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What to Look For in an Interim Manager

August 16, 1999
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A decade of corporate downsizing and resizing has convinced many American executives that life as a professional "free agent" might be more profitable and more secure than relying on a single organization for employment.

Consequently, many executives choose to work as contract managers. Whatever you want to call them—interim managers, portable executives, temps or free agents—these professionals are growing in number. To get the most out of the portable executives that your organization might retain, consider the following tips:

  • Experience is critical. You don’t want to pay for a manager to go up a learning curve when you need to see immediate results. Look for the "been there, done that" candidate. Scrutinize past performance.
  • Functional and industry-specific skills are also important. Remember that an interim manager may have to lead or manage others in the organization. He or she has little time to develop rapport. The interim manager must come armed with knowledge and skills that give them credibility with other team members.
  • Leadership and interpersonal skills. Employees often resist change and may view interim managers as interlopers who threaten their position. An interim manager with good leadership and interpersonal skills, who remains above turf issues and focuses on achieving results, can more quickly gain the confidence and support of fellow workers.
  • Look for high energy. Many interim managers are confident and enjoy moving from assignment to assignment where they are challenged with solving definite and immediate problems quickly. Many are invigorated by the challenge and are willing to work long hours.
  • Agree on deliverables. Spell out expectations at the beginning of an assignment, identify milestones and frequently review progress.
  • You might not be able to offer an interim manager long-term job security, so look for other ways to motivate him or her. Portable executives want to expand their portfolio of skills and experience. Help them structure an assignment which leverages their experience, but which also provides them with a developmental opportunity.
  • The interim service provider should make sure the executive is comfortable with the flexible nature of the assignment, and isn’t focused on flushing out a more regular position in your organization. Remember that you can use the interim assignment as a tryout period in which to audition the manager for a longer-term role. Historically, almost a third of interim managers convert to regular employees.
  • When making the cost/benefit analysis of using an interim manager, in addition to considering the statutory, benefit and search fees you’re saving, remember to factor in non-financial payoffs. Bringing in an interim manager can move a project or operation quickly, resulting in cost savings to the organization. An interim manager also can invigorate an organization by providing new energy, introducing a fresh perspective, or transferring knowledge to others by acting as a mentor or coach.
  • Pay for performance to ensure good results. Portable executives are typically focused on achieving established goals. Keep them focused by offering success or completion bonuses that motivate them to bring your project to a successful conclusion, on time and on budget.
  • Benchmark your company’s performance. If your project involves substantially improving or updating an area of operations, such as implementing supply chain synchronization or enterprise-wide systems, then look for portable executives who have worked for top corporations and have helped to benchmark and implement leading-edge process improvements.

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