INTERIM management is the term for temporarily assigning an experienced person to manage a period of transition. Such a situation might occur when your company has hired a person for a permanent position but the new hire has a long period of notice to serve.

Interim management is a rising trend in Singapore. Consider the situation here. The Government has an ambitious plan to turn the city-state into a major hub for research and development.

Global companies have responded with huge investments of their own. State-of-the-art facilities are bursting into life in Biopolis, a biomedical research hub in the south-western part of Singapore.

But where are the people with the requisite skills and seniority going to come from? And how long will it take for them to get here?

The answers are "from overseas" and "a long time" - until Singapore has had time to nurture and grow enough of its own researchers to fulfil its industry needs.

It currently has to search the globe, in particular Europe and the United States, to find and attract people of international stature to its life sciences sector.

Even when these people agree to work here, there is still a long wait before they arrive. That is because the kind of senior people Singapore wants are invariably on lengthy notice periods - anywhere between three and six months.

Viable solution

One company here faced a nine-month wait to get a new clinical research director.

The company decided it could not accept such a long wait, as it would be damaging for the business. So, it turned to interim management for a solution. It was able to find a top medic-cum-general-manager to fill the breach.

She was overqualified for the role, but that is often the case with interim managers.

The bonus was that she could be in Singapore within a month - fully briefed, with specific goals to achieve and ready to hit the ground running.

Interim management has been around for more than 30 years, but it is new to Singapore.

The first interim managers were hired in the Netherlands in the 1970s, due to highly restrictive employment laws.

A side effect of this was extended notice periods for senior people - and that meant new employers waited a long time to get their new hires on board. The solution was interim management.

The situation in Singapore's life sciences sector now is akin to that of the Netherlands then. It is, therefore, more than likely that interim management will be embraced here in the same way it is done there - perhaps even on a wider scale.

Taking the cue from other countries that followed the Netherlands model - the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Australia, the US, France and Ireland - the life sciences sector could employ interim managers for the following situations:

* Covering a role during a medical director's extended absence;

* Providing extra resources to complete a clinical trial;

* Coaching or mentoring new or struggling teams of clinical research associates, physicians or others; and

* Managing a difficult event like an adverse drug reaction report.

More interim management assignments are now based on completing a project rather than filling a gap.

Advantages

Employers who used interim managers reported that they were enjoying advantages that they had not anticipated.

The interim managers were invariably:

* Overqualified for their temporary roles;

* Senior and proven in their fields;

* Politically aware but apolitical in behaviour; and

* Results-oriented and determined.

Unlike consultants, they were not there to deliver recommendations; they came to deliver results.

Everywhere that interim management has flowered, it has gone through a similar process of trial and error.

It was some time before employers learnt how to make the best use of interim managers and discovered the benefits they could bring.

For example, interim managers were often more flexible than permanent employees, and brought with them value-add.

They were more than executive temps holding the fort as, say, pharmacovigilance managers or senior pharmacologists.

Some employers used to describe them as company doctors because a lot of them were turnaround specialists.

A typical interim manager these days is committed to getting results for clients and chooses interim management as a career and lifestyle.

About 35 years ago, most interim managers would have been in their 50s and focused on eventual retirement.

Nowadays, most are in their late 30s or early 40s and focus on delivering results to further their businesses.

Modern interim managers were invariably successful before turning to interim management for a change in career and lifestyle.

So it is not uncommon for some to receive tempting offers of permanency towards the end of their assignments. Neither is it uncommon for them to turn down the offers.

The life sciences sector in Singapore will embrace interim management just as others elsewhere have done.

Companies here will see its value, and it will not take them as long to get the most out of it because they will be guided by the experiences of others.