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Where do interim managers come from?

March 11, 2015

Where do interim managers come from?

For many years interim management (IM) has been considered as something still around the corner in the evolving Central European markets. Companies considered their managers and specialists as their most important assets, and highly qualified employees were enjoying upcoming new challenges with their current employer or the next better offer from the market.

However, even in an economy driven by growth and foreign investment, there have been opportunities for project-driven managers: privatization, mergers and acquisitions, and expansions to new internal and external markets.

Many of these projects have been completed by Czech (mostly employed) managers, who gained experience in different organizations. Each project moved them further, to bigger challenges and new markets.

Since late 2008, two things happened in the contracting market. The number of managerial positions decreased across all industries and organizations, and the nature of managerial challenges changed from “growth, expansion, stabilization” to “limiting damage and adapting to the new context.”

These new circumstances are favorable to the development of interim management as a service and as well to the differentiation of self-employed interim managers from employed managerial staff.

Internal or external?

Enterprises facing change projects will have to ask themselves, whether they have the internal resources and changes agents to implement change and/or to push the organization in a new direction. If the company does not have the resources, it will have to decide if it would make sense to employ a manager for the change project and take the responsibility for his professional career after the completion of the project, or if it shall engage an independent interim manager, who would work on a limited-time project basis.

Senior managers and specialists will have to decide for their sake, if they would like to search for their next job, providing them with the relative security and protection provided by a labor contract even if the managerial jobs available on the Czech market are smaller and competition is growing. In many cases they will compete with younger and less experienced, but more hungry Czech managers and face employers, who prefer to recruit talent rather than experience.

There are, however, some individuals with a proven record of corporate management experience who decide not to move back to jobs they have left behind. In this case, they have two choices: to create their own enterprises or to work as interim managers for companies in need of their specific experience on a project basis.

Who is an interim manager?

Interim managers are not necessarily supermen/women and – in most cases – they do not need experience from the U.S., Russian or other international markets. Interim managers are often born in the time of economic downturn, in the Benelux countries and the UK in the 1980s, in Germany starting in 2000 and now in the Czech Republic and the CEE region.

The link between IM and crisis often leads to the conclusion that interim managers are corporate managers unable to find a new employment. This perception or prejudgment does not take into account that the job of an interim manager necessitates in many aspects more energy, preparation, decisiveness and adaptability than a usual corporate management job.

So, interim managers are people with a corporate past who have chosen to work on a project basis for any number of reasons.

Personality is the most important

When we started looking at interim management and interim managers, we first invited those who are already working as managers on projects for company owners or their representatives. We invited them to round tables and assessment centers in order to learn how they differ from corporate managers. After a few sessions with different groups of people we realized it was more about personality than about skills and experience, which are needed anyway and can be checked from references.

Interim managers distinguished themselves by a high level of autonomy and confidence paired with determination and a high commitment to the task and project they have been entrusted with. This commitment is more important to them than the need to make themselves irreplaceable in the organization they are working for. Staying for a limited time, they are often working on projects and positions, for which they would be considered overqualified with regard to their past experience.

Seven of ten managers, who approach us for interim manager positions, where actually not made for this job and we have to sort it out with them. Even among interim managers, there are people made for different interim management jobs. There are change managers, who can move mountains, but always have to move at the right moment not to destroy their own accomplishments; there are skill- and method-driven project managers (for example for Lean or Six Sigma projects), who can teach organizations during a limited time; and there are experienced professionals motivated by stepping temporarily into the shoes of a manager absent for a couple of months.

Demand vs. offer

Recently, we have learned in the media about the lack of appropriate interim managers in the Czech market. Our experience does not confirm this statement: whenever asked by a client, we were able to find within a few weeks complementary individuals interested and qualified for the task. More often, we are struggling with potential clients who have a too opportunistic approach and do not really differentiate an interim manager from a manager in a “try and hire” working mode.

A mature interim manager would not accept a “try and hire” offer, but he/she can often add more value to the company facing change than a person striving to get long-term employment. But a company might access a much more senior and experienced resource to solve the situation it faces if it decides to opt for an interim manager.

Jana Martinová is managing partner for the Czech Republic and Slovakia at AGIM