The Rise of the Interim Change Manager

By Charles Russam

Posted: 27th November 2012 09:48

The UK may be coming out of recession, but many businesses still remain cautious when taking on new projects or looking at expansion.  As a result, many are reluctant to hire full time permanent staff at a senior level and more companies are turning to Interim Managers to bring in new skills and expertise, on a temporary basis.  Charles Russam, Chairman of Russam GMS, a provider of Interim Managers for over 30 years, discusses the rise of the interim change manager.
 
The Confederation of British Industry predicted this month UK GDP will grow by 1.4% in 2013 and although we are officially out of recession, no economists are predicting huge growth for 2013.  Business owners are coming to terms with the fact that the current economic climate is the new norm.  Many are keen to start tackling projects they have put off since the start of the recession, such as restructuring their business or implementing big change programmes, but are often finding they lack the skills and expertise within their company to undertake such projects.
 
This is where the interim change manager comes in.  We conduct a six monthly market snap shot survey of 12,000 interims and over the past year, we have seen a growing number of senior interim managers specialising in change management.  Change management has emerged as a new job discipline and increasingly, CEOs are hiring interim change management experts to help them handle their toughest business challenges and to move their business to the next level. 
 
Our research reported that many interim assignments are focused on change management with almost one in five interims saying they are involved in change management in some form, rather than more traditional interim ‘gap-filling’ assignments, which make up just 13% of the total projects.   
 
Senior Level Support, No Overheads
 
So why is this? Interims are proving popular because they offer skills, experience and knowledge, which often doesn’t exist within the organisation.  They are senior level executives a company can employee on a temporary, part time or project basis without the overheads of a full-time employee.  Many businesses today simply can’t afford to take on such senior level executives full-time, but they recognise they need people of this calibre to lead a major transformation project.
 
Interims differ from consultants in that they lead a project from start to finish, only handing back to the business once it’s complete.  Sometimes, they end up recruiting their replacement for the company at the end of the assignment as well – handing over the day to day running of a project after it has been implemented.  Consultants on the other hand tend to be brought into businesses at great expense to offer strategic advice, but rarely see a project through.
 
One classic interim example is Dennis Rolfe a successful interim manager since 2002 who was taken on by Aero Inventory, an aircraft parts supplier for a 12-month compliance, and later customer relations role, in order to develop the business into a saleable going concern after going into administration.  His role included ensuring all aspects of the business were compliant, helping to re-launch the business, as well as later becoming Head of Customer Service and Head of Supply Chain, as senior management expertise was required in these areas as the business developed. 
 
Dennis was also tasked with recruiting a permanent member of staff to take over as Head of Compliance.  It was his unique mix of skills and experience including general management skills, change management as well as expertise in compliance and import and export legislation that meant he was instrumental in supporting the business turnaround and helping to generate around £2 million worth of sales a month, up from zero when he joined.
 
Demand for interims from banking & finance sector
 
One sector that is showing strong demand for skilled interims is banking and finance.  Research earlier this year from the Interim Management Association (IMA) found banking and finance accounted for around half of all interim management assignments that go through an interim provider in the private sector, during the first quarter of 2012, up 14 percentage points from the previous quarter. 
 
The banking and financial services sector is increasingly demanding interim change managers to drive major transformation projects, such as mergers and acquisitions, restructuring and compliance work.  Typically, banks won’t have individuals with the skills and experience to lead such projects on their payroll.  It makes more financial and business sense to hire in this specialist resource on a project basis.  Interims pose a less risky option for banks in the current climate as they are a resource that can be turned on and off, with little or no overheads such as pensions to pay.
 
Interims in this sector can expect to get rewarded well and are amongst the highest paid interims of all business sectors.  Our research found that banking, finance and insurance was the second highest paying sector, with an average daily rate of £701 per day, with only those working in the FMCG sector paid more at £853 per day.  Interestingly interims working as change managers are now achieving the highest daily rates across all professional disciplines of £718 per day.
 
Change Management Skills ‘Very Specific & Rare’
 
Leon Labovitch has specialised in interim change management for the past eight years working in manufacturing, banking and the retail sectors.  He says the skills of a change manager are very specific and rare – a hybrid of business strategy mixed with programme and project management skills.  He says the strengths of a change manager are strategic insight, the ability to quickly identify and communicate problems within a business, devise a strategy for change and importantly, deliver that change.
 
Jacqui Dunning is a former consultant at PA Consultancy who set up her own change management business in 2009.  She was attracted to change management as a result of her fascination with solving business problems and because she had seen ‘too many’ good projects and policies ruined by poor implementation.
 
Jacqui Dunning says: “Too many businesses have great strategies and plans that aren’t implemented properly which is why I moved from consultancy into project delivery.  But there are skills needed as a change manager.  Firstly, you need to be resilient and recognise that no one likes change so people within a business will be naturally suspicious of you.”
 
“You also need a diverse range of skills to succeed including great analytic ability to quickly assess problems, excellent communication skills and boundless energy and passion to get people to buy into your vision of change.  You need determination to see the plans through to the end.  You must be a good listener and strong leadership skills are essential as they contribute to at least 70% of project success.”
 
The future then is bright for the interim manager specialising in change management.  As the UK moves out of recession, business owners are fed up putting projects on hold, and will want to get things moving.  The lack of skills and expertise within their business and the reluctance financially to take on full-time senior executives means there is a huge opportunity for interims with the right skill set and experience to take up the reins.

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