As anti-austerity Labour MPs rebelled this week against their interim leader over the government’s plans to make £12bn cuts to the welfare bill, Harriet Harman may be wondering if she has the worst temporary job in London at the moment.
Following the party’s disastrous showing in the General Election, and Ed Miliband’s subsequent departure as leader, then deputy leader Ms Harman stepped into the breach. When she instructed Labour MPs to abstain in the Commons vote on the Welfare Bill this week, her authority was questioned after 48 of them defied the whip and walked through the No lobby. The government won the vote 308 to 124.
The leadership vote is set to take place in September but by then Ms Harman, MP for Camberwell and Peckham, will have had to endure four months of trying to manage a bunch of dispirited and vocal MPs with wildly differing viewpoints as to the direction the party should be taking. And all in the harsh spotlight of the international media with her every statement widely reported and picked over; not something many stand-in managers have to put up with.
It’s not her first experience of ‘standing in for the boss’. In 2010, former PM Gordon Brown stepped down and Ms Harman was in the driving seat until Mr Miliband was voted into the top position ahead of his brother David. This time, though, Ms Harman, 65, the longest continuously serving female MP, has announced that she won’t carry on as deputy leader either after her caretaking stint as leader is over.
But how do other people fare in high profile stand-in roles? Football managers can be sacked at the drop of a hat – or a drop down the league table – and rarely does a Premier League season pass by without at least one interim manager stepping up to the plate. There was Ryan Giggs at Manchester United before the arrival of Louis van Gaal, and more recently Dick Advocaat at Sunderland and a less successful John Carver at Newcastle.
The players, fans and pundits are quick to make their feelings known on the stand-in managers and it’s a high pressure situation.
Following the departure of Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo, founder Jack Dorsey stepped back into the top job as interim CEO. He faces a set of very different problems from those he encountered when he was setting up the social network and he must take his staff with him while appointing a new company head.
For less high profile temporary manager jobs the pitfalls, and the advice on how to avoid them, are the same as for the high profile one:
• You must define your strategic goals from the outset. You don’t have very long to succeed and you must hit the ground running from day one.
• Define lines of command both upwards and downwards. You need to know who you are reporting to and who will report to you.
• Get to know your staff quickly, from the director to the newest apprentice.
• Understand the ethos of the business. If you need to make structural changes, ensure that these will not create barriers to you achieving your goal.
• Make sure lines of communication are open and you are accessible.
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