Portfolio working for interim managers

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Portfolio working for interim managers


Portfolio working, whereby interim managers provide services for more than one client simultaneously, is a much talked about approach amongst career interims.

The opportunity to ‘mix-and-match’ assignments is appealing for those aiming to optimise earnings and broaden their scope by gaining exposure to different working practices and industries. This mode of working is particularly appealing to female interim managers, with research commissioned by Interimwomen in August 2010 indicating that more than half (57%) of the 1,400 survey respondents indicated that they’d be happy to work for more than one client. Just over a third (34%) stated a preference to actively develop portfolio working.

While this approach has its benefits, including the chance to create a better work/life balance or earn more money, there are still several factors inhibiting the wider uptake of a portfolio career.
It can be a challenge to manage several clients’ expectations, and securing the optimum number and type of assignments to make portfolio working financially viable is not always a straightforward process.

[The opportunity to 'mix-and-match' assignments is appealing ...]

Update from the IIM

Research by the Institute of Interim Management (IIM) confirms the relatively low adoption of this interim management working pattern. Their 2011 Interim Management Survey, which includes 1,105 interim manager respondents, stated that “only 15% of interim managers actively service more than one concurrent client.” Of this percentage, the majority (two-thirds) have two clients within their portfolio, with the remaining third stating they work with three to four clients, or more.

At Page Executive Interim, our experience of portfolio working mirrors that of the recent IIM findings. Although it’s a concept often mentioned by interim managers and those looking to hire, it isn’t as straightforward to follow in practice.

Sector-specific challenges

Different sectors and functional areas have unique factors which may prevent the adoption of portfolio working. Paul Fleming, associate director at Page Executive Interim believes that the particular challenge for the engineering and manufacturing sectors is that the interim skills required are often for operational or financial distress situations. There are several challenges to manage, so organisations in this space require the focus of someone full-time to deliver results and affect change. Thus, an interim manager looking to build up a portfolio of clients may struggle in the engineering and manufacturing sectors due to the role requirements being full-time.

“There are certain sectors of the market where it should make sense for interim managers to be able to develop a portfolio career,” according to Paul. For example, in Cambridge there are hundreds of early stage businesses and business incubators. In theory, they would benefit from the input of a finance director for a couple of days a month to offer advice and input, yet it’s rare that anyone manages a portfolio of clients doing this successfully. Many of these businesses haven’t had financial input previously and don’t realise the value it could bring. They see it as increased cost and, “you don’t miss what you’ve never had,” said Paul.

Aspiring portfolio workers

The consensus from the team at Page Executive Interim is that portfolio working is spoken about far more than it actually occurs as a successful career. There isn’t a big demand for part-time interim managers amongst our clients. But for those looking to investigate this route, Paul stresses the importance of developing a strong network.

“To get into this type of work, your own network is critical,” according to Paul, “use it to open doors and as hard as it is, network even when you’re in your current assignment.” Paul agrees that “self-promotion, relationship development and networking are key to pursuing this route.” He also believes that the main challenge is to develop a portfolio of clients. After the first assignment, it becomes progressively harder to fill your book up due to time and location constraints. “You also can’t run at 100% capacity, as then you can’t market yourself out,” he said.

Paul also cautions prospective portfolio workers not to “look at it through rose-tinted spectacles.” Successful interim managers may have developed strong CVs with proven strategic thinking and change management experience. In comparison, many portfolio assignments, due to the organisations that they’re supporting, are quite straight-forward and mundane and could be quite a way below their professional capabilities.

Need further advice on developing your interim management career? Get in touch with Page Executive Interim for more advice.