The first International Conference for Research into Interim Management was held on 17 April 2008 and was attended by some very distinguished interims from across Europe including the only two British interims with doctorates in subjects related to interim management, Dr Ian Daniell and Dr Martin Dorchester. In addition, there were representatives from various interim providers as well as a number of academics with connections to this field. The event was admirably hosted Ian Daniell of forim. It is worth noting that there were no clients at the seminar.
During the seminar there were very lively debates on the subjects of the size, nature and definition of interim management and its industry. These discussions raised some very relevant and interesting questions and identified and defined some of the characteristics common to interim managers that enable them to compress the “90 day” induction into a week and to deliver quickly and successfully.

These characteristics were explored in detail from the perspective of the interims by Martin Dorchester and Anton Fisher from Allium. In addition, Jaques Reijniers gave a concise overview of the state of the Dutch industry and Fr Dr Vera Blooemer from the German perspective, from the point of view of the IMA and IIM, as well as in terms of legislation and academic support.

Despite the ongoing success of interim management and the often quoted returns of 10-20x the cost of an assignment the product is still not a clearly identified or defined commodity. The research shows that most interims only complete between 2 and 5 assignments during their careers, and that buyers are primarily those that have used interims before. Clients tend to buy from those interims that they know, like and trust and with whom they share a similar approach and business style. As yet no-one has explored the issues surrounding growth of the interim market: is it ready to grow and is the structure in place to support this growth?

Anton Fisher noted that organisations tend not to support their internal senior executives to ‘hit the ground running’ when they take on a new role or responsibility and yet an interim manager coming into the same role will be able to provide immediate impact within days.
Charles Russam suggested the average age of interims is falling, female interims now make up more than 20% of the total and the rates of pay are rising. The danger is that interims are an interesting group of individuals who tend to be quite entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurs tend to sell products that no one else has thought of and it is their good judgement that has led to their success. I am not aware of anyone that has managed to turn entrepreneurship into a commodity – so the question remains; can anyone turn interim management into a commodity?

If by inference, the buyer or client, should be similar in outlook to the entrepreneurial interim then how many potential buyers or clients have these characteristics in order to achieve a sale and subsequently produce a successful engagement and assignment? I would suggest that it is those potential clients who are outside our group who have not already been sold to who hold the answer to this question. Only those with self assurance and a clear understanding of what they need will become the clients who will let us do what we need to do to deliver the outcomes to help their businesses succeed and grow. But how many potential clients are there running large operations with these characteristics?

In order to make sense of the endless debate around market size we should take the time to understand those who do not become clients, those business executives who are not prepared to engage with interim managers or buy our services. I remember hearing that most CEOs go on package holidays…

Martin Dorchester indicated that interims have very specific personal characteristics: they are status neutral, successful, courageous, trustworthy, decisive, empathetic, bright but not super bright and with a clear level of self regulation and control. Reijniers went on to articulate the similar competencies of a wider group of individuals that included interims, consultants, specialists, line and project managers as well as executive managers and then grouped them altogether under the term ‘interim management’. He stated that the buying gap could be addressed by professionalising the market and clients. But is this possible? Or is it implying a fundamental personality change that is not realistic?

Above all trust, honesty and integrity seem to be the central characteristics of a career interim manager. But again, what does this tell us about our clients? And what do they think and how do they view their interims?

The issue of IMA value was raised through providers offering in-assignment training. The question for the IIM is therefore what makes a successful interim? What are their key skills, qualities and characteristics? And how can we develop our package of services to meet the clients that are currently outside of our scope?

Simon Berry’s presentation entitled ‘Another fine mess you have got me into’ called upon the data he had gathered over the past year from those attending the IMA Workshop. He suggested that rates for working through an interim provider were typically higher with IMA holding 37% of the market. His data also stated that the private sector leads on rates when compared to the public sector and that 93% of interims felt their first assignment met or exceeded their expectations.

The last set of data, gathered from clients, was presented by Jaap Shaveling and painted quite a different picture. It supported the claim that if you ask your peers you are likely to hear what you want to hear. He illustrated the difference between the client’s perspective of target delivery and that of the interim’s. He went on to state that at the start of an assignment IM providers tend to play an active role that justifies their fee but that during the ongoing assignment their active involvement becomes less and less.

Shaveling indicated that whilst 79% of targets had been achieved although only 30% resulted in a clear change in strategy. He also suggested that IMs have a high need for autonomy within their assignments and as professionals. So the question remains – will interim management ever become a commodity or will it continue to evolve, as it has done to date, on the basis of established personal relationships?

I will be interested to see how Ian Daniell keeps up the momentum. Certainly from our perspective the IIM / and I guess those who attended we all have been given plenty to think about. Dr Daniell suggests moving forwards the future area of his research will be investigating an interims ability to embed an enduring client legacy.

When trying to draw some conclusions from what had been a very full day – there is no doubt that this seminar provided some fascinating and thought-provoking debates even though the attendees consisted of a group of people who were effectively ‘preaching to the converted’. I would like to suggest that we all consider how to identify and understand those outside our current client and interim base and use this information and by working together better support, develop and represent our industry. In this way IIM are already undertaking a full review of our services to refocus and increase our value for clients, interim providers and clearly interims that comes through being an accredited member of the IIM – so watch this space.

Tom Pickering (IIM Director of Membership Development)

(Interims wishing to provide case study relating to legacy) Ian Daniell