A helping hand at an uncertain time

Written by: Vik Mistry is a senior consultant and adult services lead for interim at Tile Hil
Published on: 6 Oct 2023

Interim management as a profession has been growing across Europe for many years and evidence shows more professionals are choosing freelance or independent careers.

A recent survey of the UK interim management industry by the Institute of Interim Management showed 64% of the 5,000+ interim managers surveyed had delivered assignments within the public and not-for-profit sectors. Within this, local government and the health sector were the highest ranked, with equal numbers of respondents (22%) having delivered assignments in these sectors over the past 12 months.

While interim managers are widely recognised for their ability to step into challenging and often uncertain environments, the scale of the challenge ahead for local government is unprecedented. In recent weeks and months, we’ve seen Section 114 notices issued and a recent sector confidence survey showed that 81% of senior officers are doubtful about the financial health of local government over the next three years, with just 5% saying they were feeling confident. The research also revealed that 14% of senior leaders believe their council could issue a s114 notice by the end of 2024-25.

For public sector leaders it feels like there has been an ever escalating set of challenges to contend with. Listening to our clients, what we hear is the challenge has never been greater with local government battling to balance inadequate finances against increased demand and complexity of need. So, how can interim managers play a role in helping organisations to create the framework for stability and resilience in a time of such dynamic turbulence?

Within both of the aforementioned surveys, change management was the top area of functional expertise that interim managers bring. In a sector where the consequences of change are being felt on both an organisational and individual level, the skills to manage that change are indispensable. The change ahead will be far greater than what has gone before and interim managers bring experience from a wide range of settings and situations to help organisations to navigate change successfully.

Interim managers can add valuable strategic capacity. Permanent senior leaders are required to engage in strategic thinking, looking at the organisation as a whole and considering the best approach to achieve the greatest long-term benefits. For interim management however, the importance of strategic thinking is amplified by the need to apply these skills to each new context and unique set of challenges, quickly.

Allied to this, interim managers will be asked to consider a new set of challenges within each assignment and apply their strategic skills to many different business settings. Given the challenges ahead, there is undoubtedly the need for well thought-out and considered strategies to provide the basis for workforce stability.

Interim managers bring a wide range of valuable experiences and offer the strategic capability to support these aims.

The world of interim management is characterised by flexibility and adaptability. Not being fazed by uncertainty and ambiguity, reading between the lines and being as comfortable rolling up your sleeves as operating in the boardroom show the flexibility and adaptability required to be a successful interim manager. Interims are familiar with being parachuted into an undefined role in a fluid environment, and they are adept at quickly scoping problems out, helping to define future direction, and bringing in the knowledge and experience gained over many assignments to make an immediate impact.

That impact can manifest itself in many beneficial ways. The knowledge impact is a key element. Interim professionals can help by transferring knowledge, best practice and insights from other places, enhancing the skills and capabilities of the permanent workforce. Coming in from the outside, interim workers often bring an objective viewpoint and a fresh perspective to an organisation helping to identify areas for improvement, free from some of the predetermined views that might exist among longer-term employees. Deep-rooted organisational ways of working can have a deadening effect on evaluating efficacy and interim managers can help to cut through this.

In addition, interims allow employers greater agility to respond to times of peak workload. They can provide both the capacity and capability to deliver specific projects and through tried and, tested approaches, they can help organisations to navigate pitfalls when trying things for the first time. This can all be utilised without the need to bind employers to longer-term financial and employment commitments.

In these times of dynamic challenges, possessing agile, experienced professionals at the helm is key to navigate the complex demands placed on modern public sector organisations and interim management can be a great way to supplement the skills and experience of any senior team.

Vik Mistry is a senior consultant and adult services lead for interim at Tile Hill