The Chief Executive of Metropolitan Housing Partnership, Brian Johnson tells us about his experience of using Interim Managers
Brian, can you tell us why you’re an advocate for interims?
For me, interims can play a vital part in an organisation and, not surprisingly, they really come into their own in situations around change and turnaround. They're at their most valuable when a short sharp burst of a high level skill set or leadership capability is needed in a senior management team. Good and talented interims can fill those gaps in an effective way that leaves a lasting legacy that can be built on for the future.
When did you first bring on board an interim and what was the specific brief?
I was working at Remploy as its Operations Director and in 2002 I brought in an interim to establish a new electrical good recycling business. The brief was very clear and was all about creating the necessary contact base and sales pipeline as well as establishing the right operations to deliver it in the company’s existing factories. I selected an interim who had great electronic sector experience but he had also worked in the waste disposal industry so he had the perfect complimentary skill sets.
How many interims have you instructed over the years?
I’ve brought in about 12 since 2002, which works out to roughly one year; half of which have been at the executive team level.
Are there any specific roles that you think interims are most suited for?
In my view, there are two very different sorts of roles where interims come into their own so it’s important to differentiate them. The first is where one is dealing with lots of changes in a business or organisation and a critical gap appears. An interim can be essential to fill that gap before a more long term solution is found. The other is getting an organisation over a lump of activity when someone with a specific and often very strong skill set is needed who wouldn’t be required over the longer term.
Retaining top talent and commercial candidates is an issue for most organisations in the sector so how do you approach that challenge?
I’m a stronger believer in the fact that lots of types of skills and experience are – and should be - transferable. There’s also real merit in building mixed teams of people who have different professional backgrounds. It is of course important to have people who know the sector but it’s equally important to recruit those who have demonstrated the right skills but in a different environment. This approach brings an interesting blend of knowledge and it challenges the sector norms. I also think creating that kind of constructive tension is beneficial for the wider organisation.
In today’s challenging environment, organisations in the sector need to be more efficient and commercial in their approach and culture. What’s your view on that and how do you go about achieving it?
In my view, senior roles should change shape over a number of years. If that doesn’t happen an organisation will stay stagnant and won’t develop. It’s vital to keep leadership fresh by evolving responsibilities and by bringing in new dynamics. It’s very much about continuing to refresh things and keeping it exciting, dynamic, mobile and pacey.
What do you think the sector can do to promote the work it does to entice more commercial joint venture partnership across all areas of delivery from property and construction, to care and support and customer / tenant satisfaction?
One thing we can do is to try and bring in more experienced and talented people who have worked in different sectors. Again, it’s about blending all the good bits together. Over the past couple of years, I have seen a real need to broaden the skills base and to have more people who are analytical and good at relationship management. If the right leadership isn’t in place then the organisation can’t flourish. I’m also a big advocate of stripping out a lot of unnecessary policy so what’s left is clear, adhered to and forms the overall envelope of how an organisation should work. The focus should be on what needs to be achieved and strong leadership will mean the right decisions are made. That can be difficult for organisations that have been brought up in a strong regulatory world. However, we’re fortunate as that’s not how it is for our sector. This means we can work more intelligently and be more responsive.
Having the right skills and experience is of course vital but what other qualities do you look for when recruiting an interim?
The most important thing is show your commitment and how you – as an interim – operate; next – clearly demonstrate that you can asses, understand and adapt to new situations; finally – get across that you will compatible with the existing team as the last thing a client wants is unnecessary conflict.