We were having a conversation with an executive recently who shared about their experience parachuting into a business that was struggling with operational inefficiencies.
This executive, like many interims, kicked off the assignment by meeting face-to-face with the management team and employees to learn how the business functions, what’s working, and what isn’t. Their findings would turn into an operational roadmap of the business, where they would set out and implement a go-forward plan. When meeting with one team member and learning about what they did, the executive pointed to a process they had in place asking “why do you do that?”
The answer: “Because we’ve always done it that way”
Like a good spy movie, turnarounds used to center around a strong central figure making things happen. Turnaround stars and distress experts were born, like Stephen Cooper of Enron and Krispy Kreme fame.
In 1985 the Turnaround Management Association started as a conference of company turnaround specialists in Chapel Hill, ultimately creating a rigorous formal program and exam for Certified Turnaround Professionals.
“Back then the time frame for turnarounds was long,” Richard Lindenmuth, an executive who has completed 23 turnarounds over the years said. “There was bridge financing from banks that would facilitate a turnaround and bankruptcy was really used as a tool for restructuring a company.”
Times have changed. Many of the Fortune 500 companies from those days have merged or disappeared due to outdated technology, products, or services (think RCA, Blackberry, Zenith). At the same time, the way to turn around a struggling business has transformed, being driven by several factors:
My daughter eagerly accepted an internship at the morgue. Wait – how does she put it? The medical examiner’s office. Regardless, all I hear is morgue. Anyway, let’s move past the whole your-daughter-is-around-dead-people issue because here’s the interesting thing. They ask their interns to sign a statement agreeing to work pro re nata.
This was a new phrase for me: pro re nata. It is latin for “in the circumstances” or “as needed” or “as the situation arises.”
I believe the phrase is really a guiding light for the best interim execs around the world, because the best leaders operate as needs demand – pro re nata.
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.
The Olympics are the perfect example of the difference between champions who win gold, silver or bronze, and everyone else who goes home empty handed. The winner could be winning by just one ten thousandths of a second.
Why do you think you or I are any different in our work – if we could improve our performance just a couple percentage points, we’d stand out from the masses clear as day.
Steve Jobs was genius at nuance, the subtle improvement that could cause massively asymmetric outcomes in favor of Apple. Thirty companies had MP3 products delivering hardware, software and content for streaming music. The category was done. Then along came the iPod. Not major changes, but so much better!
I was having a conversation with company founders in a healthcare startup who made the comment: “we’re new to being entrepreneurs.”
That was their opening for free advice. It’s hard building and scaling a business when most startups fail or have a tough time and that’s not celebrated enough. Instead we just marvel at the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and aspire to be like Uber, Facebook, Google.
The truth is that most every new businesses – it’s a slog. A grind. A tough battle at some point in their existence, if not in fact for many years. Steve Ballmer of Microsoft had a phrase for this: the long middle. He said its fairly easy to be creative, think up a brilliant new product, and decide to charge forward. Then comes the middle: the long slog.
How many owners or executive teams are truly confident that their organization is operating at it’s best? How many have a true action plan for the future? And how many of those can actually execute on the plan?
Donald Sull, a lecturer at MIT and an expert on strategy execution surveyed hundreds of companies on how strategy is executed and found that many lack agility or have difficulties adapting to market circumstances. In a HBR article he reported that most organizations either “react so slowly that they can’t seize fleeting opportunities or mitigate emerging threats or react quickly but lose sight of company strategy”.
These fears are echoed by executives across companies and industries.
A multi-billion dollar consumer products company wanted to revamp the organization to stay competitive and relevant to customers around the globe. One area of focus was technology. IT had been outsourced, and as a result the company lost control of its ability to innovate. Acquisitions over the years compounded the problem, with divisions in silos operating with extreme variability in skills, behavior, interface and processes country to county.
From Europe to Asia to South America and North America, management came together with a vision to take a disjointed organization and transform it into one collaborative global IT structure. Under this model IT would take charge of application and infrastructure management, security, enterprise architecture, staffing, and performance management.
The global CIO had his hands full, running several initiatives:
2017 offered daily excitement. The markets continued an unrelenting upward streak. While some debate the strength of underlying fundamentals, valuations public and private rose all year long.
In our business at InterimExecs, demand for interim management continued strongly while gaining momentum in the US. We had fun matching inspiring companies and executives together that were focused on growth, transformation, or taking on big initiatives and goals (see some of our favorite moments of 2017 here: www.interimexecs.com/2017-review).
Thanks to Peter Diamandis and the Abundance360 team, I now know 2018 will prove to be even better in all respects.
Most HR execs have been trained to look for candidates who have a track record sticking with companies for long periods of time. For many companies going through upheaval, rapid growth, or dramatic changes in their markets, that long-term permanent employee mindset may actually be more detrimental. When a company must evolve quickly, an executive hired on full-time may not be the right leader nine months or a year down the road.
The speed at which companies move in today’s world to stay relevant has paved the way for the new specialty of interim management, which includes executives focused on operations to finance, technology, sales and marketing. Interims are skilled operators who run, build, grow, and fix businesses. They take on accountability in C-level roles making decisions, reporting to the board, and being held responsible for the results.
Unlike executives who choose long-term, permanent jobs, interims are wired for transformation and usually are called in when companies need a leadership boost to get them on the right path. Once an interim brings an organization, division, or department to a better state of affairs, that new-found clarity and direction gives the HR team a cleaner slate by which to recruit and hire the next permanent person in the role.
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.
Interim Nonprofit Executive
Join our InterimExecs eNewsletter