Fears of a deep and lengthy recession remain a top-of-mind worry for many.

In Southeast Asia, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and IMF World Economic Outlook are all expecting the region to see sharp economic declines as the result of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of Australia issued several forecast downgrades and released a COVID-19 downside scenario that predicts things will be worse than expected. 

Furthermore, even though the global economy will recover in due time, the ‘how’ and the ‘when’ are still very much in the air. Experts estimate that the downturn will endure deep into 2021 at the very least and, according to a recent research note by IHS Markit, it will likely “take two to three years for most economies to return to their pre-pandemic levels of output”.

In order to successfully deal with this complex and turbulent period, companies – or at least those that can afford to – will often look to hire appropriate expertise, especially those in the field of crisis management, change-of-leadership or business recovery. However, with falling revenue and headcount pressures, employers are hard-pressed to hire permanent staff, even those with relevant skills and strong experience.

Companies will look for interim managers that are unafraid to challenge the status quo and embrace change as part of their nature. 

This is where high-level, interim managers come into play. During business recovery periods, interim managers offer significant value to companies that are on the mend. For example, they help stem the bleeding by navigating the company through the immediate crisis at hand, they put together a recovery plan, as well as a strategy for the post-recovery ramp up, and they also help to maintain continuity and a sense of normalcy within the current operations. 

Janet Zhou, Associate Director, Contracting at PageGroup, shares three reasons why interim managers are so critical to businesses on the mend:

  • They inspire and help businesses minimise risks during an economic crisis
  • They provide quick response to urgent changes of any kind
  • They help drive the business with outcome-focused game plans.

Swarm intelligence

Futurist and author Alexandra Levit believes that the future of business, for full-timers and for interim executives alike, is the rise of the so-called ‘swarm team’: “It’s a short-term team that is assembled for the express purpose of solving a particular business problem,” Levit says. While full-time teams may soon become less commonplace, swarming seems like a viable way of assembling experts for a specific and focused task. She sees these teams becoming more commonplace, describing one that she was a part of: “I've never worked with any of these people before — and probably won't again.” Interim managers, too, form a critical part of this equation. 

So what specific skills do interim managers require? Answer this question, and you may have ensured your relevance for the workplace of tomorrow. 

1. Experience is important, but showcase the results too

When hiring contractors, temp staff or specialists, the company’s top priority is for this person to create immediate impact. As such, your experience in business recovery and helping other companies emerge out of a crisis is going to matter a whole lot more than everything else. Arm yourself with referrals from companies that you have worked with before. Share success stories from the past and have hard statistics to back them up. 

“Focus on the impact and accomplishment as opposed to roles and responsibilities,” advises Mabel Tang, Head of Acquisition, Asia Pacific at Moët Hennessy. “If you were the Director of Sales, your title already tells people what your responsibilities were. Don’t waste time describing what it is again [in the CV]. As businesses evolve, they start to look for people who drive changes. So if you have experience in business transformation or creating things from scratch, highlight it. Even if it’s a small project team, it’s an accomplishment.” Companies operating during an economic downturn, in particular, cannot afford to have employees ‘learn as they go’. So cut to the chase and let your accomplishments do the work. 

2. The ability to challenge the status quo

For businesses to recover, they can no longer rely on strategies that were tested and proven only in the pre-pandemic world. Instead, sweeping changes must be implemented, with old strategies committed to the bin and new ones adopted. As such, companies will look for interim managers that are unafraid to challenge the status quo and embrace change as part of their nature. 

“The best interim managers are also the ones who are used to continuous improvements. In fact, for this group of specialists, change is the only constant,” Zhou explains. “Agility, too, is critical, because a lot of times there isn’t a set way to solve a problem, and everyone has an idea for the best approach. Compromises have to be made, and you really have to be flexible to be able to do that.” 

Be an effective interim-manager

01 Highlight experience and results that have made an immediate impact

02 Embrace constant change and an agile mindset

03 Paint a strong vision and plot a roadmap for the business

04 Negotiation skills are key to your results and business recovery plan

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3. Communication is key

Knowing what needs to be done during business recovery and how long it takes is one thing. Being able to effectively communicate the outcomes needed is the mark of a truly seasoned interim manager. In short, it is about painting a vision and plotting a roadmap to get everybody on board. That is why Zhou sees decision-making capabilities, communication skills and process management as some of the most critical characteristics of an effective interim manager.  

Besides, good communication goes a long way at lubricating the tension between the existing team and the incoming interim manager who’s there to fix a certain problem. According to Levit: “In most cases, a lot of these people won't have worked together before. And so the important traits are obviously the ability to communicate extremely well — because you've got to develop rapport. And in front of people who don't trust you, because they don't know you.”

RELATED: 5 clear signs a contracting career is for you

4. Leadership and negotiation skills matter, too

With that said, just because the new business recovery plan is sound on paper does not mean that it is bound to succeed. Ultimately, the success (or failure) of the company’s recovery depends largely on buy-in from everybody involved — and employees, or humans in general, are resistant to change. This becomes particularly tricky when the entire job scope of an interim manager is to introduce and implement change at the workplace. 

Whenever you are dealing with periods of great structural changes, you need someone at the helm who can guide the team through, someone who is flexible, adaptable and outcome-focused.

Ultimately, it is not unusual for businesses to face drastic changes. If not a global pandemic or an economic downturn, other changes could very well include mergers and acquisitions, as well as restructuring among senior executives. Changes, big and small, are inevitable. “Whenever you are dealing with periods of great structural changes, you need someone at the helm who can guide the team through, someone who is flexible, adaptable and outcome focused,” Zhou says. “An interim manager, then, fits that role perfectly.”

RELATED: Maximising your people-driven business recovery

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