Interim management outlook: public v private sector

Written by
Changeboard Team

10 Nov 2013

10 Nov 2013 • by Changeboard Team

What's the current interim HR market like?

'It’s a bloodbath, it’s never been like this, now’s the time to get out of the public sector…' Well, it’s not been as bad as that, despite the hysterical reporting coming from some outlets. 

The simplest way to give a generalised picture of the environment for HR interim managers is to say that it’s in a holding pattern and moving tentatively. While a form of decision paralysis has taken root in the Civil Service thanks to their political masters stopping all non essential spending, the machinery of Government continues to rumble on.

The market for those HR professionals with proven change management and delivery experience has been very good in the private sector, especially so in financial services. Whether we like it or not, the city still provides much of the momentum for the interim market and this is emphasised by the marked north/south split in interim manager hiring patterns at the moment.

All change due to spending review?

Sweeping change is coming to the whole public sector with thousands of employees affected. The question that’s often asked at the moment is, “Will there be an increase in opportunities for interim HR professionals to deliver public sector change programmes”? As an interim provider with experience of how the public sector manages change going back over several years, my answer would be yes.

However at a conference during the summer, Sir Peter Gershon when quizzed about whether the Civil Service ‘could fix its own house’, replied that he thought it could and should. The public sector had become too reliant on external consultants and needed to do more for itself. He did point out the size of the task facing HR teams in particular though.

Public versus private interim HR

Whether it’s within the public or private realm, those who deliver results by engaging with their clients in a way that gets the best out of them are always in demand. One consistent trend throughout this long recession has been, that for the most part, the most capable interim managers are the ones that work most. The ‘traffic’ unsurprisingly is trying to move from the public to the private sector.

In terms of rebalancing the economy, obviously we need more people to successfully achieve this switch, and to a degree this also applies to interim managers as well. There’s no harm in (and we actively encourage) interim managers developing a varied background of different sector experience. But for those who can, I would also advise a wait and see approach.

The public sector does, and will go on needing change managers. Don’t let’s mix this up with the vast numbers of temps and contractors who spent the boom years basically covering permanent roles. The next few years for interim managers will be about delivering change expertise where it simply doesn’t exist and where it won’t be required on a permanent basis. 

Interesting times ahead for interim HR

Recent findings from the Interim Management Association’s (IMA) quarterly survey, show that for the first time in nearly 2 years - the private sector has overtaken the public sector in the use of interim managers. It did show that HR expertise is the third most commonly requested resource amongst the 30 association members. Change management ability features strongly in the findings.

Overall, HR interim managers should be able to look forward to some interesting times ahead - whether it’s delivering expertise in a global financial services institution, the corporate sector, or working in central or local government.