Interim management and coaching have much to link them, argues Raj Tulsiani
Interim management and executive coaching are not worlds apart. In fact, there is some crossover in what both groups do, so it is no surprise that many coaches undertake interim assignments from time to time or that many interims have coaching engagements within their portfolios. Both roles require the ability to swiftly assess organisations, teams and individuals, understanding commercial challenges and assimilate themselves into the culture. But perhaps the most meaningful alignment is the need to make an impact almost immediately: coaches and interim managers are expected to hit the ground running – whatever the assignment and whoever they’re working with.
For interims in assignment, there is also typically a coaching element to their remit. As a guide, interims would generally work one or two organisational levels below their ‘natural’ organisational level if they were permanently employed. That places them in an ideal position to help coach and mentor incumbent staff, thereby building a legacy of value, rather than building dependency. By way of example, an interim HR director we recently placed on a nine-month assignment was tasked with coaching the head of HR up into the HR director position. Interim management advocates would always argue that it’s this coaching / knowledge transfer element that sets interim management apart from management consultancy, which has earned a reputation for building a culture of dependency.
But do interims themselves need coaching? It’s an interesting point since interims (rightly or wrongly) sit outside organisational learning and development programmes. With the focus on interims getting up to speed and making an impact quickly, it would seem to make sense to fit them into coaching or leadership & development (L&D) programmes – but there needs to be an element of realism in investing such resources in a ‘transient’ member of the workforce. One answer might be a ‘first three days’ induction programme for an hour a day at the beginning of an assignment. . The other time coaches might have a very real chance to help interims is in situations where an assignment is facing a roadblock or stakeholder management challenge – where a coach might be able to provide an objective view and help map a path forward.
There are also things that coaches can learn from interims. As outsiders, interims have a unique perspective because they have experienced the organisation’s culture from the inside, but still have a largely objective view of what goes on and what does or doesn’t gets done. Interims are unencumbered by politics or ‘sacred cows’, and so are ideally placed to identify challenges and issues.
A simple exit interview or discussion with the coaching function would help capture this precious information, which could then be fed into wider coaching or L&D programmes. For example, if a number of interims highlighted reluctance for people to challenge decisions in an organisation that valued challenge, coaches could help break down that cultural barrier over time.
Put simply, not enough is being made of the relationship between interims and coaches (if there is one!) – and that’s a missed opportunity on both sides.
Raj Tulsiani is co-founder and CEO of Green Park