Interim managers: has their time come yet?

Interim managers: has their time come yet?
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First Published: Wed, Nov 26 2008. 09 43 PM IST

Perfect fit: (from left) Gautam Mahajan, Danny Johnson Loyall and Maneck Khanna. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Perfect fit: (from left) Gautam Mahajan, Danny Johnson Loyall and Maneck Khanna. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Updated: Wed, Nov 26 2008. 09 43 PM IST
New Delhi: Danny Johnson Loyall is a “hard-core operations man” who has for 10 years worked in transition, operations, customer service and relationship-driven projects. He wanted to be a restaurateur, but needed a sales stint before he could turn entrepreneur. So when TeamLease Services Pvt. Ltd, a firm specializing in temporary recruitments, asked him if he would join a start-up to set up processes and drive sales, he jumped at the idea. “The temptation of having a free hand to innovate and implement with a like-minded team was exciting enough for me to say no to a stabler job offer I had in hand at the time,” Loyall says.
Perfect fit: (from left) Gautam Mahajan, Danny Johnson Loyall and Maneck Khanna. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Obelisk Design, an architecture business process outsourcing enterprise led by a team of architects, was launching a new concept. To do this effectively, it realized the need to “corporatize” it.
“Usually architecture firms are personalized and relationship-driven. To hire a professional who could bring a fresh perspective, set up processes within a fixed time frame and have a smooth handover was what we had in mind when we outlined the job brief for a senior interim manager,” said Maneck Khanna, chief executive officer of Obelisk Design. Things, however, took a different turn. The “fit was so perfect that within six months we had converted the interim manager into a stakeholder within the company,” said Gautam Mahajan, managing director and chief financial officer.
Interim managers, or IMs, are usually senior or top level professionals who are brought in for specific tasks and expected to deliver in a fixed time frame. While the concept looks simple and straightforward, it remains an exception. Gautam Agawari, formerly with Ma Foi Management Consultants Ltd and now with Pyramid HR Solutions, says: “This is more because the concept is not fully understood on both sides of the spectrum?—the employer and the IM. If the individual takes a conscious decision to present his skills aggressively and if the employer sees value and promise, it can be a win-win for both.” The Obelisk recruitment worked as the start-up had a restricted budget and a very clear set of objectives, while for the IM the scope of work and timing fitted in with his own career plan.
But in India where employees usually look for a safety net and a job that does not require them to prove themselves constantly, the concept of interim management remains tentative. It sounds good on paper but not good enough to make the individual take that leap of faith.
Ramesh Padmanabhan, formerly chief delivery officer with Mphasis Ltd and presently chief executive officer of NSE.IT Ltd, says if “we in India can create a structured need for interim management like the way professionally managed companies in the UK, US, Germany, Belgium and Australia have done, we could tap into senior managerial talent”. He sees a transient need in the areas of project management, vendor management and sourcing in manufacturing, telecom, infrastructure development, financial services, venture capital firms and family-run businesses where there is always need for experienced people to lead specific functions.
The trend has been to hire consulting companies or advisers who are brought in, paid steep fees and assigned specific tasks by top management. This, according to Padmanabhan, doesn’t always bring the desired results simply because the consultant’s reward/remuneration structure is not as directly linked to the results expected as would be the case of an IM. There is “more accountability with an IM which works better for the company”.
Interim management is for those who can snap out of the comfort zone of job security, annual increments/bonuses and company seniority. It is also an ideal option for those who want variety in the things they do.
“You need a certain temperament and risk taking ability to be a successful interim manager,” says Ashok Reddy, chief executive officer and co-founder of TeamLease. He says: “An IM could take up a one-time assignment,?too. Though the number is still small, there are people who are in-between jobs and open to an interim assignment or those who want to start an entrepreneurial venture but are seeking experience in that domain. The trend will pick up once people see it as a career option and not as a one-off thing.”
Ravi Raman, chief operating officer, i-flex BPO, says that the time for IM as a profession or career alternative is ripe in the current financial meltdown as high-salaried top executives are asked to leave and caution prevails on mass recruitments. It builds a case for people with domain knowledge, experience and successful former stints to take over specific roles within a company, deliver them and leave. Alternatively, he suggests “middle management levels within the company could be groomed to be strong and effective interim managers. A select few can be cross-trained and then moved in a period of crisis. So they become in-house interim managers whose roles change from time to time”.
With the stigma attached to “freelancing” and “temporary assignments” fast diminishing, and people wanting a life that combines professional assignments and personal interests, the concept of interim management becomes exciting. And with the remunerative structure being at least three times the average going salary, it might just be a good time to rejig one’s resume to gear up for a project-based career profile.
Prominent attributes
* An IM embraces risks
* Has multidimensional skills
* Comfortable with the in-between job periods
* Adds continuous value to skill sets
* Knows to pitch for the right job
* Is disciplined and result oriented
* Is okay with being constantly evaluated
* Can deal with being perceived as an “outsider”, a “fixer”
* Loves not being attached to any one job/employer/workplace
* Is a conscious, well thought out decision made out of choice
* Has a viable financial model for himself
* Is swift in relocating and adjusting to new surroundings, people, work styles
* Is flexible
Six reasons to hire an IM
Quick installation: With a clear brief, they can be in place within days as opposed to weeks of searching for the right person.
Track record: Will have experience and confidence to deliver.
Means business: An IM is objective and lives in the present—without baggage of the past or designs on the future. Does not get entangled with office politics and power games.
Is accountable: Everything about his existence is specific—from job brief, to deliverables, results, timelines and rewards/compensation.
Effective: He can take quick decisions since he has a clear idea of what works and what doesn’t; has access to top management and is not bound by seeking approvals.
No ambiguity, high commitment: Is committed to an interim career, enjoys different challenges and takes pride in maintaining high standards of delivery.
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First Published: Wed, Nov 26 2008. 09 43 PM IST