It seems like every company owner dreams of achieving major traction in the marketplace. That fast track growth, however, often comes at a cost. Things get taped together. There’s no process to speak of. Systems? Ha. Things go missing, including clients and team members. Lack of resources means that even the crown jewel, the company’s ability to out-innovate, may be put on hold just to keep up.
When a company grows faster than the capabilities of the leadership team, the end result is often a splat: the company hits the wall.
Smart fast-growing companies have started looking to fractional or part-time executives to provide strategic leadership, mentorship, and the operational upgrades needed to help a company break through the ceiling to growth.
All companies use information technology to some degree.
Great companies have CIO leadership on the management team to purposefully leverage information technologies in creative and sometimes disruptive ways – to grow business, produce faster than competition, enrich customer experiences, and make business transformation happen.
Many full-time CIOs dedicate their careers to one specific industry, and so their experience is vertically deep. Interim CIOs on the other hand, provide a unique perspective blending innovation and technology transformation across a variety of organizations and industries. They specialize in change, bringing an attractive depth-of-experience from a career of change management, while leveraging ever-evolving technologies. It is this change-leadership experience that is highly valuable to a proactive board or management team facing the challenge of business transformation, especially where information technologies are an enabling and differentiating factor.
“A man’s got to know his limitations.” Clint Eastwood’s immortal line as San Francisco detective Harry Callahan in the movie Dirty Harry stands true today when board of directors and management teams think about how to evaluate executive candidates. If you have been in management, ownership or board leadership long enough, sooner or later you’ve learned that no one has a perfect track record when it’s come to hiring.
So how do you increase your chances of success?
You’ve already taken the first step – by thinking of interim executives in order to mitigate your risk. You are making sure you have a clear roadmap and understanding of the leadership skillsets needed to get you where you want to go before committing to anything permanent too soon. That’s good.
Whether interim or permanent, there are questions to ask and ways to evaluate your organization’s fit with an executive leader.
Scanning someone’s career history, what does it mean when you see the word acting in a title?
The language around interim executives, executives who specialize in growing, transforming and turning around companies can be tricky as executives in the specialty don’t always identify themselves with the same language. But in some cases acting can be another indicator that you have found an interim.
Consider your audience: is the executive being presented to the board of directors, the company at large, or to the general public?
When it comes to public companies, the language is precise and if an executive has temporarily stepped in while a permanent search takes place, they will be described as interim or acting. Things get confusing because public companies often appoint board members to this interim or acting role who serve as more of a baby sitter or placeholder. Beware that this is not the same thing as a career interim who can be identified by their career history taking on high impact engagement after engagement, helping cause companies to grow or turnaround.
The far larger use of interim executives is in private companies worldwide, whether for profit or nonprofit.
The project-based executive, also known as an interim executive has been around for 30+ years, having originated in the Netherlands, later expanding to the UK, the rest of Europe and finally reaching America around 2000.
The early model for interim engagements was invariably focused on turnaround and distress situations: an organization in pain would eventually decide they couldn’t solve the problem on their own, and would seek an outside resource, often through executive search firms, where the executive was never a permanent employee.
Interims have played a part since the early days of private equity funds, where fund managers would use executive search services as part and parcel of their post-acquisition ownership strategy. A fund would see big potential in a struggling company, and would realize big returns by bringing in an outside executive to turn the company around. Thus the early version of interim – interim 1.0 – was all about fixing what was broken.
The next phase in interim executive deployment launched in the US, arguably emerging out of the tech community.
Many owners and boards are new to the game of hiring an executive specializing in interim management.
As the gig economy has gained momentum, more companies are drawing on executive level resources for specific growth initiatives or to help troubleshoot inefficiencies or problems. Interims come in on a project basis as contractors, therefore not adding to permanent overhead.
Because the majority of companies have never written a contract for an interim, they draw on what they know – the playbook for searching and hiring a full-time exec.
Yet, interim management and permanent employment are two different worlds.
Private equity funds or venture capital funds get one use of their dollar. Just one. Fund managers have a sacred charge of evaluating opportunities and investing the funds they’ve been entrusted with by their limited partners in hopes of maximum returns.
We view deploying executives into companies in a similar way: we get one chance to make a great match, one chance to deploy the executive to best advantage. Like finding a great investment opportunity, deploying interims is a timing game. We must catch an executive during the brief period of time they are in between assignments assessing the next opportunity they want to take on.
So how do we best deploy genius leadership when we only get one chance every day to maximize everyone’s time, unique skillset and results? We start by being selective about the clients we work with.
The concept of an Interim Executive Director (ED) isn’t well known in the nonprofit arena…yet. But, it’s becoming more mainstream and for many good business reasons.
Did you know? On average, it takes a Board of Directors 9 months to recruit a new Executive Director. By the time they are on-boarded and contributing, a year may have passed since the departure of their prior leader. While Board members may step up to “mind the gap”, the truth is that employees, partners and funders can lose confidence in your organization during this leadership transition and key employees may leave. Just organizing payroll, developing a budget and/or supervising the employees may keep the lights on, but without professional leadership, your organization can be harmed and stymied while the Board should be focused on finding your next leader.
Interim, acting, project, contract, fractional. The array of titles can make your head spin, but they all point to a specialized type of executive that companies call on when they are going through transformation. So let’s break it down:
Interim Executive: Interim executives typically engage for 1 month to 2 years. This title can cover a lot of use cases, but in all cases, the company needs some kind of change or upgrade. The organization may have a leadership gap. Maybe they are not sure if they are on the right track, and they need an executive to create an operational roadmap and then execute and implement to ramp up growth. Maybe its technology or security issues; or an effective leader to reposition the company, update brand and build out a best-practices sales team to bring them into the new digital era. In all cases, executives across the C-suite can be drawn on for these types of assignments: CEO, CFO, COO, CIO, CMO, CSO.
Acting Executive: Acting executive is another word for interim, though typically points to a time frame where an executive is stepping into a role for a short time while the permanent search takes place.
First-year Change Agent members have access to the Interim Institute’s 4 hour audio program on the Fundamentals of Interim Management, and a one-hour strategy session to help jumpstart their interim career.
*$200 additional charge for Accelerator Program only applies for first-year members. After the first year, membership renews at $485/year.