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Imagine your business is going through a difficult digital transformation. Your current management team has neither the skills nor the time to handle the situation adequately. Hiring a full-time manager is out of the question as you only need assistance for a few months. So what do you do?

Enter the interim manager, an experienced business leader who temporarily takes the lead in the process. When the job has been completed, or the contract expires, the interim manager leaves your organisation. So what does the interim manager do exactly?

Interim managers bring stability following the sudden departure of a senior leader, or offer a highly specialised skill set that a business may not have internally.

They are typically hired for three to six months, after which time they move to a new client and/or assignment.

Interim manager vs strategic consultant

The terms ‘interim manager’ and ‘strategic consultant’ are closely related – in fact, sometimes they are used interchangeably.

However, there are some important differences.
A strategic consultant offers advice on a specific business challenge, whereas an interim manager goes one step further and also implements the solution.

As a result, interim managers are more flexible and less restricted in terms of what they can and can’t do. They are strategists as well as hands-on problem solvers.

Finding the right interim manager

Interim managers are great trouble-shooters. The only challenge is finding the right profile for the job. When looking for an interim manager, there are two main options:

  • You contact an interim management firm, explain your business challenge and let them do the work to find the perfect match.
  • You start the recruitment process yourself, cutting out the middleman, thereby saving money. A word of warning though: the war for talent is real, and attracting the right interim manager can be a real struggle.

That’s why most companies get external help.

However, this begs the question: what criteria should you take into account when selecting an interim management firm? Because, let’s be honest, there are many to choose from, as the overview below illustrates.

“Interim managers bring stability following the departure of a senior leader.”

Making sense of the interim management landscape

There are two key differentiators that we can use to segment the competitive landscape of interim management and strategic consulting:

  • The extent to which a firm specialises in a specific business domain, as opposed to being a generalist across business domains?
  • The extent to which a firm focusses on providing human resources, or also provided business solutions in the form of strategic consulting?

Using these two differentiators, we can identify four types of firms.

1. Generalists that provide human resources

Examples include: Vacature.com, Randstad, zelfstandigen.be, maerten & partners

Generalist human resources firms cover all domains and focus on providing you with the staffing you need.

Benefits

  • These generalists usually boast high brand awareness and a large reach.
  • You can use one organisation across multiple business domains.
  • Generalists can also recruit for permanent positions.

Disadvantages

  • Their work method is not tuned to your business needs.
  • Their network is unsegmented.
  • If you have questions that go beyond recruiting, they are unlikely to provide the answers you need.

In other words: a generalist human resources provider is not your preferred partner for strategic business advice or strategy consulting.

2. Specialists that provide human resources

Examples include: Conversion talents, House of sales

Specialist human resources firms understand marketing and sales and know what to look for in candidates to meet your needs.

Benefits

  • These recruiters are highly specialised companies that headhunt interim managers in a specific business domain.
  • Their network is highly segmented, which could be a major advantage in some industries, for example headhunting C-level IT managers.

Disadvantages

These firms don’t necessarily have the mindset to consider your business needs outside of recruiting. Depending on your needs, this could be a major downside.

3. Generalists that provide consulting solutions

Examples include Deloitte, Bain & Company, McKinsey & Company

Generalist consulting firms offer a fresh perspective on your business challenges and provide strategy and management consulting services.

Benefits

  • These companies are an excellent solution if you want to bring in outside advice on a temporary basis.
  • They will provide fresh insights in an objective way.

Disadvantages

  • These firms don’t provide the human resources need to implement strategies, so you need to follow up on strategic advice yourself.

This could lead to problems if you bring in new resources to execute the strategy, especially where opinions differ on the strategy.

4. Specialists that provide strategic consulting with the interim management capabilities to support it

Example: 4P square

Sometimes companies need an interim manager to temporarily fill a position, e.g. because a key employee goes on maternity leave, or because the workload in a team is increasing unexpectedly.

But often it’s less straightforward than this. Companies may be struggling with more far-reaching business challenges, rather than just with staffing shortages. For challenges like, “How do I make my business decisions more data-driven?”, it’s not just an interim manager that you need, but also a strategic consultant.

Firms specialised in strategic consulting as well as interim management offer the best of both worlds – they excel at both , but their real strength lies in the combination of the two.

Benefits

  • You get immediate access to the right network. This level of segmentation significantly increases the chance of finding your ideal interim manager or strategic consultant fast.
  • They understand your business needs. For example, you want to make your marketing efforts more data-driven but are not sure where to begin. In this case, the firm can first provide you with an expert consultant to help you develop the right strategy, and then find you the best interim manager to start implementing it.
  • Working with the same company for your strategy and interim solutions ensures successful alignment between strategy and operations. And if you don’t need strategic consulting, you can simply focus on interim management recruitment.

Disadvantages

  • Working with a specialist has its downsides too. Notably the inability to provide consulting and interim management across departments. These firms may have well-defined boundaries of operations, whereas business problems often cross these boundaries.
“Firms specialised in strategic consulting as well as interim management offer the best of both worlds.”

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