Are Interim Managers Really Different?

Are Interim Managers Really Different?

By Keith Butler

Over the 15 years or so that I have been involved in interim management, I have worked with interims from most sectors and disciplines, ranging from first time interims to seasoned professionals with a wealth of experience. During this time, I have often been asked “what makes a successful interim?”. Alongside having a marketable skillset, the experience to make a difference and the ability to ‘hit the ground running’, I have always felt that the most effective interims tend to be good communicators, resilient and thrive in situations of change and uncertainty. However, this is a very subjective opinion. Therefore, on joining Wickland Westcott, I felt the time was right to carry out a more scientific exercise to determine whether experienced interims share any common attributes.

Wickland Westcott employs a team of experienced occupational psychologists and has a vast array of assessment tools at their disposable. We invited professional interims to complete a personality profiling test called Credo. Credo identifies an individual’s preferences, motivational drivers and likely behaviours in the workplace environment, and outlines the implications in a business context.

Collating the responses to the completed tests, we then compared them to our database of over 3000 assessments completed on permanent senior managers and professionals.
The key findings from the survey are as below, grouped into three general headings:

1) Interims flourish in ambiguity and enjoy a challenge

  • Interim managers tend to be more comfortable operating in flexible and ambiguous environments.
  • As such, they tend to be able to tolerate greater levels of uncertainty when compared to other managers and professionals.
  • They also had a slight tendency to be more enthusiastic and ‘up for a challenge’ than other managers and professionals.
  • This preference also indicates that they are less likely to enjoy environments that are highly process driven or where there is a lack of flexibility or autonomous working.

2) Their style of communication is low key and supportive

  • Interims tend to be more accommodating and measured in their communication style when compared to other managers and professionals.
  • This suggests a more supportive and collegiate leadership style.
  • However, they may be more cautious in what they say and at times may not assert their views as strongly as some. Whilst this might not fit with some people’s perceptions of interim managers, it may well be due to interims wanting to make sure that any views they give can be fully backed up by facts rather than subjective opinions.
  • There is also a tendency to be more sceptical and guarded when trusting people. This would suggest that they may be less inclined to give others the benefit of the doubt in certain situations. Again, this is probably due to them distancing themselves from politics and personalities and offering a more objective, facts-based solution to the challenges they have been brought in to address.

3) They are possibly more introverted than extroverted

  • Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, interims showed lower levels of social confidence and were more modest than other managers and professionals.
  • Less surprisingly, given the nature of interim work, they were less likely to seek out high levels of recognition for work efforts, possibly due to being more confident and focused on completing the task in hand rather than needing reassurance from managers and peers.
  • The results would indicate that the group may, at times, need to proactively raise their profile, for instance when joining a new organization where their track record will be less well known. However, given that we are evaluating responses from interim managers, it is more likely to reflect the fact that they do not feel the need to promote themselves too much. They will typically have high level backing and will focus more on achieving results for the business as per their brief, rather than on self-promotion.

Conclusion

Overall, interim managers and directors showed similar personality traits to their permanently employed counterparts in many areas. However, as is to be expected, they appear more comfortable in situations characterised by change and have developed an approach and communication skills needed to be effective in such circumstances.

What might initially be unexpected is that interims tend to be more introverted than extroverted. However, this probably reflects the fact that they do not necessarily need external validation or the approval of others to function effectively and achieve the results they need to. This backs up my own experiences in that the better interims tend not to shout from the rooftops about what they are doing but rather will quietly and confidently go about making the changes needed improve business performance and achieve their assignment aims.

As such, it might well be worthwhile clients assessing these skills when they meet with potential interims and, possibly more importantly, individuals considering a career in interim management reflecting as to whether they have these attributes before ‘taking the plunge’ and entering the interim world.

If you need any further advice, please contact me at keith.butler@wickland.westcott.email or on 01625 508100.


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