When change is a priority and the senior team has its work cut out dealing with the core business, it's time to call in the interim executive. John West reports Retailers and manufacturers need to keep re-inventing themselves in the race to keep ahead of trends and consumer demand, but often there's no time to go through a lengthy recruitment process to get the right people. That's where temporary staff come in ­ not in the traditional sense of secretaries and admin staff however, rather, in the shape of interim executives. These are highly qualified and experienced professionals who can turn it on' within a given brief and time frame, and once the job is finished, they're off to the next one. An ever widening range of businesses use this resource, including manufacturing companies. Retail has been much slower to wake up to the advantages, although about 6% of the interim management market is now in the retail sector. The leading retailers that use interim management are reluctant to discuss the details, preferring to keep their human resourcing issues private. The whole market place is estimated to be worth about £500m in the UK, with the year-on-year growth of around 20% for the past three years expected to continue. Most companies have, from time to time, a need that overstretches either the number or competency of their existing senior team. The trend for leaner structures means that when the overdrive button is pressed, there are often not enough resources to move the situation on quickly. Taking a key executive or director away from his usual role can be dangerous, and in such cases outside support is often the answer. A few of the most common assignments result from the need for change that is either internally driven or externally imposed. Retailers and manufacturers can get value out of interim managers on a number of occasions: after acquisitions, mergers or disposals or restructuring issues, project management or the application of a particular and missing skill onto an existing project team; managing an unplanned absence of senior function heads or directors; and start-up or closedowns of departments, companies or locations, implementation of new technology or supporting rapid growth and product launches. Retailers may need business development support as a new and related product area emerges which is not their core offer. An experienced executive could drive the project as far and as fast as the company might want without diverting the in house team from the core business. In manufacturing, a production plant start up, say in a foreign country, would be a typical assignment. Interim managers have chosen, for diverse reasons, to establish independent careers. They are normally 40-plus and companies find their proven track record and experience the most attractive feature; they are applied, professionals who are task oriented and results-driven. They can focus and have no political involvement in the company. Their first concern is to forge alliances with key people in the organisation, therefore interpersonal skills are key. Ian Stewart worked on an assignment for a major clothing retailer over the busy Christmas and New Year. He says: "I was able to apply my wider experience immediately and bring fresh thinking to running one of their major out-of-town branches. It was important to assimilate the company culture and to quickly identify the buttons that needed to be pressed to make things happen. I turned a suspicious store team into one comprising high achievers and my costs were more than covered by a higher than expected sales increase over the period. "The client, from being sceptical, became convinced the tactical use of interims really works." In most cases an interim can be identified, interviewed and placed in a matter of days, which outpaces the conventional recruitment search and select period. And because of their experience, the interim is able to swiftly assimilate and grasp a situation and rapdily become effective. The companies know a seasoned professional has taken responsibility to deliver their assignment within the agreed time and that full-time executives are still able to get on with the day to day work. The interim manager has a focused piece of work, no distractions and ultimately intense job satisfaction. And in 95% of situations, companies agree that the "interim option" would be their choice again to resolve difficult resource issues. As the retail environment gets tougher, flexible approaches to staffing will separate out the successful companies and the interim answer could become a permanent solution. - John West is head of a new specialist Interim Agency at Star Executives {{MANAGEMENT FEATURE }}