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Consultancy or Interim Management? The misnomer continues.

14 May 2014

Question – do our clients differentiate between the terms ‘Consultant’ and ‘Interim Manager’ and what does this mean for interims?

This topic continues to be the subject of much debate and I know very well the argument of ‘advisory versus delivery.’ However, this argument tends to be confined to the world of interim managers and providers while clients continue, in my experience, to equate ‘interim management’ with ‘gap management.’

To give an example, I recently met the Chairman and his CEO of a successful FTSE listed engineering business who both equated interim management with gap management, a resource they had no requirement for.  In my experience this is a fairly standard initial response when introducing the concept of interim management, but we all know this is a very small part of what interim management is about.

During the course of the meeting the CEO started to talk through issues he faced, namely driving operational excellence; continuous improvement and cultural change. I explained that the predominant requirement from my clients was to provide expert resource for planned, budgeted and board level sponsored projects that often focused on the three areas he’d highlighted, and across all disciplines from finance and HR to supply chain and operations.  This was a revelation to both as they equated the specialist delivery skills they needed with those provided by consultants.

This is a common scenario that I’m sure is a familiar experience to many providers. I can however, report that we are now in discussion about hiring interim resource to drive the change – a win for interim over consultancy!

So do clients really care about definitions and more importantly, if they don’t, what does this mean for interim managers?

The time constraints of business meetings often make it a challenge to push the traditional definition of interim management versus consultancy and I’ve found that clients respond far more to the idea of project management and crisis management, something they understand, rather than interim management which as a concept, is generally less clear to them. To clients, the pros and cons of interim vs. consultancy are really irrelevant as in their minds, they’re basically indistinguishable and with time at a premium, you’re not making the best use of it arguing over advisory vs. delivery.

A final observation.

I have an interim manager on a long term assignment working with a major aerospace OEM who doesn’t recognise interim managers as a resource category – it’s either temporary contract or consultancy. My interim is working as an Associate for a Management Consultancy and he’s not alone, the OEM in question engages many interims, but not as interims!

Question – do our clients differentiate between the terms ‘Consultant’ and ‘Interim Manager?’ Answer – No.

What does this mean for interims? Potentially missed opportunities.  If ‘consulting’ is a term that for clients includes interim management, why spend valuable time challenging the notion if at the end of the day, so many still don’t equate interim management with change and project management?  Who knows, if we adopt a broader definition, we may even be able to push up day rates and close the gap between interim managers and consultants. That however, is an entirely separate debate!

Tom Legard, Consultant

Tom is a Consultant in the EMI Practice, read Tom's profile.


David Chambers at 30/05/2014 16:17 said:

Tom in answer to why clients better understand what to expect from consultants...than interims, I think the answer is the usual "it depends". In this case it depends on the consultant. I think clients would see individual interims and consultants on an equal basis in terms of expectation - in both cases it is the individual who must create the compelling case for their expertise and put their individual reputation on the line. However this is very different when it comes to working with a consultant as part of a broader "consultancy" From the client perspective this scenario is not comparable to that of the individual interim expert.

As 'interims' we are seen as sole traders and experts in our field, but often without the backing of the broader offer a consultancy's 'consultant' will bring, being:(among other things) proprietary research, tools and techniques, their invisible team of analysts and wider support to the consultant, the back up of the firm when things go wrong and of course, the consultancy brand.

So perhaps the distinction is only made when comparing an individual interim, as against a consultant backed by a TW, Hewitt, Deloitte or other firm.

Tom Legard at 21/05/2014 13:38 said:

Paul, Simon,

Thank you both for your thoughts.

I have to say I would agree with you both, but Paul you hit the nail on the head. Why is it though that clients better understand what to expect from a Consultant? Do we spend too much valuable time trying to differentiate between the two, when we should be focussing on winning the brief? My final thought, what would be the reasons for not 'going along' with client expectations and referring to interim or consulting in the same breath?

Paul Williams at 19/05/2014 09:35 said:

I think clients buy the expected results from the professional service being delivered. My experience is that they understand better what they expect from a consultant. The key thing in my mind is whether or not the consultant manages any of the client's staff, and whether individual is integrated into the client's management structure.

Simon Jacobs at 15/05/2014 09:50 said:


You are right! It is we interims who agonize over differentiating ourselves from consultants and contractors (and others) and we who claim that if you are paid less than £X/day you are not a real interim. Our client's really don't care. They have an issue, a problem, a project and even a gap, and they need someone to deal with it/them. It is we interims who can provide a cost-effective solution!