Andrew Linger, Director of Executive Search at Robert Walters, explains how hiring executives on an interim basis can help businesses to overcome difficulties presented by organisational restructuring and divestment.
The executive search team was recently asked to assist a large multinational business cope with major organisational change following its divestment from its even larger parent. Despite being a multi-billion euro business, the company was small in comparison to the rest of the Group and most of the top level and corporate functionality (which had already been devolved to Group level) effectively disappeared overnight.
The company was then faced with the challenge of creating functionality – such as financial planning, treasury, procurement, and group consolidation – from scratch whilst trying to implement new financial systems before the transition services agreement expired.
Although this is a particularly extreme example, at some stage in their development many businesses are subject to major change restructuring and/or divestment. A loss of key personnel may be coupled with widespread changes to the business model, leaving reporting lines unclear and many departments disoriented.
To help resolve these issues, we are often asked to source executives on an interim basis who have the skills and experience to assist these new businesses in achieving their short-term strategic goals as well as implementing foundations for the medium and longer term.
In a time of great change, hiring an interim rather than a permanent executive has many advantages. Professionals who specialise in interim roles are often highly motivated by short periods of intense problem solving and the variety of an ever-changing professional landscape. They are independent and therefore able to take a fresh look at a company’s problems without needing to please a potential future boss.
The best interims are used to adapting to new environments quickly and have proven track of delivering projects within a defined period of time. They are typically results-driven and will therefore be highly committed, offering flexibility in terms of the hours and location they are prepared to work and the specifics of the role.
They can be recorded as a variable cost rather than a permanent or fixed overhead from a bookkeeping perspective. Additionally, interims provide companies with valuable time to look for a permanent executive to take over after the first stages of the new set-up have been completed. Once this is the case, the role will also be far more attractive and marketable.
In terms of what they can offer to an organisation undergoing widespread change, it is typically interim executives’ versatility that gives them the edge over permanent senior staff.
Interims often have experience of restructuring and/or building a new team, cost reduction, system installation and/or implementation and operational or organisation redesign. On a more practical level, they will also be used to working to tight deadlines, dealing with unplanned departures and raising capital.
Ultimately, they are specialists in managing transformation – it is what they do on a day-to-day basis. Although a business’ challenges may appear unique, it is likely there will be an interim with the experience of providing solutions in similar circumstances. Not only that, these interims are keen to take on the challenges and do not worry about the risks on their long-term career.
In times of major change restructuring, businesses may also consider using management consultants as an alternative to interim executives. It is worth highlighting a crucial difference between the two. Unlike interims, it is typically the management consultant’s job to recommend rather than implement changes.
By contrast, interims will not only proactively identify suitable options to a business but will also then make the changes required. It is this ability to formulate and execute a value-added business plan that ensures their ongoing popularity among organisations undergoing major change.
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