Cutting it in Interim Management Recruitment

When I looked in detail at the recent IIM Service Provider Survey, I noticed an interesting juxtaposition. While the upper echelons of the consultancy list was generally the preserve of specialist interim management businesses, many of the top 15 provider consultants had a background in large “middle management” recruitment companies. However, virtually all of them are now working for interim management specialists.

This has led me to reflect on the differences between being a successful contract consultant in a large company and a top tier interim management provider. What is it that the top 15 have learned on their journey that the consultants in the mid-markets don’t know?

Having made a similar journey myself, I think the reasons are fairly complex but can be encapsulated by 3 contrasts: 

  • Relationships vs. Sales
  • External vs. Internal
  • Recruitment vs. Management

 

Relationships vs. Sales 

Much of the success, in financial terms, of the UK’s biggest recruitment businesses is predicated on large sales teams, structured processes and a focus on volume sales calls, emails, etc. This certainly works in clerical and junior/middle management recruitment, but it is a technique which starts to wear thin the further “up the food chain” a consultant works. 

Interim managers are looking to build long term careers in the market, and are hence looking to develop long term relationships with appropriate providers. They typically find “transactional” engagement models (“I will call you when I have something for you”) frustrating.

Interim Management recruitment is a commercial enterprise, but it is all about the value of a long term relationship, rather than the value of a sale.

 

External vs. Internal

Large companies, in all sectors, inevitably spend a lot of time focussing on internal considerations - systems, structure, internal moves, etc. This is the nature of business.

However, an unintended consequence of this is that many large recruitment businesses make decisions based around what suits them (and their shareholders) without due consideration to their customer base.

An example of this is the way large recruiters structure their businesses compared to the way an interim management specialist would typically structure theirs. Most large recruiters align their businesses on a discipline (HR, Finance, Marketing etc.) basis rather than the sector model favoured by most specialists. This is a hugely effective way of “filling jobs and placing candidates”, but not one which generates long term relationships with clients and senior interim managers.

 

Recruitment vs. Management 

Large recruitment businesses require large management teams, typically composed by some of their most talented recruiters. On a personal basis, I love running a business and developing its people, but businesses whose primary “career journey” for its staff focuses on management, risk losing customers as a result.

This typically happens as follows. A consultant joins a business, takes over a desk from a promoted/departed colleague and then spends 2-3 years building their portfolio; of skills and customers. If they do well, they are then promoted to a leadership role, possibly in another discipline or country, and are replaced by another consultant, and so the cycle continues.

Very little in the decision making process involves the firm’s customers, both client and candidate, who have to get used to explaining all over again who they are and what they do to an inexperienced consultant.

The people joining my business come to Interim Partners for a variety of reasons. However, when I look at the group of colleagues here who have come from Bigco, their stories are remarkably similar - a desire to build relationships in senior markets, to specialise in a sector, to devote themselves to pleasing customers and to achieve their career goals by being recruiters, rather than merely managing them.

The long term, customer facing approach of genuine interim management service providers doesn’t just attract candidates and clients from “Bigco”. It also attracts some of their best recruitment consultants.