My very first experience as an IM was when a friend asked me if I could assist the company he was working for. I agreed to meet the CEO and it was quickly apparent that the problems, while straightforward, were by now deep rooted. I found a perfectly good finance team and a successful entrepreneurial CEO but they didn’t have a common language or frame of reference. The CEO couldn’t get the information he wanted, presented as he wanted and the finance team couldn’t explain to him what the issues were and felt he wasn’t listening to them.
I agreed to take on what I could see was an FC role, for three months, to make necessary improvements in accuracy, timeliness and clarity of reporting and to find a candidate who wanted to do the role on a permanent basis. It took five months in the end to find and employ the right candidate but we did get what we needed.
During those five months, apart from the basic financial reporting, I was involved in the sales processes, contracts, HR, audits, R&D claims, IT support and the many other things that my experience to that point had covered, including offering a sounding board to the CEO. I was offered the FC role on a permanent basis on more than one occasion but turned it down as the things I was doing, I had done before and right now I was looking for a different challenge.
About four years later, the FC I hired departed having been promoted to FD. Things had grown to the stage where he had an FC reporting to him. There was a vacancy at FD level and the company was considering its options as to how to fill the position – did they promote the FC or look outside for a different level of experience? In the meantime the FC was effectively doing two roles, pressure was building and information was not flowing.
Knowing of the work I could do and having been pleased with the initial assignment the CEO instructed that I be hired to help. However a critical mistake was made which impacted the success of this assignment. For understandable but misguided reasons I was to report to the FC/D despite having more experience and indeed coincidentally having previously interviewed them for a position in an earlier client. They revealed to me much later that, despite assurances being given, they were convinced I was there to replace them and therefore made no serious attempt to engage with me. Fortunately there was some other work available within the company which I was able to help with but as the assignment fizzled out , the FC/D was busier than ever, management were as frustrated as before and I was underutilised.
From my experience in that company together with the 12 other assignments I have undertaken in 7 years as an IM, I can offer the following 3 key ingredients for a successful Interim Manger’s engagement:
3 key ingredients for a successful Interim Manger engagement
Based on my experience over the last 7 years these criteria help ensure both the IM and the client are happy. It is critical to IM’s that they received good references after each assignment and covering these topics will generally ensure that happens.
Clear understanding of initial objectives and reporting lines
One of my more complex assignments involved a company where there were a large number of interested parties with differing views on the path needed to be taken to ensure success. The company was fundamentally sound and has gone on to great things since. I was going in with no line manager responsibility and no authority to impose any view whatsoever. I spent some time before accepting the assignment on ensuring that it was clearly understood who I was reporting to and what my goals were. This proved to be very useful as, less than an hour into the assignment, it was clear that there was resistance to the ground rules for the engagement. By being able to refer to the previous discussions, this got resolved on the first day and I subsequently enjoyed a good rapport with the team. We accomplished our goals for the assignment. I don’t believe we would have done so had we spent days or weeks embroiled in arguing over reporting lines and what the aims of the engagement were.
In order to provide some tangible benefits to the client and to prove your credentials you must deliver some early wins. This should not be hard to do as almost by definition of being an IM you are going in to a situation where there are problems and you will have experienced something similar before. Rather than have 5 or 6 successes building up and waiting for a ta-dah moment, deliver results early and often.
Make sure the client understands the problem and the solution you have proposed. Ensure staff can see the benefits of what you are doing. Unfortunately in a number of situations staff expect the worst when you are brought in and are nervous about your aims – no matter what you say. Demonstration of benefits for them flowing from your work is the best way to show what it is you are there for.
Very often you are being engaged because your experience is a close or direct fit to solving a specific issue a client has. In truth particularly in larger clients there can be many areas where you can be an asset to the client while picking up additional assignments. In my case, I went from a pure finance role as Interim CFO to a more generalised role leading the project to re-launch a software product across many countries.
Engage with people in the client organisation. Offer solutions; don’t be afraid to show your experience by referring to similar situations you have encountered before. The role of an IM is to bring experience