Interims Vs Consultants – What’s the Difference?

Prior to the 90’s, when an organization needed external senior-level help to handle transition or change, the only option was to bring in management consultants. The consultant’s role was to advise, guide, recommend or facilitate and, most importantly, persuade the client to accept their recommendations. They rarely implemented the recommendations – this was the responsibility of the client organization.

Over the last ten years or so, Board-level interim management has emerged. Interim’s, historically called “company doctors,” were used initially as turnaround managers, often in high-profile rescues. The recession of the early nineties opened up the market, generating both opportunities and candidates. The current recession is bound to see a further growth in the UK interim management market which is now £200 m per year. Today interim’s are deployed in a range of executive roles and can provide a viable alternative to management consultants, at a fraction of the cost.

Incisive Action During Turnarounds

A key role for the interim executive is that of turnaround specialist.

In a turnaround situation, the business is under pressure to deliver in the short term before the cash runs out. An experienced interim can deliver on all fronts – they are objective, experienced at execution and immediately available to focus on the client’s issues.

Unlike consultants, the interim’s approach will essentially be pragmatic, focused on short-term cash flow and the day to- day survival of the business.

BIE Interim has the highest concentration of Board-level interim managers in the UK on its’ books. Nick Diprose, Managing Director of BIE says “Board level interim managers are confident and independent. They are able to make decisions quickly and act to the benefit of the client. We know that in cases of business turnaround, time is of the essence and clients value these attributes.”

Filling Critical Vacancies

Interims are the preferred choice over consultants in filling critical vacancies pending recruitment. Even in a buoyant market, recruitment of a senior executive can take six months or more, and often the client cannot afford to wait. In turbulent times such as in a recession, filling a job can take even longer. The primary requirement in this instance is continuity of day-to-day line management to ensure business momentum is maintained. Interim executives must be immediately available and suitably over-qualified to be credible and effective from day one.

Implementing Change

In the case of planned, organizational change, management consulting firms have typically been deployed. They offer an injection of intellectual horsepower (consultancies employ the brightest graduates and MBAs and generate much of the thought leadership behind new business methods) and clients have the added security of making decisions backed by recommendations from “blue-chip” consulting firms.

However, consultancies have been criticized for leaving their clients with little more than a detailed report filled with recommendations. Their staff may be bright but often lack actual line management experience in change implementation. Reprehensibility for implementing the recommendations remains with the client and these skills aren’t often available in-house. A growing number of UK business leaders have realized that professional interim managers with the right experience can be used to help implement organizational change. By undertaking the role of internal change manager, an interim provides an objective interface between the client and the consulting firm.

Working from within the organisation, interim’s help build internal support for the change, crucial if the change is going to be accepted by the organisation. This is different to consulting firms who tend to impose change from the outside.

Change Skills at a Fraction of the Cost

Finally, interim’s are available at a fraction of the cost of management consultants. The 2001 BIE/MORI Captains of Industry survey found that users of interim’s felt that “interim executives are more suitable and cost-effective for implementing change or transition than management consultants,” by a ratio of 5.5:1 (up from 3.5:1 in 2000). As Ian McKinnon, chief executive of Luxfer Group, says: We have just put an interim executive into one of our acquired businesses, which means we will have a heavyweight, hands-on manager on site. This is one of the advantages of interim’s. You get the benefit of an outsider with a lot of experience of handling change, at a cost which is roughly half that of a management consultant.”

The comparatively small number of senior interim executives is not going to replace the vast numbers of management consultants, but there is no doubt that interims are displacing consultants in some of their key markets. Interim executives offer clients a “fast-track” method for achieving real and sustainable change based on hands-on experience. Says Sean Egan, CEO of “With an interim, you get what you pay for – with a consultant, you often buy from the expert and get the trainee doing the job.”

BIE© February 2009

How Interim’s Add Value During Recessions

Planning for Interim’s

Interim’s can add value in a number of ways but they are a costly investment if not briefed or managed correctly. For an organization to decide whether it is appropriate to bring an interim on board, it needs to work with an interim provider to scope out a project outline. Once this project brief is established, there are a number of issues to consider such as:
o Is there internal resource available with the correct skill set?
o Is it appropriate to use that person or would it be better to have an ‘objective outsider’? For instance, in the case of redundancies, does it make more sense to bring someone in to undertake this?
o Is the skill set required unique to this recession and these economic circumstances and not likely to be needed again once the recession has run its course?
o How cost effective is this solution compared with other options (eg management consultancies)?
Thinking through these issues is incredibly valuable for an organization engaged in firefighting.
Bringing in an interim provides the impetus for an organization to take stock of its current skill set and define some key future deliverables.

They have the right experience for now

Many interim’s have the right skill set for now. As the last UK recession was in 1990/91, many organizations today do not have people with the skills and confident to lead their business through recession. As an experienced and seasoned resource, a disproportionate number of interim’s have experience of what it feels like to work in leadership roles during such challenging times.
Interim agencies look for skills and competencies in their interim’s which are particularly well suited to an organization undergoing turmoil:
o Natural leadership and interpersonal skills
o Successful track record of change
o Not job seeking – no risk of leaving an assignment halfway through
o Resilient and energetic – works well independently
o Happy to work a level or two down
o Good mentor and coach
Whilst these skills will always be in demand, interim’s who have actual line experience and are ‘resilient’, ‘energetic’ business change managers are worth their weight in gold at this moment in time. In short, interim’s have the right skills and experience for now.

Interim’s deliver results when all around are flailing

Interim’s are used to working independently without the need for close supervision. Whilst organizations are preoccupied with responding to the recession, the interim can be relied upon to get on with the job and deliver the outcomes agreed. Delivering results despite the recession and uncertainty provides a confidence ‘boost’ and a positive ‘news story’ for staff to focus on when the more typical news coverage is filled with doom and gloom.

Interim’s are there to do a specific job within a specific time frame, so are not likely to get caught up in the politics which inevitably exist within every organization. In a highly charged, emotional environment such as that experienced during a recession when redundancies are rife and people are understandably concerned for their careers, interim’s provide objectivity. When managing issues such as redundancies and outsourcing, this objectivity is crucial.
Finally, bringing in an interim with a brief to deal with the negative aspects of downsizing or reshaping the business, enables the leadership team to focus on the more positive aspects of moving the business forward and rebuilding morale.
Once the economy turns around and these skills are no longer necessary, it is time for the interim to leave and move on to the next assignment.
BIE© February 2009

Interim Management As a Career Option

Traditionally, the image of a typical interim manager was that of an individual who was at the end of his career and he/she chose interim management in order to stretch his/her career further.

This is changing fast. Over last 15 years there is an increasing number of managers who have entered the market with a clear view of making interim management their career choice. It is a great career choice if you have the skills and personality for Interim Management. Let’s explore some of advantages and disadvantages of Interim Management as a career.

Many interim executives enjoy the challenge of working on different assignments with tight schedules in various industries and various locations. Globalization and increased mobility create a truly global market. They are a new breed of ‘executive nomads’ who spread management expertise to further corners of the world.

Assignments are usually structured around achieving certain business outcomes. Because of that and due to limited time an interim is in a company, there is less need to get involved in company politics.

Such meaningful, rewarding, goal-focused and varied work and life-long learning attracts an exciting and diverse mix of managers to Interim Management.

Compensation is not bad either:
Best paid interim executives earn between £250,000 ($380,000AUD) and £350,000 ($535,000AUD) a year.

  • 42% of all interims charge fees of between £500 ($760AUD) and £750 ($1,150AUD) a day.
  • 17% were in the £750 – £1,000 ($1,150AUD – $1,550AUD) a day bracket.
  • 7% charge between £1,000 ($1,550AUD) and £1,250 ($1,900AUD) a day.
  • 3% are on fees in excess of £1,250 ($1,900AUD) a day.

Before you decide to move into Interim Management you should be aware of requirements and potential disadvantages.

Interims are usually highly specialized executives who normally have vast experience in a particular field. Without at least a decade of experience in management positions and some clear, measurable achievements it will be very hard to find rewarding assignments.

This industry is becoming highly segmented and competitive in nature. Since it’s a niche field, it is very important that you have an excellent track record in order to be successful. As an interim manager you are only as good as your latest assignment.

Also, the field does not provide the security of a permanent job and you constantly have to adjust to new environments. You should be open to change and to new ideas.

Besides this, there might be lean periods where there is no available work, so it is important to have enough financial security to support yourself during these periods.

You will also need good networking and social skills in order to be successful. Since, you mostly enter an organisation when there is trouble and tension, you have to be able to quickly adjust to different faces and be able to solve the problem as soon as possible.

Job Profile of an Interim

The average job profile of an interim has changed with time. As stated earlier, previously candidates were choosing this field due to redundancy issues. Now, they are doing so as a preferred career option. According to a recent survey, only 3% of candidates in 2009 chose interim management due to redundancy in contrast to 16% in 2001.

Also, the average age of an interim has reduced over the years. Persons belonging to the 56-65 years group has nearly halved on the past five years while those belonging to the age groups of 36-45 and 46-55 has constantly increased. More and more young people are entering this field.

Besides the age factor, the number of women entering the industry is also on an increase. While in 1999, merely 5% of the interim management workforce comprised of women, now this figure has increased to 24%.

Also, most interims are either into HR (Human Resource) or Finance. In contrast to the above, the job options available to interim managers have not seen a drastic change over the years. HR employs more than 40% of the workforce. This is to the advantage of most interims as most of them come from either a Finance or HR background – the two most common fields.

To learn more about interim management as a career option visit