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Success with interim professionals

16/03/2023 – An interim professional is a kind of temporary manager who can provide companies with temporary support for projects and/or staff shortages or absences. Especially in the current precarious environment, Stephan Bart, Senior Manager Interim Recruitment at Robert Walters, states that companies appreciate flexible professionals more and more because they can be deployed at short notice and for a limited period of time. We spoke to Stephan Bart about his experience in interim management recruitment and the advantages for companies. 

Weighing the costs and benefits of bottlenecks and vacancies carefully 

Companies' need for temporary managers, both nationally and globally, is growing enormously. According to Stephan Bart, demand has increased significantly since mid-2021 with a renewed surge in the second and third quarters of 2022. A short-term absence of an employee - be it due to termination, pregnancy or, as is often the case at present, due to an extended period of sick leave - can put a great strain on a team. Managers tend to take on the additional tasks themselves or try to manage them with their staff. The majority of these fail due to a lack of resources, competencies or expertise. With this behaviour, managers risk not being able to complete a project adequately and professionally. In the worst case, they stagnate, are delayed or abandoned altogether. Due to the lack of support, resentment and excessive demands spread within the team. Stephan Bart explains:  

"Companies often shy away from the costs of an interim professional. However, this is usually counterproductive. Instead of placing an additional burden on the team during peak times, staff shortages or leaving positions completely unfilled, one should weigh up the costs and benefits against each other. External resources are often the more sensible solution here."

This investment pays off in the medium and long term. He recommends that decision-makers be open to bridging vacancies with freelance technical, management and subject specialists. 

Acceptance in the team 

It is desirable that the rest of the (management) team stands behind the decision to appoint an interim manager. It happens that interim professionals are not welcomed with open arms everywhere. Often the decision for an external manager is made at a time when the team is already rumbling and the employees are overworked and frustrated. In addition, they view the high daily rates of the external staff with scepticism. The manager should therefore make sure that the team cooperates well with the interim manager and does not see him as a competitor, because: These experts are there to relieve the permanent employees in the short term and to achieve improvements. Interim professionals have by no means the intention to take over the permanent positions of other colleagues. Their goal is to successfully complete the task for which they were brought in with the help of the existing team and then leave the company again.  

Is the costly use of interim managers worth it? 

Interim professionals are highly trained, quickly available technical, management and subject specialists. They have a wealth of experience and have often successfully implemented similar tasks several times in the past. They know what needs to be done. Their neutral position enables them to look at situations more objectively. They also question processes that no one else would question. If something has been running sub-optimally for years, the internal staff often no longer even notice.  
An important advantage is that a temporary expert is already able to act after a short onboarding and the necessary competences do not have to be built up in a lengthy process. Especially with difficult tasks, it is a huge advantage to have someone with the relevant experience and knowledge take over the implementation. 

What do interim professionals cost? 

Professionals in finance, HR and marketing are in high demand. And they are paying for it. The demand for professionals, also on an interim basis, has skyrocketed. Bart: ,Our candidates either work on an hourly basis or charge an all-in daily rate based on a mixed calculation so that the costs for the companies can be planned. The daily rates for on-site work are somewhat higher than for remote work. Meanwhile, it is also common in the interim sector to pay an additional inflation adjustment of up to 10 per cent.’ 
Even if the costs seem high at first: ,You only pay for what is provided. If there is no longer a need, the contract can be cancelled quickly', says expert Bart. If a company hires a real expert who is able to implement processes promptly or improve them sustainably, these costs may be compensated many times over. 

Interim professionals on site or remote? 

Bart believes that a move away from traditional thinking regarding compulsory staff attendance is timely and beneficial. Most interim experts today value flexwork. Bart: ,So also for cost reasons, the question always arises whether the presence of the interim manager on site is really necessary. In most cases it has proven useful for him to work in the company for the first two weeks for onboarding in order to get to know the processes and contact persons. After that, the remote assignment is the best option.' This brings his clients two advantages: The pool of interested candidates is larger and for companies it is the more cost-effective alternative. ,This is because some professionals also charge for travel time, which is not incurred when working remotely,’ says Bart. 
Are there assignments where remote is not an option? Bart knows from experience: ,There are projects for which home office work is not suitable, for example when it comes to leading a specific team and identifying problems within teams or processes. Or in an HR project. There it is necessary, for example for better absenteeism management, to hold on-site discussions with the employees in production in order to be able to optimise the work location or resources if necessary.’ 
Bart continues: ,It's different in the case of a project manager when introducing new IT such as SAP SuccessFactors. Here, on-site work is not necessary. Or in the case of a regional controller who has no contact person on site. Working remotely also lends itself to the legal department.’ The recruitment expert puts the ratio of remote and on-site work at around 80:20. 

Plan your budget precisely 

Bart recommends to his clients: ,Ideally, companies should clarify the maximum budget available for the bridging period in advance of discussions with potential candidates or have the required budget approved. This saves a lot of valuable time.’ And only when the cost factor has been clarified, decide whether the expert's qualifications will sufficiently solve the client's problem or not.  

,First come, first served' – quick action is required 

From experience, interim managers from finance, HR, marketing and IT usually have several requests and usually accept the first commitment to a suitable project. Therefore, recruitment expert Bart advises his clients: ,Conduct the interview promptly and prepare the downstream administrative issues, e.g. contracts, right away.’ Especially with larger groups, you have to expect more lengthy processes in the legal and purchasing departments. ,Decide quickly if you have the feeling that the candidate fits professionally and personally! Otherwise he may be engaged elsewhere,’ says Bart. Currently, there are more interim mandates than specialists. This was different before the pandemic, Bart reports: ,Before Corona, there was a sufficient supply of professionals. After the shock at the beginning of the pandemic, the demand for specialists and project managers increased from mid-2021 and then again by leaps and bounds until mid-2022. Since then, there has been an increase in special projects to manage, such as the coordination of migration processes, the implementation of new IT or the management of other change processes.’ 

How long should the term of the contract be? 

,Clients usually ask for an interim professional for a period of five to six months’, says the recruitment expert. On average, they tend to stay for nine to ten months. A shorter term is usually not optimal, because after a short time the interim professional already has to look for the next assignment. In order to be able to concentrate fully on the current project, Bart recommends a longer contract with a flexible notice period. 
Bart continues: ,If you as the client want to extend the contract, do so as early as possible, but no later than six weeks before the end of the contract. Otherwise you risk losing a valuable interim manager before the successful completion of the project because he has already committed himself elsewhere.’ 

It is not uncommon for companies to want to use the interim specialist for other special projects or even offer him or her an option to take over, which he or she usually refuses. 

How do you find the right interim manager? 

An interim professional should be able to add value to the company from day one. Bart: ,Choose someone who fits the task and the team both professionally and in terms of personality.’ Usually, he will be overqualified and have a broad background of experience. Bart continues:

At Robert Walters, we know the companies as well as the candidates and their references. We can be very precise in placing the right skilled person, who ideally has already worked successfully on similar projects in the same industry.

Robert Walters' recruitment team has a large pool of experts as well as internal and external platforms and is active on social media channels. 
Bart has noticed a trend in interim recruitment: ,In many areas, there are increasingly many younger interim managers, whereas in the past, experienced specialists aged 50+ were often used.’ The young young talents of the digital generation are performance-oriented and, in addition to the high remuneration, they particularly appreciate the flexibility and freedom and do not want to tie themselves down for a certain period of time. Bart: ,In the past, it was not uncommon to do your entire career in one company. That hardly exists any more these days.’ 

Another advantage of working with an HR consulting firm is that sometimes delicate issues that should not leak out can be dealt with discreetly. This is the case, for example, when an employee is absent due to burnout or the separation from a certain employee is imminent. Or special projects have to be managed and specialists with a niche profile are sought, of which there are only a few on the market. A professional recruiter can support companies in very different scenarios. 

Further information 

The current trends and salary developments of interim professionals can be found in our salary survey 2023

For more information on interim management recruitment, order your free copy of our interim management market report. 

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Stephan Bart

Senior Manager Interim Management | Frankfurt
Phone: +49 69 244378510

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