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Interim Management: It’s Just Senior Temps

When I joined Interim Partners a few months ago, I received a gratifying number of congratulations from former colleagues, customers and partners. Many friends and acquaintances also offered some advice, generally fairly generic, occasionally sarcastic and mostly pretty unmemorable.

There was just one comment which struck me as a bit odd at the time, and has stuck in my head since:

“Remember, it’s just senior temps.”

I suspect the former colleague who shared this with me was trying to be ironic - not least because he has been recruiting in the interim field for many years - but it did get me thinking. Was he unintentionally right?

My problem with the word “interim”, when applied to either senior contracting specialists or the recruiters who place them, is that it is both entirely subjective and widely abused. Anyone can call themselves an interim manager, or interim recruiter.

Why does this matter?

In some respects it doesn’t, and could just be semantics, were it not for the misrepresentation it leads to.

“Executive Search” is also an expression widely misused, often by mid-market permanent recruiters working from their spare bedroom. However, most senior executives are not taken in, know the difference, and that’s why more FTSE-100 C suite directors are sourced by Spencer Stuart or Russell Reynolds than Speedi-Executive Resourcing.

However, in truth, the difference between what a top tier search firm does compared to what a mid-level staffing company does is much clearer  than in the world of interim management. The methodology employed, the “payment plan” and the level of trust exhibited is a country mile from “no win, no fee” contingent recruitment. Executive search isn’t just richer recruiters placing richer candidates with richer clients.

But can the same be said of interim management recruitment?  Is it really just “senior temps”?

Sadly the truth is, in many cases, yes.

I am conscious that this will not be that palatable to my audience, but consider my comments about executive search. That executive search is more than a big finder’s fee. When I look at the methodologies, and what translates as a successful outcome, in executive search it is palpably different from what a staffing company does. But is the same true of the recruitment of interim managers?

Inevitability some of the blame falls on my industry. What occasionally passes for interim recruitment is basically just rebadged temp staffing - hold a big database, find a candidate, agree a rate, send CV, arrange interviews, make a placement. However, all recruiters, especially successful ones, are only responding to the demands of their customer base. Isn’t this what clients and candidates look for? A straightforward transaction.

Often yes, sometimes no. And those in the “no” camp are the real interim managers and their customers.

It’s fairly easy to spot real interim managers, and a client who really needs one, as opposed to a senior temp. The client will tend to talk about outcomes:

“We need this delivered”.
“We are looking to achieve this”.
“We have to sort this”.  

Note – they don’t say:

“We want this type of background, this type of profile, for this amount of money”. 

And, the genuine interim manager is the same. A true interim manager wants to know they are going to be well rewarded, but for a successful outcome, not presenteeism for a given period. They are motivated by a brilliant result, which will translate into future opportunities.

 Clients and interim managers really deserve a service which focuses on an outcome, a “return on interim”, and a supplier which applies a different methodology in order to engage with them. Much of the recruitment industry hasn’t cottoned on to this, and still focuses on senior temp recruitment. It falls to the few genuine interim management recruiters in the industry to show there really is a difference.

Interim Management, “just senior temps”? 

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Steve Rutherford is the Managing Partner at Interim Partners.

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