What Sets Apart A Good Interim Manager From A Great One?

project manager

With industry data showing that project management is the top-ranking assignment for interim managers, Doug Baird, CEO from people advisory firm New Street Consulting Group looks at the three standout qualities that define a great interim manager.

Latest industry trends

The Institute of Interim Management’s 2023 report shows project manager roles are the most performed job type by Interim Managers (IMs). Almost 29% of interims are being used in this capacity, representing around 5% growth on last year. Looking more specifically at functional disciplines, the majority of IMs are fulfilling business change / transformation (18.4%) and programme / project management (12.9%) responsibilities.

There’s been little change in these figures in recent years and it’s clear that organisations across a variety of sectors, from professional services, retail and E-Commerce, through to financial services and manufacturing, are increasingly utilising IMs in high-priority positions.

Implementing strategic changes, new operational processes and delivering transformation projects can prove a challenge. However, getting them right can deliver benefits that organisations continue to reap long after an IM has completed their assignment. With this in mind, it can prove a significant difference for leaders to distinguish between what makes a good interim and what makes a great one.

Adaptable approach

Good interim managers will complete an assignment as per the brief but a great one won’t just follow a playbook; they’ll rewrite it when needed. Unforeseen challenges are often par for the course and great interims will embrace them head-on. These interims have a knack for keeping an open mind, exploring innovative solutions, and customising strategies to match the unique needs of an organisation.

They will draw on a wealth of insights and experiences gleaned from working across a diverse range of sectors, and with businesses of varying sizes and structures, to adapt and apply what they know in the most relevant and effective way.

A great interim is able to utilise their knowledge to constructively and positively interrogate a brief to create new possibilities and opportunities. This will be done in a logical and practical way to drive engagement, at both a senior level and among the teams who will be central to delivering projects. Overcoming apathy to change is often front of mind for a great interim, and they will have strategies for proactively addressing any indifference and lack of motivation to maximise impact and progress.

Impactful communication 

Good interim managers manage well, but the great ones are masterful communicators and have an ability to build solid relationships in a short amount of time. They understand that success isn’t just about numbers; it’s about getting everyone on board – a fundamental aspect for delivering change management and business transformation projects.

In addition to being curators of solutions, great interim managers will also communicate complex ideas in a way that makes sense to everyone. They will foster an environment where communication flows freely, and where ideas and feedback are encouraged and celebrated. Teams will feel valued and empowered, with a sense of ownership and pride in being part of a project. This feeds collaboration and momentum and builds resilience and determination to overcome any obstacles standing in the way of a project’s goals.

Impactful communication is achieved through a great IM’s desire to invest time in understanding an organisation’s DNA, its people, and the dynamics at play. Building trust in a short amount of time is one of their key ingredients for creating alignment during a period of transformation. Change is made possible with minimal disruption.

Long-term vision on short-term assignments

Good interim managers are quick on their feet, achieving short-term goals with ease. But it’s the great ones who set an organisation up for success long after their assignment is over.

Great interims don’t just check off tasks; they drive lasting, measurable improvements. They set clear metrics and key performance indicators, ensuring that everyone’s progress is on the radar.

But here’s the kicker: they balance short-term successes with a vision for the long haul. They aim to leave behind a legacy of success. How do they do it? By nurturing a team’s skills, fostering a culture of innovation and adaptability, and laying the foundation for future initiatives.

Doug Baird is Chief Executive Officer of New Street Consulting Group.

Doug Baird
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