The Debate Over Defining Interim Management

Those not immersed in interim management might be surprised to learn that there’s quite the controversy over its definition. Almost every interim management provider, as well as trade body the Interim Management Association, address the issue via their websites and marketing material and all differ in their opinions.

Most agree on a definition that involves engaging an experienced manager or executive in a limited-term professional services contract either to bridge a gap in a management team, or to deliver a specific business result – typically associated with project or change management.

However, many discussions about what constitutes interim management go well beyond that. Interim management providers can be observed in the press and on LinkedIn, asserting and debating what they think true interim management is. These debates are, of course, partisan, and the positions taken reflect differences in the way the providers do business.

At Executives Online we know that there’s a huge advantage for the international business community in growing the interim market. For us, an experienced flexible workforce is a key driver of growth while the economy recovers. However restrictive practices taking place within the recruitment industry itself have the potential to negatively impact this growth. Here are a few of the assertions being made that concern us:

  • A true interim will never take a permanent role
  • Those who haven’t done an interim assignment yet can’t be seriously considered as candidates for interim roles
  • Someone who begins to practice as an interim manager yet is open to the idea of a permanent role is not a true interim manager
  • The number of true interim managers is small, numbering only a few thousand people
  • Generalist recruiters operating via large databases cannot successfully fill interim roles

Interim management recruitment differs from regular executive recruitment in many ways: the importance of the brief (as opposed to just a job description), the pace of interim recruitment, the professional services contract, and industry regulations that apply. Defining good interim recruitment process serves the clients and interim managers well.

However, assertions about exclusivity and the small size of the industry and talent pool aren’t about ensuring good recruitment process. Describing the industry as small is about hanging on to market share, and to a degree, about price protection:  typical monopolist/oligopolist behaviour, plain and simple – which is never about serving the customer.

Neither is making interim management seem small and exclusive about serving the interim managers, unless they’re already among that small and exclusive number. This approach just makes it harder for an aspiring interim manager to get their first assignment.

 In our experience, the main thing that clients care about is whether the interim manager they engage will deliver the results they need. The best evidence for that, in their view and ours, is in the candidates’ prior track record in similar situations. How many assignments they’ve had, their openness to the idea of a permanent role, and the size of the database of the provider introducing them aren’t factors in the client’s decision about whom to engage. Our approach and the services we provide are different to those of other recruitment companies in the following ways: 

  • We’ll happily give a first-time interim manager his or her first assignment, if that person has the required track record and makes it on to our short list via the same rigorous briefing, interviewing and vetting process we conduct with all candidates.
  • We routinely send our interim briefs to numbers of candidates other providers would no doubt deem too big, reaching out to members of our Talent Bank who possess the necessary industry, functional, and skill profile, so that no one misses out. 
  • We have relationships with interim managers who’ve worked through us before, and we draw on those to create the best short list for our clients.  At Executives Online, that’s an important part of our process and value proposition, but it’s not all we do.  We invest in the most sophisticated, award-winning search marketing program in the industry so that we are constantly bringing new interim managers into our Global Talent Bank, and we conduct a complete search on every brief, not simply pulling someone from the “bench” .
  • In the event a client invites an interim manager working through us to take up a permanent role in the organisation, we don’t have prohibitive transfer fee provisions in our contracts which make it uneconomical for the client to do so.  In fact, we see transfers to perm as a great validation of our work.

If you like what you’ve read, contact us if we can help source an interim manager that fits your urgent requirement. Interim managers (or aspiring interim managers), register your CV. We look forward to hearing from you.


  1. David Horne

    David Horne on 11/06/2013 12:28 p.m. #

    I am surprised at your statement that the true interim managers in the UK numbers is only 2,000. Whilst I live in Holland, but work throughout Europe, my perception of the market is very different. The demand in 2013 has certainly declined significantly, but at the same time, the supply is relatively high (although I have no statistics available). I, like many of my fellow true interim managers, have been unsuccessful in finding an assignment in 2013. Given that I have experienced so many unsuccessful applications, despite having an exemplory track record, I can only conclude that the market is presently saturated.
    I would therefore be interested in your source of statistics showing such a relatively low number of true interim managers in the UK and also to hear your comments on the European market.
    Best Regards
    David Horne

  2. Anne Beitel

    Anne Beitel on 11/06/2013 12:57 p.m. #

    Hi David, we agree with you! It's our competitors who are making these statements about the number of "true interim managers" being so small. I can't imagine, either, what their source for that figure is. Like I say in the blog post, these are assertions being made that concern us. Executives Online believes the market is much bigger than that, and our whole approach is tailored to tapping that broad array of talent for our clients.

  3. Alan Greenwood

    Alan Greenwood on 11/06/2013 4:50 p.m. #

    I have been an interim for almost 12 years, with almost as many assignments under my belt.

    I have come to the view that the line between interim and permanent is not very real. Remember, in today's UK job market an employer can end a contract with a Permanent with little real cost.

    Interims are resources whose contracts are explicitly short-term..

    There are very many interims out there. To me the term Interim denotes seniority. Interestingly I rarely hear Business Analysts or project office staff calling themselves interim. Although I have met contract agencies who say they supply interims, albeit at rates of £500/day.

    Interims are really resources on explicitly short term contracts. There are lots of us out here.

  4. James O Brien

    James O Brien on 11/07/2013 4:38 p.m. #

    In response to Alan I agree with the distinction between Interim and Contract. The levels of pay certainly cross over but the importance to me is both the seniority and the hands-on operational service that a professional interim delivers. They are not the same.

  5. Nick Robeson

    Nick Robeson on 11/18/2013 3:28 p.m. #

    There are extremes on all fronts Anne as you know.

    Those that claim to have access to 100000+ random cv's on their databases and rely on word search versus those that spend the majority of their time meeting executives, both practicing Interims and new talent, face to face. It is easy to argue why at Board-level the later might be in a far better position to react to their clients needs based on real knowledge of their network.

    Do recruiters who rely on the narrowest of briefs do their clients justice by simply producing a shortlist by numbers? I certainly get a lot of feedback from candidates who are constantly called about assignments that have nothing to do with them but they happened to have a keyword on their CV that prompted the inexperienced recruiter to email/phone them with a brief.

    I appointed a Finance Director as iCEO recently. This decision was made following a face to face meeting with the client where it was clear the primary functional focus for the CEO was finance. Worked a treat and was what the client required after we took the opportunity to challenge their initial brief. Another example where we appointed an iCIO as iCOO because that was the skill-set required to do the job. He is now joining the organisation of a permanent basis. Had we gone down the box ticking pigeon holing route the client may not have had such a positive result.

    What is wrong with "all round great practitioners"?

    Risky is placing people into assignments that have never been met or referenced. What is relevant is the competence of the executive being presented to the client and their ability to get the job done.

    I suspect their are about 10000 interims in the UK across all functions and sectors. Thats not that small. Who is suggesting 2000?

  6. Anne Beitel

    Anne Beitel on 11/19/2013 8:55 a.m. #

    Hi Nick, recapping my responses to your same comment in the IIM LinkedIn group. Numerous other commenters made the point that size (of database, or industry) is no substitute for a quality, professional recruitment process, and you and I agree on that. Still, I think it's wrong to instantly equate "big database" with "random CVs", "recruiters who don't meet executives face to face", "shortlist by numbers" (I don't even know what that is) and "placing people into assignments that have never been met or referenced". Surely a recruiter who operates professionally - that is, meets, briefs, interviews, and references the people they place - may have found them in any sized database. And of course most modern recruitment databases give the searcher more intelligence and data than simple keyword searching or a collection of random CVs.

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