knowledge and experience to particular business challenges and objectives. In essence, a business is buying the experience of a senior individual who has already successfully navigated challenges in complex, high pressure environments, and who can help them to do the same.

EQ and IQ: These are experienced senior leaders with the ability to effect change at pace and scale. Such individuals should possess the ability to influence and deliver upon objectives using a combination of sophisticated emotional and social intelligence.

Cultural Awareness: Unless specifically agreed as part of the assignment, an interim will not look to disrupt an existing organisational culture; rather they will be capable of harmonising with it.

Emotional investment: These are senior individuals who have typically been high achievers throughout their career; as such they will be invested in the success of the business, not only in the success of their role. Reputation is crucial to interim executives: these individuals are therefore considered in choosing roles in which they feel they can deliver tangible, impactful results.

Unemotional Decision Making: Not to be confused with emotional intelligence, strategic business decisions often need an unbiased view. An interim should be able to make objective, independent decisions and provide appropriate commercial insight and commentary. Often an interim executive is retained in preparation for a permanent hire in order to enact change and establish viable organisational structures, so this ability to make unbiased decisions is vital.

Return on Investment: These individuals have typically held a variety of C-Level and senior leadership positions and can therefore command significant rates. Due to their experience, they understand and respect that their cost will usually directly affect their client’s P&L, which means they should be highly focussed on delivering the agreed purpose within the timescale. It is also worth considering that interim roles do not necessarily have to be undertaken on a full time basis; businesses without a full time requirement might consider a two or three day a week arrangement in order to retain valuable senior expertise for particular functions.

Access to Networks: Through an interim executive a business should expect to gain access to industry experts, advisors and other potential senior candidates.

Managing an Interim Assignment: Key Considerations

Once a decision has been made that an impact interim would be a valuable investment for the business, the selection process should establish clear boundaries for the interim assignment. The process should also give key stakeholders a deep understanding of the individual that they are looking to hire and whether that individual is an appropriate fit for both the assignment and the business.

From experience, Scott advises: “From the outset, there must be clarity on the brief, the timescales and how far the power of the interim extends. Blurred reporting lines only serve to confuse those within the business and hinder successful outcomes, so it must be made clear how the interim fits into the existing leadership structure. Upon starting the role, the interim must then forge relationships quickly based on mutual trust and respect.”

There should be constant assessment of how deep the interim has become embedded in the business and an awareness that this needs to be managed carefully. It is the joint responsibility of the interim and the key stakeholders to ensure an appropriate exit strategy is put in place so that the organisation can function seamlessly when the assignment ends. Finally, the interim’s named representative (if using a Search practice) should have regular dialogue with the person to whom the interim reports. This will ensure that there is a sustained return on the investment.

Both Fiona and Scott agree that when chosen carefully against clearly set criteria for a specific assignment, an impact interim hire can produce significant, measurable results for a business. Selection is key, and requires a considered, thorough process. Assignment objectives need to be set clearly and assignments need to be based on trust and communication. With this degree of transparency, impact interims can prove to be valuable business investments.

Fiona James-Martin is an Associate Partner and Head of Carlyle’s Interim Practice. Established in response to increasing market demand, Carlyle Interim focuses on identifying and attracting the best non-permanent talent for senior, Board and advisory roles.

Scott Mackay is an Interim technology leader, consultant and advisor who specialises in undertaking technical platform transformations and implementation assignments.

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