Welcome to Interim Management Jobs

Interim: What's in a name?

Recently, I spoke with the Managing Director of a food manufacturing business who wanted to appoint a departmental head for a 6-month interim assignment. Nothing unusual in that, other than him wanting to call the role ‘acting’ Technical Director rather than ‘interim’ Technical Director. As his permanent Technical Director would be returning after 6-months he felt the word ‘acting’ was better as it implied the regular Technical Director would be coming back so would re-assure staff. Conversely, he believed the word ‘interim’ implied the job was vacant and could be unsettling to staff.

My view was he should call the role ‘interim’ Technical Director as this vernacular would appear to be the most appropriate. The MD was adamant that we use the word ‘acting’ however. As Interim managers are not particularly bothered what a role is called, I complied with his request, but due to my apathy toward job titles, I struggled to understand the MD’s opposition to the word ‘interim’. However, as he knows his staff better than anyone, I was happy to concede, as I know interims give only a perfunctory nod to job titles.

This got me thinking about the importance of Job Titles though, and a quick search revealed a 2019 article in the Guardian stating that media savvy millennials are happy to forgo a pay-rise or even take less pay if it means gaining a flashy sounding job title. This is because Social Media has trained people to think about the value of their “personal brand” and a fancy job title is instant branding currency. Apparently, some people believe that an impressive-sounding job title won't only make them look good on LinkedIn or their Company Website but could also help them land a better position in the future.

Goldman Sachs certainly believes in the impact the right job title as they employ thousands of ‘Vice Presidents’. In fact, roughly one-third of their entire staff hold the title Vice President!

A cynic may say Goldman Sachs are abusing the Vice President title and using it to hood-wink clients into believing they are working with a more senior individual, “Yes Mr Client we will put together a team headed by three of our most trusted Vice Presidents to oversee your Company merger.” Sounds powerful, but inflating titles to impress clients without devoting senior resources to those clients is likely to be damaging to the client and leave the employee floundering in trying to deliver for the client.

But how does ‘job title’ play-out in the interim world? Will the title 'Interim Director' carry more credibility and gravitas than 'Interim Manager'? And if so, will a more powerful sounding title make it easier to gain the respect and co-operation of stakeholders? And will this make it easier for the Interim to deliver? Or will most people not even notice the distinction in job title?

Personally, job title has never been flagged up to me as an issue for an interim manager, as they are apolitical and not trying to gain status or power within an organisation. Certainly, when assessing the merits of interim managers, I view job title as a label that doesn’t hold much credence and doesn’t help when assessing a candidates’ suitability for an interim assignment. I try and avoid looking at job titles and focus on the function of the roles, technical competencies, required outcomes and capabilities of the candidate. In my opinion, if you focus on job titles you can miss what the candidate has been doing, what they delivered and whether the outcomes were successful.

What could be more impactful for interim managers than job title is how they are pigeon-holed and labelled with others working in the burgeoning freelance market. Increasingly I am hearing interim managers being labelled as being part of the ‘gig economy’ which I believe is fundamentally wrong. If you consider there are 1 million to 1.5 million people who work in the gig economy, only 1% of this total would be professional interim managers (10k-15k). To differentiate the professional nature of interim management, the industry needs to be able to describe the distinction between a senior interim practitioner and someone operating as a ‘gigster’ in the gig economy. As a profession I don’t think it is useful to have interim management lumped under the same umbrella as taxi drivers, food delivery cyclists and van drivers hired to cope with the boom in online shopping.

Rather than part of the ‘gig economy’ I see interim management practitioners as part of the ‘project economy’ playing a major role in enabling businesses to manage risk, improve infrastructure, transform, implement change, develop innovation, grow and exploit new opportunities. Interim managers are adding value, increasing sustainability, profitability and implementing transformation that is enabling new technologies to be introduced with minimal disruption to the core employee base. The price differential between interim managers, ‘gigsters’ and employees is a clear indication that interim managers are not part of the ‘gig economy’. Businesses engaging ‘gigsters’ in the gig economy are generally looking to save cost, with the overall cost of engaging a ‘gigster’ less than that of a permanent employee. Interim managers on the other hand typically cost more per day than employees due to the value they create.  

Andrew E. Burke, Dean & Professor of Trinity Business School, Trinity College, Dublin has reported the following definition for Skilled Freelancers which could equally apply to Interim Managers and could be used to differentiate professional interim managers from those working in the ‘gig economy’: “Freelancers are workers who supply their services on a contingent project or limited duration basis for remuneration which is output focused. Freelancers take on all or most of the cost and risk of their own labour downtime and below expectations productivity within projects. They take on all the cost and risk of economic inactivity between projects”. 

Wednesday Jul 3, 2019