Replacing a manager is challenging, even when things end on a good note. Keeping teams and processes running smoothly while filling a managerial role is critical to organizational success. To avoid disruptions, organizations often choose an interim manager to take over the position before formally hiring someone for the role.
Interim managers are traditionally assigned when no other manager is present, typically when an acting manager leaves the company. Although these positions are usually temporary, interim managers can become permanent hires if both the manager and employer reach an agreement.
Often, there are two types of interim managers: an internal employee who already has knowledge and rapport with the organization and its employees or an experienced manager from outside the company who brings leadership experience and expertise. Although many business leaders may look to an interim manager to maintain the status quo until a permanent substitute is found, interim managers can help navigate challenges that can positively impact a business beyond the temporary role.
Challenges of an Interim Manager
People in this role often confront unique challenges that managers in permanent roles may not experience. Being aware of the possible obstacles can help interim managers dedicate themselves to causes and initiatives that impact the organization.
Resistance to Change
Resistance to change is often experienced by people who has this role, whether it be from internal promotions or external hires. Expect organizational resistance in response to new management, particularly in a temporary role. Being flexible as to what decisions are accepted and rejected can help interim managers guide an organization in transition.
Permanent managers benefit from longer timelines that make it possible to see the result of their efforts. Interim managers, on the other hand, have shorter timelines that can make it challenging to enact long-term initiatives. Because of this, interim managers should be thoughtful in the scope of their decision-making and reserve long-term strategies for permanent management roles.
Managers lead by example, and for interim managers, it's no different. Both internal promotions to acting management roles and interim managers acquired externally require a substantial time commitment, which may go beyond the standard workweek. Internal promotions may have to maintain their regular duties in addition to those of their interim management role. Also, external managers may require a significant time investment to get up to speed with the organization's current position in the industry and the market.
Four Tips for Making the Most of an Interim Manager Role
Interim management roles may be temporary, but they don't have to be fruitless. To make the most of an interim management role, consider the following:
For some, filling an interim management role is seen as an opportunity for professional growth; for others, it's a temporary assignment until a permanent hire is found. Interim managers should have a frank conversation with leadership to communicate desired outcomes.
Interim managers who wish to fill the role permanently must communicate their desire to retain the position with the company’s management. In addition, interim-to-permanent managers should differentiate themselves by diagnosing areas for improvement or ways to eliminate inefficiencies over the short and medium terms. Identifying how to take action on strategic initiatives can help create a compelling argument for a permanent position.
On the other hand, people in this role who only wish to fill the position temporarily should be honest with management to ensure that the organization is proactive in its hiring decisions.
Understand the Role
An interim manager is responsible for understanding and maintaining the boundaries of their role. Transformative change may be met with pushback from leadership or lead to undesirable outcomes for the organization in the long term.
Instead, identify where "modest-sized" decisions will be most impactful to capture quick wins. As an interim manager, focusing on short-term corrective actions can result in positive outcomes for the company as well as future career opportunities.
Demonstrate willingness to Learn
Whether an interim manager is promoted internally or sought out externally, all employees who have that role can maximize the opportunity by demonstrating an eagerness to learn. Each company, industry, and role functions differently, and although previous leadership experience is no doubt helpful for a temporary managerial role, interim managers can benefit by being proactive learners. Ask thoughtful questions, listen to others, build trust, and perform research to better understand how previous experience can apply to the current role.
Go the Extra Mile
Interim managers may find the higher expectations and need to demonstrate new capabilities associated with the role to be challenging. Commit to the position by offering feedback to employees regarding areas for improvement and celebrate successes to demonstrate positive reinforcement. In addition, consider and support tough decisions with evidence, such as where budgets should be cut and why or where you can make cost savings by eliminating redundant processes or roles.
There's No Substitute for Good Management
Ultimately, all organizations benefit from management that can make tough decisions, respond to feedback, and establish or maintain a positive work environment. Interim management is most effective when it resolves to focus on existing issues. Whether they end up staying on the job or not, interim managers can help lay a positive foundation for the permanent role to promote a hassle-free transition.