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Why Interim Managers Tend to be the Better Consultants

February 14, 2020

What are the advantages of interim management?

Traditional business consultants and interim managers have much in common: they are experienced external experts who can flexibly connect to a company to support it for a set period of time. But their roles markedly differ with regard to one aspect: interim managers remain in the enterprise while measures are being implemented. Interim management expert Iliana Schmatelka and Helga Pattart-Drexler, Head of Executive Education at the WU Executive Academy, talk about the advantages of interim management, the manifold opportunities for using interim management beyond crises, and points to consider when choosing an interim manager.

Pic of a manager looking at his watch
What makes good interim managers and what are they used for? Photo © CC0 Licence

Iliana Schmatelka’s vita is impressive: she looks back on more than 30 years of work in the finance industry as well as in production and trading companies in 19 countries around the globe. And still, she no longer calls an executive office her own as opposed to the time when she was still a student of the Global Executive MBA program at the WU Executive Academy. Among other things, she works as an interim manager today. As such, she takes on management tasks in an enterprise for a limited period of time. “What I find particularly interesting about interim assignments is that they require a combination of consulting and implementation at all times. A manager’s job is always very varied. You learn a lot and grow with every new assignment. The economy urgently needs experienced ‘doers.’ For this reason, interim management is the future,” Iliana Schmatelka says confidently.

Experts on Board

Helga Pattart-Drexler has no doubts about the advantages either: “Interim managers usually have a lot of experience in their industries and as leaders. Typically, they have worked in top- or middle-level management in a large company. Following a brief orientation phase, they take on the role of an operative line or project manager and become part of the regular business operations or support change processes. This way, a business can incorporate the help of external experts as needed. In times like today in which many companies are consciously working on morphing into digital enterprises, external technology know-how is in high demand. What is more: external experts can provide valuable input and feedback as they are not confined and limited by internal structures and hierarchies.”

Iliana Schmatelka has been working as an interim manager and consultant since 2010 and knows that in today's fast-moving business world, there is no time to split planning and implementation into a two-stage process: they have to happen seamlessly and efficiently.

Portrait Iliana Schmatelka

Iliana Schmatelka

  • Interim management expert and Global Executive MBA alumna

Due to their extensive experience, interim managers can provide targeted advice and implement measures at the same time. It is this key difference compared to traditional consulting that makes interim management so attractive. To say it with Peter Drucker: plans are only as good as their implementation.

Numerous Application Opportunities

“In our work with our customers, we keep seeing how stressful day-to-day live in businesses has become. In today’s corporate environment, numerous tasks must be handled simultaneously,” Helga Pattart-Drexler says. Against this backdrop, interim managers can solve urgent problems while working on change processes. And this is in no way limited to business crises: interim managers have successfully supported takeovers as well as restructuring and reorganization measures and have been hired to make up for a temporary staff shortage. Most recently, they have also been called upon to support project management, business development, or when specialized expertise on a given topic that cannot be covered by anyone in the company is needed.

It also makes sense to turn to interim managers when a company’s workload has become too large. This is typically reflected in, for instance, great staff fluctuations or many employees suffering from burnout. Iliana Schmatelka believes that hiring an interim manager will no longer be reserved to crisis situations in the near future. Instead, temporary managers will also be tasked with traditional management assignments, for instance in a growth phase. “Interim managers increase existing capacities, quickly and effectively.” However, it is important to keep in mind that assignments are taken over only for a limited period of time.

pic of a seperated puzzle piece as a symbol for a interim manager
Interim managers are no longer only used in crisis situations - they can also support the company in many other situations.

Finding the Ideal Interim Manager

Iliana Schmatelka points out that interim management is just starting to take off in Austria and other CEE countries. This is particularly true in comparison to the Netherlands, where interim management was developed 50 years ago, or Germany, where interim management is also more regularly used. According to Helga Pattart-Drexler, this situation is no coincidence: “Many businesses have simply never experienced successful interim management solutions or have been disappointed with interim managers hired. That is a pity.”

For interim management to succeed, it is crucial to find the “perfect fit,” as Iliana Schmatelka puts it, between the hiring company and the interim manager. But how do companies find the interim manager most suitable for their needs? Iliana Schmatelka, who has been working as an interim manager for almost ten years, can offer some useful tips for businesses.

Pic of a darts board
To hit the bull's eye with an interim manager, a combination of management experience, industry knowledge and the right skillset is required. Photo © CC0 Licence

Management Experience

Management experience is the most important thing. For this reason, companies should seek to hire interim managers who have held management positions for many years and can draw on solid know-how when it comes to leading teams, change management, business development, restructuring processes, or when supporting a start-up. Experience in planning resources, budgeting and financing, controlling and reporting is also key. A good interim manager has expertise in these fields because he or she will have to rely on this knowledge in implementing and successfully completing measures. Interim managers are not only consultants but also make decisions and enforce actions. For this reason, they must be able and willing to use their authority.

Function and Industry Knowledge

Expertise regarding the respective industry (automotive, banking, retail, etc.) or a specific function (production head, asset management, post-merger integration) only comes second. This is the case because interim managers are often not only tasked to head existing processes and teams following a short orientation phase, they are also responsible for giving them a new strategic orientation to improve results.

Personal Strengths

In addition to leadership experience and expertise, interim managers particularly need a solution-oriented approach, an independent mind, and the ability to implement strategies and reach objectives. It is crucial that interim managers are accepted by and gain the trust of clients and teams as quickly as possible in order to proceed in an effective and productive way. On their part, this requires flexibility, openness, loyalty, and the willingness to consistently fend for the client’s interests. Further crucial soft skills are a pronounced talent for communication and being a team player. Good interim managers get things done and are mentors and coaches. Staff working with them can learn much from them in the process.

The MBA programs at the WU Executive Academy provide executive education for all types of managers. For more information about the programs, please click here.

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