Business as usual

first_imgRecessionis usually a time when employees’ anxiety levels start to rise at the prospectof lay-offs. But however bad the current slowdown becomes, it needn’t be toomuch of a concern for interim managers.  By Rob McLuhanIfa recession does happen, interim agencies say opportunities are likely tochange in character, as the business environment turns from hectic expansion toretrenchment. Instead of going into a newly-merged company to harmoniseprocedures, interims are as likely to find themselves handling redundancyprogrammes or helping find ways to weather the downturn.Butdespite an inevitable slackening in the market, there has been little sign thatcompanies will not continue to be as reliant on the expertise of seniormanagers on short-term contracts as they have been during the growth years.”Themarket for interims is likely to flourish in this economic climate,”predicts Caroline Battson, head of interim at Macmillan Davis Hodes. “Whenthere is uncertainty regarding budgets, they offer a flexible solution for acompany that can”t maintain a permanent headcount, but needs projectscompleting by certain date.”Astraw poll at a recent meeting of the Interim Management Association, whichrepresents 23 of the 30 mainstream providers, indicated little immediate causefor concern, according to Charles Russam, chairman of Russam GMS. “Clientsare saying ‘the work has got to get done, so let’s do it’,” he says. TheDunstable-based agency continues to receive enquiries from a broad cross-sectionof employers.Theprospect of a downturn, however, has naturally recalled memories of the lastrecession in the early 1990s. Then, Russam points out, the expectation was thatpermanent staff would be reduced in favour of those working short-termcontracts.”Inthe event the opposite happened and the temps were cleared out, so onenaturally wonders if the same thing will happen again.” He suspects itwill be different this time – companies are much leaner than they were 10 yearsago, so there is less scope for lay-offs, while over the past decade the valueof interims as a resource option has become increasingly recognised.Employersthat do resort to slashing the payroll could find themselves having to bring ininterims to compensate. “A company that cuts too many positions runs therisk of leaving itself underskilled,” says Patrique Habboo, managingdirector of MD Executives on Assignment. “So it needs expertise on aplug-and-play basis.”Anotherphenomenon in a recession is the exodus of talent from failing firms, creatinggaps that temporary managers will be brought in to fill. “Interims are notclimbing the corporate ladder and don’t mind taking on tasks that would notattract people for a permanent role,” Habboo says.Untilrecently demand was strong in telecoms and media, with big CRM projects neededin the wake of rapid expansion. With the recession affecting those sectors,that is starting to fade. Habboo says this year there has been growing demandfor experts in finance, and in sales and marketing, for instance inimplementing multi-channel strategies. “That is a sign of the times,”he says. “If businesses start missing their numbers, the people they lookto are finance and marketing directors to tell them what needs to be done.”Skillsin demandAtImpact Executives, managing director David Bradford reports that technologyskills continue to top the list of client needs. However, he also notes anincreased demand for project management expertise. “Companies have begunto realise that interims are ideal for this kind of work and probably moreeconomical than a management consultancy, which until recently were the mainsource,” he says.Bradfordalso recognises a strong demand for individuals with turnaround expertise inrescuing failing companies, as well as for senior executives in marketing, HRand finance.AndMacmillan Davis Hodes is starting to experience activity in the not-for-profitsector of charities and local government, which is likely to be one of theleast affected by the downturn. “These organisations enjoy planning forthe future and have firm ideas of what they need, which means they work toschedules that don’t change,” Battson says.AmongIMs themselves there is cautious optimism. John Moules, currently on an HRassignment from Penna Interim, thinks there will continue to be a fair numberof opportunities although they will inevitably diminish somewhat with fewermergers and acquisitions. “It is not going to get any easier, but there isadequate work to tackle,” he suggests. “Interims will have to be abit sharper about exploring the market – the better people will find their waythrough.”Thereis no doubt that clients increasingly recognise the benefits of employinginterim managers for specific, short-term projects. “A good agency cansource quality people within days, having already carried out a pre-interviewto ensure they are the right fit,” says Malcolm Browne, managing directorof Penna Interim. “That enables HR to meet line managers’ needs quickly.”Whatdistinguishes the interim from a permanent role is the amount of knowledgerequired at the outset. At MD Executives on Assignment, Habboo recalls a Cityclient pointing out that a full-time recruit would be expected to have 80 percent of the required capability and acquire the rest gradually. By contrast,for an interim posting it would seek an individual with 120 per centcapability, who could hit the ground running.Inthis case the interim assignment lasted three to four months, which was roughlyhow long the company allowed new recruits to settle in. “What this meansis that our people have to grasp the issues, turn the job around, and exit inthe same period of time that permanent people are finding their feet,”Habboo says.OverseasopportunitiesGlobalisationhas brought an increase in demand for foreign assignments, which requirespecific skills. For a four-month assignment in Mexico, MD Executives onAssignment placed an individual who not only spoke fluent commercial Spanishbut also knew how to deal with Latin American bureaucrats. Similarly, for afinance role in Italy, the need was for a manager familiar with the localbusiness culture.AtInterim Management Services, administration manager Sheila Chalker expects theproportion of international business to increase in the next few years,particularly in the European technology sector. With so many opportunitiesabroad, any ability in languages should be highlighted on CVs. Yet surprisinglymany managers leave this off altogether, agencies say. Chalker is particularlycritical of the overall quality of their submissions, saying, “It is justas important for an interim manager to sell himself through his CV as it wouldbe if he were seeking a permanent position.”MeetingbriefsThisopinion is echoed by Browne of Penna Interim, which recently placed HR managersin two French financial services companies. “I would much rather hearabout their languages than their interest in gardening or theatre,” hesays.Fora Japanese electronics firm Penna was asked to recruit an HR expert to carryout a business transfer operation to another company. This required anindividual with Japanese language or business experience, as well as anunderstanding of Tupe and an employee relations HR background.Withcomplex briefs such as this it helps if the agency works with clients to definetheir needs, in terms of the skills required, the length of the contract, andthe degree of accountability, and specifies the desired timetables and outcomes.Onthe behavioural side, interims need the capacity to join new teams and buildgood working relationships as quickly as possible. That too involves a certainamount of preparation by the client. “We ask them to think about whatbasic resources will be available, in terms of access to computer andsecretarial facilities, who will they meet and report to, and what will theyprovide in terms of data,” Browne says.Pennahas been doing a lot of work in project and programme management, which Browneidentifies as an underlying core skill for interim managers. One client iscurrently going through a huge European rebranding exercise and requiredsomeone to run the project office. That was a challenge, Browne says, as itneeded to find a marketer with an understanding of IT.Theprofile of the interim manager tends to vary according to sector. In IT, theskills sets are often found in individuals in their 30s, whereas for HR, theneed is more usually for professionals with substantial experience of employeerelationships. “Clients are looking for people with that grey-hairedwisdom,” says Browne.Justas the activity is being afforded greater respect by businesses, the profile ofthe typical manager has changed substantially over recent years. Individualstend now to see interim work as a career rather than a temporary necessity,relishing the variety and challenge offered by different projects. In place ofthe stereotype of the senior man filling a gap before retirement, the interimis as likely to be a woman and can be any age.Thechanging demographic is confirmed by a recent survey from the Interim Group.This showed that only 5 per cent of interim managers are aged 51-60 comparedwith 53 per cent in the 31-40 age range. There are also a substantial number ofjuniors in their 20s working in temporary assignments, the research found.”Thereis a myth that bridging managers tend to be in the more mature agebracket,” says Alyson Gilbert-Smith, managing director of Interim Group.”Our analysis highlights that this is a desirable career plan forindependent executives of any age, whether at senior or middle level. Suchpeople seek demanding short-term assignments that offer valuable experiences.”Thisview is confirmed by Battson at Macmillan Davis Hodes, who says, “Tenyears ago, a lot of managers got involved in interim work having been maderedundant, so the quality was patchy. Now it is more usual for people to do itbecause they want to.”FlexiblebenefitsBattsonadds, “A few days ago I was talking to the HR director of well-knownorganisation. She said she was getting to the stage where she would really likethe flexibility and challenges of being an interim manager, and would be quitehappy to take two months off during the summer.”Thevariety is an attraction – as well as changing jobs every few months, someinterims work on more than one project at the same time. For instance, theymight devote five days a week to a principal assignment, and act as anon-executive director one day a month somewhere else.Aninitial barrier is the perception that working on short contracts lackssecurity. But those who have tried it often find themselves quickly settlinginto it as a way of life. “What we are starting to find is that people whohave been made redundant twice are turning to interim management and finding itnot as insecure as they thought it might be,” Battson says.Forthose who are less keen on its transitory quality, there is often the prospectof being offered a permanent job. That is not an issue for agencies, who canprofit by charging a fee. Impact Executives says almost a quarter of itsinterims end up going full time with a client, and the figure is even higher atMacmillan Davis Hodes.Butfor those who take to it there is always the prospect of extending horizons.Having spent 31 years working in the financial sector in HR, Moules recentlyembarked on an integration project for a major insurance firm, and is nowhelping develop a performance management culture there. However, in the futurehe thinks there could be advantages in looking for fresh challenges outside hissector. In the meantime, a career as an interim has allowed Moules to gain amuch broader perspective of business. Thinking on his feet has become secondnature, he says, as new situations and challenges crop up on a daily basis.Oneof the greatest rewards is the ability to achieve results quickly. “Youlive on what you can deliver,” says Moules. “The challenge of jumpinginto different corporate worlds with immediate feedback on what you do isincredibly motivating. It often makes you feel more valued than in yourprevious life as an employee.”ResourcesAssociationof Temporary and Interim Management Services (ATIES): Industry Survey 2000, BIE/MORI 020-7222 1010, [email protected] Manager: A New Career Model for the Experienced Manager, DavidClutterbuck, Financial Times/Prentice Hall Publishing, ISBN 0 2736 3293 0MarketResearch Report 2000 and monthly Snapshot surveys, Russam GMS, Survey 2001, Leading Edge Interim Management, 020-7451 0051QuarterlyStatistics, Interim Management Association, 020-7462 3294 Related posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Business as usualOn 20 Nov 2001 in Personnel Todaylast_img

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