Anecdotes on Consulting Versus Interim Management

Whether to use consultants versus interim managers can be a bit of a loaded topic, and I'll choose not to address every angle in one post. Here I will just scratch the surface and paint some color by relating some anecdotal experiences. Depending on interest level, I may follow-up this post with additional discussion at a broader level.

To set the context, here's a couple of working definitions that I'll offer up:

  • Consulting – use of a third-party (potentially a team) to help a company solve a particular business problem (for example, evaluate business opportunity for offering mobility applications to consumers, provide an independent assessment of a failing call center)
  • Interim Management – use of one or more experienced individuals to take or play the role of a manager or executive within the company (for a limited period of time or trial period).

Now my deeper attention to the term "interim management" first started when I worked back in the 90s at the management consulting firm, PRTM. As context for those not familiar with PRTM, I characterized PRTM (back then at least) as firm that balanced strategy and operations engagements. As such, the firm got involved with both early strategic planning and later-phase, tactical design of business capabilities. At risk of oversimplifying, PRTM consultants were not just pure strategy guys, but they were often people with actual implementation and management experience. There used to be a firm motto that floated around to the effect of, "Results, Not Reports". This motto was essentially a shot at strategy firm practices of delivering stacks of analyses and reports that never had an impact. One of the partners (who had just rolled off an assignment as interim CEO) described to me his view on interim management something to the effect as follows, "Interim management is something [infrequent] that the firm only does for special clients. Unless approached correctly interim management can create a dependency between the firm consultant and the client that is hard to wean the parties off of. But interim management can offer a variety of benefits, particularly when a company wants to move forward with operational execution immediately."

Since then, here's a few examples I've heard from clients over the years which are indicative of a lean more towards use of interim management over consulting approaches:

  • "We don't have the management skill set internally, and we need to fill three management roles in finance, services, and technology pretty immediately while introducing more sophisticated practices that can be transferred to the larger organization as we grow."
  • "We are exploring this new geography for our products and services, and we need someone to help us as a general executive (covering all entity and operational requirements) to see if we can get things to pan out."
  • "Our marketing VP will be going out on parental leave, and we need someone to fill the role for six- to nine-months."
  • "We need someone that can fulfill the corporate development function with total dedication, but we need the option to release this person once we have met the objective of securing a beachhead in the North America enterprise market."

7 Replies to “Anecdotes on Consulting Versus Interim Management”

  1. Great post, Steve.
    A would also add…
    * Consulting: advisor without the power of making ultimate decisions, thus cannot be made responsible for results. Results depend on what the client does with the advice.
    * Interim Management: Real decision-makers, thus can be made responsible for results.

  2. Tom,
    Thanks. Great adds. Reflecting on my post, I think I may have focused a bit more on the front end of the process with respect to the needs driving the process. That said, you raise great points on both the objectives and goals that need to be clarified at the onset and what needs to be delivered at the end (for both cases).

  3. Good post Steve and you raise some good points here.
    The main point is that when the client just wants an overview of how the business is failing, consultancy is the best option – if they have the skilled management in already. A more hands on approach and more viable approach if they don’t have skilled management in place is interim management.
    Tom is quite right and provides a really good definition.

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  5. Hi Steve,
    I would also add a third category here – which I don’t think is just semantics – that of Interim Consultant….and I would differentiate between Interim Manager and Interim Consultant as follows:
    1) Interim Manager – someone brought on board to fulfil a specific role, often board level, as a decision maker or advisor to the decision makers. Often a temporary replacement whilst permanent recruitment is going on, or to cover for leave/absence of some kind
    2) Interim Consultant – someone brought on board to acheive a specific objective, normally the delivery of a project/programme.

    I’m not sure I agree with the description that Consultant (or consultancy) doesn’t have responsibility for the results – large consultancies such as Accenture are brought in specifically because the company wants someone to own the risk around delivery. However the difference with hiring an Interim Consultant is that the company may want to retain more control over the process and DOES want to own it’s own risk -they just need the manpower and skillsets to make the delivery possible.
    Does that make sense?

    1. Jo,

      Thanks for the contributions, and the additional color does make sense. I had not really seen the term interim consultant used that much. “Interim consultant” seems very similar to “consultant”?


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