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Interim Management, Heaven or Hell? Print
You parachute into a company.
Spend three months with your sleeves rolled up solving a problem for them. And walk off into the sunset with their gratitude ringing in your ears.

Is this what interim management is all about? Well, yes, perhaps. But on the other hand, perhaps not.

Undertaking short assignments as a working “interim” manager for a variety of organisations is all the rage. It suits the employing organisation, providing flexibility in the management resources they use, with obvious cost benefits, and, potentially, it provides an exciting, challenging, and varied life for the interim manager.

But working as an interim manager is a very different lifestyle from being employed by a large organisation. An impressive management career in a corporate environment doesn’t necessarily mean you can go on to be a successful interim.

As an interim you will almost certainly be working as a one man, or one woman band. While working on assignment for an organisation you will be part of it, but at the same time you will still be an outsider. If being an integral and permanent part of a corporate environment is important to you – if you enjoy being a cog in the wheel of corporate life – then think carefully before attempting to embark upon a career as an interim manager.

There has to be an element of the loner in the successful interim. But if you have a few essential character attributes, can develop the right attitude, and have some good, transferable management experience, then interim management can provide a very rewarding career.
And it can be fun!

Some managers revel in corporate politics, although few would admit it. We all know managers who gain more satisfaction, and spend more time playing political games than actually doing the job they are paid to do. If you are one of these, forget interim management. As an interim manager working for a company on a short term assignment you are one step removed from corporate politics. You’re not a permanent fixture. You have come to do a particular job, and you’re just not there long enough to become a threat to, or a champion of individuals and causes.

Detachment from political games is actually seen by most successful interim managers as a very positive advantage of their chosen lifestyle.
But, beware. You may not be personally involved in the political machinations, but you need to be a pretty astute observer of them. Interim managers are hired to deliver results, quickly, and an early and accurate assessment of the organisation’s political climate is important to determine what is possible and what is not.

Yes, interim management is all about delivering results, which is why it is so different from consultancy work which, in the main, is all about delivering advice. Pressure to deliver can be intense, especially when you are working in a totally strange environment. A senior manager, newly recruited into a permanent role, might expect to progress through a carefully constructed induction programme for the first month after his arrival. This doesn’t happen if you are an interim. One of the most commonly used phrases in relation to interim management assignments is – you hit the ground running. The best interims will start delivering positive results for their client organisations in the first week they are on site.

So if you do not have a strong, natural orientation towards achieving, sometimes against the odds – think twice.

Of course, working on assignments is only a part of what an interim manager does. Unless you are very lucky, you will spend a significant amount of your life searching for appropriate assignments, and then winning them for yourself, sometimes in the face of stiff competition. This is the essential marketing and selling element of the job. If the thought of personal involvement in these aspects of business horrifies you, consider seriously whether interim management is right for you.

Almost certainly you will need to set up your own company as a vehicle for the delivery of your services. The success or failure of this company will be determined by you alone. Whatever management roles you may have filled in corporate life, you are now an entrepreneur. You are also Marketing Director, Sales Director, Finance Director, and Production Director of your own company. You need to have some belief in your personal ability to fill each of these roles with a degree of success.

It is the thought of having to market and sell oneself that often puts potential interim managers off. It shouldn’t.
Provided you have some natural empathy with other people, and have a reasonable ability to communicate, the rest of marketing and selling can be learnt. However, if you really are at your happiest tinkering with the insides of a PC on your own in a backroom, perhaps interim management is not for you.

Talking of PCs, it goes without saying that a reasonably high degree of computer literacy is an essential attribute for the successful interim. Not only will you have to run your own business efficiently from your office at home – without the benefit of the corporate helpline to sort out your problems – but you will be expected on assignment to have a quick grasp of your client’s computer systems.

The lack of the corporate helpline is an example of how different life can be as a one man band. Many executives who have worked their way up to relatively senior positions in large organisations are just not aware of the extent of the corporate infrastructure that surrounds them. Personal assistants, secretaries, other staff, whole support departments – they are all there, supposedly, to enable the executive to maximise the time he spends focused on the really important management issues.

When you go it alone as an interim manager, all that support is gone. Unless you have a very willing and able spouse or partner – you do everything yourself. And until you try it, you would just not believe how much time can be spent on basic administrative tasks.

So, to be or not to be? If you are a self confident, results oriented, experienced manager, who relishes building your own successful company by delivering good value to your clients, then a career in interim management might not be heaven, but it certainly could be an extremely enjoyable and rewarding way of working life.

But if, deep down, you really love all that goes with being part of a large corporate organisation, save yourself some pain. Employ interim managers, rather than try and be one.

2001 © David Stranack

Initially a banker, David Stranack, fell into computing in the early sixties ( - almost a pioneer!), and the rest of his corporate life was spent making money ( - or at least trying to make money!) from selling and marketing computing services. He opted out of corporate life in 1994, and since then has had a great time freelancing as a consultant, trainer, writer, and - of course - interim manager.
David can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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