People management: tap into a source of senior skills
Many SMEs shy away from the idea of consultants. The common view is that they are overpriced underachievers. Consultants may tell you what your problems are but they often fail to put things right. The old joke used to be that a management consultant borrows your watch to tell you the time, then walks off with the watch. For those wary of consultants, interim managers may prove a far better bet.
Interim managers provide senior skills on tap. If your accountant is nabbed with his fingers in the till, or the latest marketing project goes horribly awry, an interim manager offers a safe pair of hands to steer you through the worst of company crises. SMEs, which are under-performing, reorganising, embarking on a new project, lacking skills in a particular area or struggling to cope with the unexpected departure or illness of a key member of staff, could find an interim executive to be the perfect solution to a temporary skills shortage.
Interim managers are definitely not consultants, points out Chris Beehan, executive director of NB Selection, who has placed interim managers in a variety of small firms. The big difference is that temporary executives are employed as managers in the company. They are doers rather than advisers.
The value of interim managers is that they get their sleeves rolled up and do the job from day one. Typically in their 50s, they have generally reached board level in a large organisation before deciding to opt for the permanently impermanent senior manager's life. They usually have some degree of financial independence and will be overqualified for the job that they are asked to do.
For an SME lacking perhaps expertise in every management discipline, an interim manager can provide a temporary injection of skills. A small company, for example, may have nobody with specific marketing expertise.
Rather than employ a marketer full-time or cobble a marketing strategy together, the company could employ an interim manager (with perhaps previous marketing experience in a major plc) for one or two days a week, or even a month. Or, the temporary executive could be employed on a contract of one to six months.
Finding an interim manager is easy. Some temporary executives find work by word-of-mouth; many others are on the books of recruitment firms.
The Association of Temporary and Interim Executive Services (ATIES) can also provide further information on how to benefit from temporary managerial expertise. An interim manager will cost a small firm between £300 and £500 a day - not cheap, certainly, but he or she will be overqualified for the job, will have been there and done it all before and may offer a fresh approach, which may change the firm's fortunes.
Judith Oliver is a contributing editor for Management Today.