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WORK LIFE - DON'T PANIC

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Appointing an interim manager should be more than just an impulse purchase, says Charlotte Baker ...
Appointing an interim manager should be more than just an impulse purchase, says Charlotte Baker

The recent furore over Cumbria

CC's attempt to appoint an interim chief

officer for social services, and the

revelation that perhaps the chosen

candidate had not been properly vetted,

should give all of us involved in interim

management pause for thought (LGC, 28

November).

Interim management in the public

sector has really taken off in the last few

years, but standard and protocols vary

wildly. For many organisations the hiring

of an interim manager is a distress

purchase - something has happened

that needs to be put right fast.

Someone gets on the telephone, often

to a number of brokers or agencies to

obtain a good spread of CVs. How much

consideration is given to the type of agent

and how involved they will be managing

the assignment is questionable. As we

are all very different in profile and all

provide rather different services, this is

an interesting dilemma.

I know who my competitors are and

know their strengths and their

weaknesses. Some have a fabulous

network but no inclination to adopt a

rigorous assessment procedure, as they

do not consider themselves as recruiters,

while some occupy a niche market and

pride themselves on knowing who's who

in their given sector.

Generalists like us are usually

recruiters whose ability is to unpack a job

and then figure out what kind of person

might be best to do it. Agencies provide a

database search and are generally faster

and often cheaper than interim brokers.

All methods have their champions and

there are undoubtedly good practitioners

in all camps but they are very different

conduits to candidates. The experienced

or interested client will understand this

and supplement the process accordingly.

Should we all take responsibility for

vetting potential candidates to the same

level? Surely there is a powerful case for

the hiring organisation to get more

involved with the process and to demand

reasonable standards and fair work

practices. Why is it that some operators

who do not even guarantee that they have

met, never mind interviewed, their

candidates are still in business?

Checking qualifications and taking up

references should be a 'no brainer' but it

is far from standard practice. Taking up

references before submitting them to

clients is standard for us, but the value of

this still seems to be misunderstood by

our clients, otherwise how could the chief

executive of a non-departmental public

body ask me why I had sent what she

considered to be a bad reference on a

potential candidate?

Obviously, I pointed out that this was a

record of one person's view and it needed

to be probed at interview, but I also

pointed out that it would hardly be right

for me to withhold information if I had it.

As far as I know, in this particular

instance, none of my competitors had

bothered to provide references.

People choose a career in interim

management for many reasons -

lifestyle, money, or interest in their

subject. Most are positive choices, even if

the introduction to interim management

came about involuntarily. However, it

must be acknowledged that some people

working as freelancers do not have a

stellar track record and find it easier to

secure interim or consultancy roles

precisely because there are fewer hoops

to jump through when being selected.

The public sector excels at this, for all

the commitment to diversity and fairness,

so many short-term appointments are

made on the nod. Recycled old timers

can do very well, whereas talented

unknowns, or candidates from outside

the sector may fare less well. Local

government, I am sorry to say, exhibits

the best and worst of this. Never have I

come across such willingness to write

people off, or indeed the willingness to

work with someone mediocre because

they are familiar, as I have in local

government.

The private sector seems to manage

this better, perhaps because interim

management in its more formal sense is

more established in commercial and

industrial sectors as a profession.

Certainly, best practice is better

understood and adhered to.

As one of our interim managers said

about our process: 'At least you feel you

have had a bit of a going over', which

I think was intended as a compliment.

CHARLOTTE BAKER

Associate director of interim management,

Veredus Executive Resourcing

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