Comment: Interim managers – can the private sector take a leaf out of the NHS book?

The NHS is, even now, heavily reliant on interim managers and temporary consultants. This could be seen as an extravagant use of the public purse. But is it?

One of the huge advantages of an interim is that you are able to fill temporary positions with individuals of a higher calibre than would normally do the job on a permanent basis.

Project management is a fine example. A freelance senior manager can, like an SAS agent, swoop in, kick start the process, lead the team professionally using minimal resources and then leave – job done with no additional or residual employment costs.

The public sector have long recognised the value of independent consultants who can cut through the humdrum day to day minutiae and create workstreams that function effectively and deliver to deadline.

A few years ago, the intermediary and provider employment market was much like a football transfer system – plenty of movement with the same people doing the same job but for a different team. But now in a more stagnant recruitment marketplace, and with redundancy programmes still denting the workforce numbers, there is a growing pool of well qualified interims,  probably accepting lower fees than they did a couple of years ago. It’s a tough world out there!

When people do resign, gardening leave of up to six months is the norm and often vital roles are left unfilled for some time. A similar problem is created when a key staff member is suffering a long term sickness problem. Using interim managers for a short period is an ideal way to inject some fresh enthusiasm and ideas and introduce new approaches for relatively low investment. Although interim management isn’t always a comfortable role to undertake, especially if you are joining a well established team, the good thing is that resentment is less as they know you won’t be there forever. So much more can be achieved if your temporary colleagues don’t fear that you are after their job and egos tend to be less dented by innovative ideas and a fresh, enthusiastic approach.

Interims as a "top up" at busy times or for specific projects when staffing levels are compromised by budget restraints can be crucial in avoiding problems further down the line. Stress-related illness in the workplace is on the increase with over a million days lost in 2009/10 due to stress and musculoskeletal problems (often anxiety related) and those still at their desks are feeling the increased pressure.

A short term investment with an efficient, knowledgeable interim could save an organisation some long term pain.

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