January 12, 2021 – Interim HR leaders are proven professionals who bring short-term, functional discipline to companies in need. According to a new report by Lucy Bielby, a director within the commerce and industry team at Frazer Jones, interim human resource executives often bring niche skillsets, expertise and leadership capabilities required to drive change.
“From our experience, we know that interim HR professionals are often proven, and have spent time in the client’s seat, giving them a deep understanding of the typical requirements and deliverables of a project,” said Ms. Bielby. “Many individuals who choose to consciously operate as an interim may have reached their permanent career goal or, instead may want variety (organizations, projects, sectors) without getting involved in the politics of an organization or the cyclical activities you see in HR for example.”
A Valuable Resource
“Often working alongside members of an organization’s employees or other interims, an interim HR professional brings together subject matter expertise, business knowledge and an external perspective,” she said.
Interim managers may not be a long-term hiring solution for an organization, but they can be a valuable resource for achieving a fast turnaround, realizing rapid results and driving a business forward, whether the organization is undergoing a complete transformation or only requires a consultant on an ad-hoc basis, said Ms. Bielby. “Interim HR consultants will take the lead on a range of critical projects where an internal resource isn’t available or sits outside the skillset of the existing team,” she said.
Clients tend to engage interim HR professionals to take ownership for the delivery of a specific temporary project or resolution of an issue, said Ms. Bielby. Some examples include: to design and deliver change initiatives around structures, mergers/acquisitions or redundancies; to project manage a specific program (transforming a business or function) or the implementation of an HR system; to design and deliver processes that will make a business-critical impact; to provide additional people support to an organization at a time of change / where a different skillset is required; to cover a role where time constraints are paramount. Additionally, there may not be any suitable individuals internally for the position in question and this may be a business-critical role.)
Lucy Bielby is a director at Frazer Jones, a specialist search and recruitment consultancy focused exclusively on human resources. She has over a decade of recruitment experience within FTSE 250, PE backed and privately owned recruitment businesses. With her early career focusing on interim management, she has spent recent years specializing on both the delivery of executive search and senior interim requisitions in HR primarily within commerce & industry.
Interim HR professionals are often senior individuals with significant experience and knowledge within either generalist HR or specific skill areas such as reward, talent acquisition, change management, organizational design, or employee relations. “Due to the nature of their interim careers, they will have built up broad industry experience and can bring a fresh perspective and learnings to each project,” said Ms. Bielby.
Unencumbered by any previous involvement with the company, interim HR managers can be objective and concentrate wholeheartedly on the project they have been engaged to complete, she said.
Interim managers also tend to be self-starters and can integrate into the business quickly, therefore ensuring business continuity and minimizing downtime. “To coin an overly used phrase, good interims can ‘hit the ground running’ and will have likely delivered a particular piece of work many times over within a variety of businesses,” said Ms. Bielby. “They are therefore experts.”
Stakeholder management and strong emotional intelligence are needed to navigate through the minefield of an organization to successfully get strategies, plans and proposals signed off and implemented. “Therefore, hiring an interim at the start of a transformation program with a combination of skills, experience, commercial acumen and strong track record will ensure the successful implementation of business change,” said Ms. Bielby.
Measured by their track record and previous achievements, interim HR professionals are often overqualified for the assignments they undertake. The benefits to the individual, however, often outweigh what may be perceived as reduced seniority.
“It is important to remember that whilst a career as an interim manager can be fast-paced, challenging and massively rewarding, it is not an easy path to follow,” said Ms. Bielby. “This is why you know that anybody following this route is committed to it as a career choice.”
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Every new chief human resource officer (CHRO) comes into the role from a place of success. Past impact produced the invitation into the C-suite or into a new organization. But past success, no matter how significant, does not guarantee a successful transition. What worked before may not generate the same success at a more senior level.
Russell Reynolds Associates interviewed a diverse group of 21 CHROs from around the world earlier this year. Each had been in their current role between nine and 18 months. The search firm’s goal was to uncover the best advice for new CHROs and to learn what these leaders wished they had done differently during their transition.
Interims need to be able to cope with financial uncertainty as there is no guarantee when the next contract may arise. Also, she said, this is a highly competitive environment which commands huge self-discipline and the ability and confidence to pitch to clients for business regularly.
“Individuals who are new to interim management can often find it challenging,” said Ms. Bielby. “Not just these practical downsides of interim work, but also the psychological consequences. It can be disheartening dealing with extended periods out of work and handling rejection” when beaten out for assignments by other interims.
Ms. Bielby said that interim HR professionals require a number of key essential skills. These include: the ability to act independently, impartially and objectively; results-focused; a consultative approach; overqualified for the role with an impressive track record within HR; and flexibility. “Interim managers need to be able to adapt quickly to different working environments and cultures and have a flexible attitude to where, how and when they work,” she said.
“When you hire an interim, you get experienced professionals who have already gained significant success in their field,” said Ms. Bielby. “With the seniority of HR interims ranging from mid to executive-level professionals, from HR business partners to HR directors working at board level, interim assignments aren’t used by individuals to build upon their experience. Instead, it can provide the individuals with the opportunity to gain a broader depth of industry experience and remain outside of corporate politics which is appealing to many.”
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Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media