Interim managers have they had their day?

The imperitive for restructuring, downsizing or merging be it local councils or NHS Trusts looked like a boost for the careers of interim managers. After all if you are thinking of doing away with the post of Chief Executive then a temporary appointment may buy you the time you need, alternatively the type of leader you need to break up the old structure is not necessarily the person best suited to bringing people together in a new partnership. Traditional organisational wisdom is that experience interim managers are good for steadying the ship or holding the fort during periods of upheaval and uncertainty. However when progress falters and popularity zeros your status as an interim manager can itself become an obstacle, people think you are not going to be around much longer and that you’re not a proper leader. Those who oppose you are bolder in the knowledge the chair and the board are not wedded to you. These seem to be the circumstances behind Rafael Benitez’s outburst at last week’s press conference.

Chelsea’s interim manager felt it necessary in the face of continued criticism and public hostility to defend disappointing performance by telling us he had the backing of his senior players and the confidence of the chairman. Naturally we were not convinced.  

The problem for interim managers is that short periods of major upheaval and dramatic change have been replaced by ongoing transition. Once we have dealt with this service review, this management restructuring and this budget crisis it will be immediately replaced with another. All senior managers are now considered to be like football managers only around for a couple of years. So if everyone is temporary no one needs to be interim. Hence Mr Benitez implied criticism of his employers for saddling him with the label.

Blair McPherson author of Equipping managers for an uncertain future published by Russell House        

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