Your boss is taking an extended summer vacation, or maybe she’s about to go on maternity leave – either way your team needs an interim manager and that person is you.
Leading a team in a competitive, well compensated sector like banking is never easy, but if you’re only in interim charge for a few months (or weeks) you face a host of unique challenges and have very little time to overcome them.
We speak to management experts about how to set short-term goals, deal with resentful colleagues, handle the pressure of being an interim manager and perhaps even mark yourself out for a future, permanent managerial promotion.
When you’re first told of your temporary charge, show some enthusiasm. “Demonstrate that you see it as an opportunity, not a burden. It’s your chance to show what you have learnt on the job and your readiness for promotion when the opportunity arises in the future,” says Tony Latimer, training director at the Asia Pacific Corporate Coach Institute in Singapore.
Avoid asking your boss for a bonus or pay rise for taking on the additional responsibility. “It will only detract from the fact that this is an opportunity to grow your skill-set and showcase your capabilities. The financial rewards will come later; focus on what you can control now,” says Sharmini Wainwright, regional director of recruiters Michael Page in Hong Kong.
“Discuss with your manager before they leave about what your authority limits are and check that these have been made public,” says Latimer. “And make sure you know who to go to if anything unusual happens on your watch.”
Also ask your manager what “fundamental outcomes” they would like you to achieve while they are away, says Wainwright. “So many people forget to do this and try to create the objectives list themselves. It’s much better to be aligned with your manager.”
Make sure the goals you’re given are actually achievable. “You have limited time to get results and develop credibility, so focus on being efficient at these two things – this isn’t the time to wonder about what the broad departmental goals are,” says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, a career coach with SixFigureStart, a New York-based consultancy whose clients have included Bank of America, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan.
Don’t ignore business-as-usual team objectives because you think your staff can achieve them without your help – it’s you who will be judged harshly if they can’t get the routine tasks right. “Are the team working on an ongoing goal, say a sales target, so you need to ensure they’re hitting their weekly or monthly numbers? Confirm exactly what needs to happen and how it will be measured so you can laser focus on that,” says Ceniza-Levine.
Don’t simply agree to take on dull administrative duties – ask your departing boss for more details. “If they delegate a specific part of their regular tasks to you, such as the monthly management report, ensure you have absolute clarity on how they want it done,” says Latimer from the Corporate Coach Institute.
As an interim manager who was already in the team, you are not being parachuted in as a trouble-shooter, so don’t agree to any objectives involving solving deep-seated team problems. “And don’t try to change everything. You might think you know how to improve the entire company, but unless that’s your mandate, just stick to the current objectives to get some quick traction first,” says Ceniza-Levine.
Sending an email explaining that you’re taking the reins isn’t enough. “Kick off by meeting everyone to tell them you’re looking after the function and that they should be comfortable approaching you with any queries. It’s also worth outlining what the team goals are for the timeframe you are responsible for,” says Wainwright from Michael Page.
Some colleagues may resent you being chosen as the temporary manager instead of them. “Don’t let this put you off, but be sensitive in your communication style. For example, try being collaborative by pitching ideas to them first and getting them on board first,” says Wainwright.
There’s no need to adopt an unnaturally tough managerial attitude to prove to colleagues that you’re capable of leading them. Remember that if you weren’t up to the job, your boss wouldn’t have even asked you to take charge. “Be natural and not too different from your normal work persona, otherwise you may open yourself up to criticism from peers,” advises Wainwright.
“Minimise the disruption to the team,” say Wainwright. “Try to absorb any problems that arise yourself rather than delegate them to others – it’s important for the team to feel that it’s business as usual under your leadership and everything is under control.”
Dedicate a chunk of every day to dealing with the concerns of your team. Your success will be measured not only by whether you achieved you goals but also by whether your staff supported you. If you can establish a reputation as an approachable, pro-active manager in the short-term, a permanent promotion may come your way in the future. “Pitfalls for temporary managers include not developing the trust of the team and therefore not being perceived as management material. If you’re going to take on a temporary assignment, make sure you can get the team behind you,” says Ceniza-Levine from SixFigureStart.
Once your assignment is over make sure that whoever placed you in the role knows what you’ve accomplished. “Debrief with your team to get their feedback and document the positive comments to share with management. Even if there are no more opportunities to manage at this company, this stint gives you a great example to highlight at future job interviews,” says Ceniza-Levine.