The important questions
Would you feel confident that you are the right person for a job if you’ve been told just the job title and organisation and nothing else? You wouldn’t know who the key stakeholders are. Or who you would be accountable to. How would you know if you are right for it? How would you know you if you would be able to succeed?
Most people would understandably want to know more. In permanent executive recruitment we quite rightly have job descriptions, person specifications, bells and whistles microsites telling potential candidates as much as possible about the opportunity. The background to the role, the culture of the organisation, who the people are, the package and so on. All the things we generally want to know before deciding whether to make a potentially life changing career move.
I recently took a call from someone in a council who asked me to find them an interim head of economic development. ‘No problem,’ I said. ‘What will you need the interim to achieve in the duration of the assignment?’ ‘I don’t know’, came the reply. ‘Please just find me an interim head of economic development’.
That was it. No detail at all. The individual couldn’t tell me who the candidate would report to, the reason for the assignment, nor what the interim would need to deliver.
Before you even get to the assignment itself, how are you going to know who is the right person for the role at the interview stage? If there is no assignment brief, how is that interim going to be measured? How will the organisation and the interim manager know that all is on track? How will you measure return on investment?
An interim head of economic development tends to charge around £600 a day (inside IR35). So, over a six month period at five days a week, the cost can be in the region of £72,000, and that’s before an agency margin is applied. Essentially, no assignment brief is like having no business case for spending that money, and can lead to unintended consequences throughout a placement.
Local authorities are fishing from an increasingly smaller pool of candidates, both in permanent and interim recruitment. We regularly see spikes in interim management throughout a year, currently for example there is a very high demand for property, regeneration, and children’s and adult services expertise. Lots of councils need to attract the same people. It is most definitely a candidate driven market. Therefore, to attract the right interim managers, similar rules to permanent recruitment apply. You really need to sell your organisation and its challenges in a way that appeals to the best available people as possible. You need to ensure they want to help solve your challenges rather than go elsewhere.
Interim managers love to know as much as possible about an assignment before interview stage. It can help encourage those individuals who may have been deterred by the location of the assignment for example. An exciting opportunity will often override the prospect of a four hour train journey to and from a council every Sunday and Friday night. Equally, it’s helpful because a good assignment brief will mean some interim managers choose not to apply because the role is not quite right for them. This saves valuable time for all concerned.
I’ve mentioned in recent articles that interim recruitment is a bit like a dating agency. We need to know as much about the organisation and its situation, the people, and the culture as possible. We also need to get to know interim managers as well as we can, what makes them tick, where and why they have thrived in certain places. It’s not one size fits all. Certain people suit certain places and vice versa. Therefore attracting the very best person to deliver the outcomes you need requires a thorough job brief. It will save time in the recruitment process, and lead to a successful set of outcomes on the assignment.
Some consider that sending the equivalent permanent job description is a solution – but often not helpful for short interim assignments. The ideal assignment brief would tend to follow the STAR rule. Situation, Task, Action and Result. What is the situation, why do you need an interim manager? Who will the role be accountable to? Will they have any direct line reports? What is the budget?
Then task – what do you need the interim manager to deliver in the three, six, nine months they are there? These can be bullet points – but should be clear, measurable outcomes.
Action, who are the key stakeholders? What do you want the culture to feel like? Are there some key people you would want this individual to upskill?
And then result – what does good look like at the end of the assignment? What needs to be achieved before the interim walks out of the door (on time and on budget...) before heading to their next role, leaving your organisation, and the service to its communities, in a better place than it was before?
There you have not just a brilliant job brief, but also a great business case for evidencing the value that interim managers can bring.
Toni Hall is director – public sector executive Interim at Penna