What's ahead for interim managers in 2024?

January reflections: As the New Year gets underway, our Partner for Local and Regional Government, Neil Lupin, shares a few thoughts on what might be ahead in 2024

As it’s January, I can’t help but look to the year ahead. What might it hold for the local and regional government,  but also what might it hold for interim managers?

I do wonder if 2023 will go down in the annals of local government history as a tough year. It’s certainly been a tough year in other sectors, too. Perhaps we will look back on it fondly after we’ve gone through another General Election this year (whenever that might eventually be!), but I suspect not. 2023 is the year when section 114 notices became public property. Not that the true meaning of a 114 is actually understood in the media – or if it is, then it is twisted to mean a council is bankrupt which, as anyone in the sector knows, is simply not the case. However, ‘bankruptcy’ and ‘114’ are now interchangeable in the public eye and even if the media has manipulated the truth as click bait, that perception has stuck. The reality of course is that 114s are planned and managed as carefully as circumstances allow. They are most certainly not ‘the end’, but they are the beginning of a new phase. Despite the record numbers of 114s issued in 2023, we have not seen the last of them. I wouldn’t wish to bet on how many we will see in 2024, but I believe it will be in double digits.

If financial (in)stability wasn’t enough to contend with, local authorities are running on ever slimmer budgets, having largely taken out all of the more easily achieved savings in order to continue to deliver their core services. In any General Election year there will be further instability as authorities change political colour and with it, very often these days, officer leadership. It is a sad inevitability that the tenure of Chief Executives and other senior officers is starting to look a little like the tenure of a typical Premiership football team manager. And the jobs aren’t getting more attractive – if anything they are becoming less attractive to those who might previously have aspired to take them on which in itself creates a whole challenge around succession planning.

It’s not just the finances and electoral cycle that authorities will be preoccupied with in 2024. The cost of living crisis hasn’t gone away and the burden on Authorities will only increase- whether it’s levelling up, devolution, infrastructure or social care – the list goes on.

So where does this leave interim managers? While there is no doubt times are tough at present, the interim manager community is thriving. There are still plenty of opportunities for good interims across service areas, leadership roles and in change / transformation / programme management. At times of rationalisation we usually find that interims are deployed into time limited roles where their knowledge and expertise enables an organisation to deliver something it otherwise might not be able to. Now, more than ever, it is a time to step back and reflect on getting the right interim. The right interim and not just any interim. I’ve talked about due diligence more times than I care to mention in and it cuts both ways. The hiring organisation has a gap to cover or something to change / fix but the interim needs to assess whether those deliverables and context in which they’d be operating are realistic. That means due diligence carried out by the interim is just as important as the due diligence carried out by us as part of the selection process and by the end client during the interview process. Success is a shared endeavour and success is only achievable when all parties are aligned. That’s where McLean Public comes in. We help the local and regional authorities to work out what is needed and possible and therefore who the best possible interims might be. In turn we make sure those interims are thoroughly vetted and briefed so that by the time they get to interview they know as much about the role, the people, the place and its context as is possible. Then it’s down to the client and candidate to find out what affinity, empathy and indescribable magic connects them so that they can work together.

As one interim puts it so eloquently, “we disrupt positively, challenge appropriately and offer many avenues of improvement. [We] move at pace, evaluate and landscape continuously. It’s…about outcomes and sustainability…delivered [by] agreeing what’s in and out…, being fleet of foot and [building] legacy.” And that’s just for starters – just a handful of things a great interim will do.

Even in challenging times for a sector, there should be no compromises when hiring an interim. In fact, you could argue that the greater the challenge, the greater the due diligence required. Success comes through our partnership with both interims and end clients.

Neil Lupin

Partner, Local and Regional Government

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