Interim workers are often a more attractive option for SMEs than employing full-time staff. Lyndsey Simpson, co-founder of The Curve Group, reveals how to get more bang for your buck from a short-term hire
Over the last six months I have been focusing exclusively on talent as a subset of HR and more specifically, the trouble with talent. I am now broadening out to the wider realms of HR, uncovering common problems and sharing solutions on all the people-related issues in one’s business.
This month, I am lifting the lid on interim workers: what they are, why to use one and, more importantly, how to make the most of the expense involved. For the purposes of simplicity, I am going to use the word interims throughout this piece. You may call them contractors, experienced temporary resource or freelancers but what I am referring to is a senior professional employed on a non-permanent basis, usually on a short-term contract or for a specific project. They are often responsible for managing a period of transition, absence, crisis or change within an organisation but, for SMEs, they can often be used to plug the knowledge or experience gaps in your permanent team.
Typically, interim workers cost a fair amount more than their permanent counterparts and can often come with lots of different regulations that, as an employer, you need to be aware of. These include, among others, agency worker regulations, IR35-friendly contracts and opt-out agreements. As such, many employers shy away from utilising the expertise of interims and instead make longer term investments in the form of permanent employees.
However, in the modern economic climate, it makes sense to have a proportion of your workforce – and thus cost base – on a flexible basis to adjust up and down as your business demands. It is also often a comfort to employers to know they’re getting the top talent the market has to offer without having to worry about training them to hit the ground running or developing and securing them for the future.
As I’ve already alluded to, there can be a lot to think about when considering taking on an interim employee, particularly if you’re an SME and this is the first time you’ve considered the short-term employment option. Nevertheless, regardless of a company’s size, the benefits of using interim employment solutions almost always outweigh the costs – both financially and logistically.
An interim candidate should be an expert in their field but they can also bring a lot more to the table. They will have experience of running projects and implementing changes in a massive variety of organisations, cultures and environments and can share the best bits of each with you. Their passion and motivation – and the fact they are constantly joining new businesses – means they don’t get bogged down in the office politics or the boredom and lethargy that seems to inevitably get to many long-term employees. Finally, they can typically join your organisation and get to work within a matter of days of accepting a contract offer. However, the overarching benefit and selling point for many is that they’re not forever. If you’ve got short-term projects or gaps or can’t find the right permanent employee, they could be exactly what you need. And if they don’t fit in or add significant value, you just end their contract.
In order to get the best talent, you need to know exactly what you want. This means using an experienced agency that can take away the pain of complying with all of the regulations for you – but you’ll need to make sure you prep your agency with more than just the job specs. “Sharing your company culture, values and way of working is just as important as sharing what qualifications and experience the candidate needs,” says Cindy Knight, who heads up interim and contractor recruitment at The Curve Group. “That way we can find more than just the perfect interim – we can find the perfect person for the organisation.”
Just as an agency can help you find the best talent, there’s no harm in utilising one to select it either. All too often, businesses decide upon an interim candidate by seeing who is available first or who’s the cheapest. This isn’t the best tactic. It’s better to forget what they were paid before, pay them what you think they are worth and let your agency make recommendations on how to select the best.
To ensure you’re making the most of these short-term candidates, it’s imperative that they know every single detail of the job they are being asked to do. By preparing an in-depth delivery brief that defines the deliverables and desired outcomes, you can ensure maximum effort from the get-go. A good interim will be used to receiving this type of information prior to start and they will probably relish turning up on day one feeling well informed. Additionally, it helps to find ways of saving ‘paid’ time by sorting logistics ahead of time, such as setting up email accounts and preparing lists of key stakeholders, meetings and structure charts. After a quick HR introduction, they will then be ready to get to work.
The best way to make the most of an interim employee is to let them make a lasting impression. A great way to guarantee this is through knowledge transfer; making sure that other members of the team tap-up the interim whenever they need to, perhaps even assigning a buddy who can observe the way they work and implement changes. As a fresh pair of eyes, interims are also in the best position possible to make changes for the better. They should be encouraged to make suggestions on how things could be improved across the business. Consider what they say and if you think it’s a good idea for your business, go ahead and do it.