This is the third of a series of blogs that explores the every day reality of the professional interim. Five micro case studies have been received and have been analysed to validate the five research propositions that I highlighted last week. The five cases are being published as a separate blog below.
Again, I would very much like to thank the five contributors and will let the reader dwell on why more professional interims have not stepped forward to share their views? Perhaps it is to do with disinterest, apathy, or fear of being “marked” by some ISPs (interim service providers) as a bit of a radical or a trouble-maker?
The five contributors were:
- Wendy Williams
- Andrew Turner
- John Gelmini
- James Elliott
- Christian Fielding
I would argue that Wendy and Andrew are probably two of the most experienced and capable professional interims that have operated in the UK market place. Andrew, like myself, has operated at the top of the profession for over twenty years. Wendy brings ten years plus as a top-tier professional interim (PI) and another ten years as a consultant. John Gelmini is a well-known consultant and interim, with more than fifteen years experience, and has been an active campaigner for the interim industry to improve its offering. James Elliott has specialized as a PI/management consultant in Financial Services sector for over ten years – I employed him as an interim some years ago and now regard him as a close friend, as well. Christian Fielding volunteered to help with this research and has a career of ten years as a PI/independent consultant on top of an earlier career at PwC.
The reader is reminded that this is qualitative research that seeks to capture the subjective reality, so the reader is strongly encouraged to read the five cases and reflect on the citations from the cases.
B. DETAILED MICRO CASES
Having over 10 years experience as an interim and 10 years as a consultant, I have seen a distinct change in the industry. Interim was a profession that had special status when I entered. I was impressed the knowledge and experience of interims that I met. Gravitas and excellent client relationship handling skills were without exception the mark of a good interim. Interims were known and in demand – they also had tight relationships with ISPs (interim service providers) or had built their own networks through personal renown.
Now there is a much looser grasp of the concept of interim, it has difficulty in describing itself and is seen more as a transient occupation, rather than a profession. It is less focused on delivering cost-effective expertise and more about doing job fills. It has become commoditized by the ISPs whose major focus is to win the business at any cost. They do not differentiate on value by selling the cost-effective loan of an expert.
It has become increasingly difficult for ISPs with the complex and bewilderingly nonsensical procurement hurdles. The poorly thought out recruitment criteria is usually based on a permanent role and not interim, so it effectively screens out potentially great interims – who naturally, will fail to match. Interims don’t even get to the see the clients or scope the assignment properly, so ultimately the organization recruits the lowest common denominator.
As to the future, I fear no change. No provider seems willing to stick their neck out or do anything different, such as putting their reputation & money on the line publicly and guaranteeing clients true interim value add. It’s changing the mind-set of the clients that will shift the market. As over 60% of interims get their own business they don’t have the collective capability to shift the market focus towards the benefits of interim. The two interim institutes (IIM & API) try but they haven’t been able to break the mould with clients. The IMA maintain the status quo.
So sadly, I see committed professional interims ploughing a lonely furrow in increasingly stony ground. These professionals are marketing their capabilities as flexibly as they can against the constant barriers they face. To work consistently they require the flair of an entrepreneur to spot emerging needs in the market. In the future, interim may need to think about rebranding itself – back to the senior expert on loan – so that everything else is recognized for what it is – commoditized contracting.
Harnessing the capabilities of interims executives to support organizations through these harsh economic times is an obvious and sensible solution. It needs an insightful thrust from a courageous Provider to guide Interim through the current quagmire of safe-bet mediocrity.
Although preceded by three years as a consultant specialising in M&A in Latin America, I became an independent executive in 1994, when Chris Behan (then at NBS) offered me my first assignment as MD of a company languishing in the doldrums and in steady decline. I leave it to you to judge whether my IE career spans 18 or 21 years. Having said that, do my four years turning around two companies that I bought for my own account count as interim management assignments? If so, I have then been an IE for 25 years!
What’s in a name? Definitions, definitions, it’s on the altar of these terms that IM is being sacrificed, as there is no really clear description of what an IM is, or should be, so the term has become all things to all men, probably reducing its value in the minds of many to the lowest common denominator.
This is the greatest change undergone by the sector. In the days when the likes of Chris Behan, Carl Hague (Praxis), Martin Wood et al strutted their stuff upon the stage, their emphasis was upon the provision of high level management talent to fill gaps at Board level; to provide top management talent that was in short supply within the client organisation. Almost by definition this approach was a low volume, high value business model.
As a result of the de-layering and downsizing that took place in the 1990 which was driven as much by a drive for efficiency as by the technological revolution in IT, today the emphasis is predominantly upon the high volume and much lower value supply of contract labour and temporary staff, the preserve of the recruitment industry.
The IM industry is at a cross roads; or perhaps more accurately, senior IM’s at C level are at a cross roads. My view is that in order to remain credible players on the management stage, senior IM’s will have to review their routes to market, no longer relying upon ISP’s as their point of entry (unless they are contractors or temp staff), and recognising that the lone-wolf approach has significant weaknesses, not least of which is lack of strong branding.
My view is that some form of cooperative venture between top-tier independent executives is a viable way of creating that elusive brand that delivers client recognition and the quality assurance clients’ demand.
I have not worked through intermediaries for a couple of years, but at that time their approach was no more cumbersome than at any other time. Having said that though, I was working through an intermediary who knew me well, having carried out a few assignments with him in the past (David Jensen & Stephen Goldman of Brooklands Executives).
What has surprised me though is recently being asked by a new ISP on the block whether I would carry out a psychometric test to determine my suitability as an interim manager. If that is a reflection of bureaucracy then clearly it is on the increase.
I have been an interim since 1995, a period of 16 years both within the UK and on occasions in Europe and the Channel Islands. I have operated in the private sector across a wide range of industries including software, telecoms, construction, call-centres, insurance, retail-banking, cardholder services, factoring, invoice discounting, travel, brewing, debt management, collective investments, engineering, robotics and visioning, investigative services, security, direct sales and offshore tax planning. Breaking into the public sector took me a decade but I have now worked within County Councils, District Councils and Town Councils. Beyond that, I have undertaken assignments in the “quangocracy” – housing associations, off-shoring and charitable sector. My specialism is change and radical transformation using a mixture of Western techniques, Eastern techniques learnt from the Japanese plus marketing, business development and sales direction.
The interim community has changed in that the number of ISPs has and is reducing and rates at the bottom have fallen below what they were a decade ago. At the top end, rates are firm for a handful of people and power has moved firmly in the direction of clients because short-sighted ISP’s have not been firm enough and have allowed bogus interims(redundant managers/executives looking for income whilst looking for work) onto their databases whilst deliberately forcing down rates.
I am not irritated by bureaucracy from ISP’s but too many of them are intrusive and presumptuous when there is nothing on the table. They are also too sales led and some of them have difficulty handling the truth and expect people to be obsequious when they have nothing concrete to offer. Similarly they frequently offer gratuitous advice, do not know Employment Law and are often tick-box driven, too often kowtowing to clients, rather than engaging robustly and selling value. Their marketing is often poor or non-existent and through their slowness and unwillingness to lobby/shape the agenda, and co-operate, they have lost the Public Sector to the “Big 4” which represents 50% of the marketplace in just eighteen months.
Un-willingness on the part of certain leaders within the industry to acknowledge their role in this failure is telling. That said I have worked with some excellent ones and have identified perhaps 15 more in that category.
The outlook for the market in the UK is challenging unless you are well-connected and/or can sell, network and /or get recommended.
My own approach is to treat the present economy as the “new normal”(i.e. assume that it will never improve), look for clients more widely treating the world as my market, metamorphosing into consultancy mode as necessary and not relying on 3rd parties.
I commenced my first role as an Interim Executive/Consultant in March 1999 in a period that was, I believe, experiencing the tail-end of the traditional corporate structure of Directors and Senior Managers that had existed during most of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Within this established structure, Directors and managers tended to remain within an organisation for a considerable period, if not for their whole working life, and hence took a long-term view of the business and its socio-economic influence in both micro and macro terms.
For better or worse, the period of deregulation within Anglo-Saxon economies post the 1970’s led to a growth of amalgamations, consolidations and takeovers resulting in the emergence of powerful, multinational organisations whose decisions can impact or influence Government policy. This situation of large, powerful organisations has been likened to medieval times where the King (Government) was ultimately dependent upon the goodwill of the Barons (corporations). Consequently, within this concept, the Directors and senior staff of such organisations have been likened to mercenaries whose loyalty is to themselves and who will serve the organisation that provides the best fiscal reward at that particular time.
A variety of research tends to support the above paragraph with, for example, the average tenure of a FTSE 100 company Financial Director being 3.5 years, and the oft quoted cry that ‘in an international market we must compete for staff with other countries’. With the subsequent growth of ‘performance related pay’ and annual bonuses added to the equation, short-term strategies seem to play an increasingly important part within organisational planning. Whilst it is not the purpose of this article to judge or evaluate upon examples of short, rather than long, term policies within both the Public and Private sector it is important to recognise the environment in which organisations operate and its subsequent importance to the Interim Executive.
Bearing the above in mind, along with the Global Economic climate and the threat of further worldwide recession, there would appear to be major implications for the Interim Executive/Consultancy Industry in that.
- Interims must fully understand the timeline objective needs and pressures of the organisation, both from the contractual micro and overall macro perspective and how best they can bring added value.
- There must be a clear dichotomy between professional career Interims and those who, due to layoffs caused by the recession, see interim work as a stop-gap prior to future full-time employment. Intermediaries should recognise this market segmentation and structure their organisations accordingly. Currently, too many intermediaries are utilising both inefficient databases and generalist staff who have little, if any, knowledge of their specialist offering.
In conclusion, corporate culture is now global and has undergone a great deal of change within the last 10-15 Years. Consequently, professional interims and intermediaries must evolve in order to reflect the requirements of the new operating environment.
Professional, interim/consultant, since 2002 since leaving PwC.
In the last ten years, I have noted an increase in the numbers of interims in the market space – perhaps fuelled by individuals such as myself, who were keen to set up and run their own organizations or be part of something smaller than the large corporate firms? I also sense there has been a very large growth of intermediaries offering both interim and perm roles. In fact there appears to be a blurring between interim providers and recruitment firms and consultancies.
The current economic client along with the numbers of interims means that there are lots of people who want to genuinely add value and help client’s tackle issues but are finding it more challenging to find the right role. There appears to be a large supply for a smaller demand!
I sense that the use of tightly defined criteria and especially perhaps an over focus on sector experience means that transferable skills are being potentially being ignored. In addition I understand that use of searches on key words in CVs/Linked In etc may well ease identification of candidates because it is quicker but as a result the client may well end up missing out on the “best” interim for the role.