Diversity of thought in Interim Management

"I think the idea that diversity doesn’t apply to Interim Management is the dumbest thing I have ever heard."

Latest opinion from Steve Rutherford, Head of Interim Management Practice at Rees Draper Wright.

Several years ago, I wrote a piece about the lack of gender diversity in UK Interim Management and the impact this has on the business world. The recent annual Institute of Interim Management suggests that the situation is gradually improving, but this is only to be expected.

Given that the vast majority of Interim Managers will have started their careers in the late 70s through to the late 80s, the improving picture now just reflects the (very slowly) improving hiring behaviours of employers in Thatcher’s Britain.

Hence I expect that the IIM’s survey will show a gradually improving picture in years to come, at least in the overall gender mix of Interim Managers. It would be interesting to see if there is also an improvement in the ratio of women to men winning assignments and whether there is a significant gender pay gap to close.

I have heard it said, that perhaps this stuff isn’t really important. Interim Management isn’t a recruitment relationship, Interim Managers aren’t employees and don’t figure in Pay Gap Reporting.

No-one cares what gender (or ethnicity, orientation, etc) their professional advisors are, so why would they care about the gender of their Interim CEO?

As you might expect from the pieces I have written previously, and also from one I wrote on the 1st April about Transformation, I think the idea that diversity doesn’t apply to Interim Management is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Diversity is always relevant to Interim Management and it always has been.

Diversity of thought is required in every Interim assignment.

The vast majority of Interim Management assignments start with a significant problem. The CEO has been fired, the union are picketing the factory, the Sales Director has just been done for drink driving and the CFO is hiding in the stationary cupboard… or variations of the above. The Board are scratching their heads as to what to do. They all entered the business world in the 1970s and have worked in the same industry ever since, as have all of the Exec and everyone who works for them.

“The world has changed? What do we do?” says the Chair. “I know”, says the Group HRD, “I’ll call an Interim Management Provider and we’ll hire another ‘bloke’ like us, but who went to a better university”.

"Diversity of Thought is the most effective way to drive other forms of diversity in Interim Management, not least because it will drive better commercial outcomes."

OK, so quite a lot of my usual hyperbole involved above. However, I am astonished how often the brief I receive, from a smart senior client, is that all that’s required to fix their significant issues is another one of the same. This can work, but often doesn’t, and I will often advocate a different approach.

Absolutely, an Interim Manager needs to have enough familiarity with the problem to solve, and to have solved it before, but the sector is nearly always irrelevant, and actually not having worked in the specific segment can be helpful. Sector agnostic Interim Managers tend to ask the uninformed questions and are not accepting of the pre-programmed fob offs. “We always do that at XYZ Widgets”. “Why?” replies Interim Manager.

There have been lots of good examples of Diversity of Thought in Interim Management in recent times. I have been impressed by how the General Insurance sector has sucked in talent from Retail & Consumer to help them on a journey to digital transformation. Better to take someone who is match fit from battling the death of the high street, than someone who has watched their sector’s margin being eroded by a bunch of meerkat intermediaries!

Diversity of Thought is the most effective way to drive other forms of diversity in Interim Management, not least because it will drive better commercial outcomes. Searching for gender diverse candidates with 30 year track records in Oil & Gas is whistling Dixie, but most leadership roles in Shell’s Exco actually require no more familiarity with their sector than being to fill a tank of unleaded and, actually, not coming from Oil and Gas is possibly a huge advantage.

Shell, and any other successful company, are successful because they have lots of people who know about running a steady state business effectively. However, when a business wants to grow more quickly, do different things or, god forbid, starts to struggle, better to hire the smartest person they can who thinks different to them, and that opens a huge possibility for driving other forms of diversity too.

Many sectors have far more gender balanced boards than others and typically, the more successful a business is, the more diverse the leadership. Better to hire an Interim Manager who can bring great ideas from a great business outside your sector than someone who knows all the answers, but doesn’t know the right questions.

Diversity in Interim Management?

Here to stay.

Steve Rutherford

07887-725676 : steve@rdw.uk.com