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Provenance: where art meets interim management

This is La Bella Principessa (The Beautiful Princess) by Leonardo da Vinci.

Or maybe not. 

Depending on who you listen to.

It’s of Bianca Sforza. Or it’s a 19th Century painting by a German artist imitating an earlier style. 

Or maybe not. The vellum it’s painted on is contemporary to Leonardo. 

The truth is we will probably never know whether it’s an old master or a convincing homage. The reason for this is that despite some really expert opinion to the effect it’s genuine (e.g. Martin Kemp, University of Oxford), the painting has no provenance before 1955. Unless new documentation comes to light making the link to Leonardo undisputable, the painting, while undoubtedly technically accomplished and beautiful, will never have the commercial value or queue of gawping schoolchildren commanded by the Mona Lisa.

A successful interim manager needs to demonstrate provenance too, but too often they can only draw on opinion to back their claims. What I mean by this is, quite simply, when asked to substantiate their capability, most competent interim managers will be able to give a meaningful example from previous engagements, and provide contact details of a senior sponsor who can attest to their capability and contribution. This is generally taken as being “good enough” and assignments are offered (or not) on the strength of it.

However, this is just the expert opinion described above; not good enough on its own to prove the genuine quality of a painting nor of an interim manager. What’s required is a provenance.  

A provenance, when applied to interim management, has two important components in advance of mere opinion - consistency and measurement.

A provenance is not just about an interim’s performance in the last engagement, but their performance in every engagement. The best interim managers are not like football managers, with CVs full of success and failure in equal measure. Every engagement needs to elicit the highest levels of performance, and every engagement needs a successful outcome. Consistency is key.

Which is a bit of a problem. 

No matter how skilled an interim manager is, and no matter how hard they work, some projects will inevitably fall over, get cancelled, overrun, etc. These types of scenarios are endemic in interim management and are, to a point, one of the reasons why interim managers are required in the first place - to drive outcomes in difficult situations. How can an interim manager maintain a provenance through a long career in these circumstances? The key is measurement. 

“What were the outcomes expected of you?”

“What milestones were put in place?”

“How did you deliver?”

“What was the material benefit to the business?”

This raises provenance beyond mere opinion, and also focuses the attention to the performance of the interim rather than the performance of the project.

To help our interims demonstrate genuine value, and contribute to their overall provenance, we’ve developed a tool called Return on Interim (ROI).  As well as helping clients to manage their interim estate effectively, the tool allows interims to see their progress while on assignment, and also receive a really meaningful testimonial at the end of the engagement. The interim walks away with a detailed case study, showing milestones hit, objectives met and financial return achieved.

Opinion matters, and genuinely expert opinion will still lead many clients to make great interim hiring decisions.  However, it’s not the same as a genuine provenance; demonstrable outcomes consistently delivered on an ongoing basis.

That’s what differentiates the true masterpiece.


Steve Rutherford is the Managing Partner at Interim Partners.

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