Companies Watch Out for These 5 Fake Interims

Most executives who approach InterimExecs are not initially qualified for membership on the RED Team. We take a long time – usually years – to get to know great interims as they build their track records of successful engagements and happy clients, teams, customers and investors.

Occasionally someone shows up with zero experience as an interim, convinced they have the same mindset as a battle-tested interim who’s successfully killed it five or ten times before in project, interim or fractional roles. We turn away these executives, along with around 98% of applicants that approach us. Why? Because even accomplished executives can easily trip up if they haven’t been held accountable for high-impact work before, where failure would be at the company owner’s expense.

We often hear of companies bringing in executives disguising themselves as interims, which usually does not have a happy ending.

So companies beware: here are the 5 fakes to watch out for so you don’t end up running into blunders, mistakes, boo boos, lapses in judgement, prevarications, falsehoods, screw ups, disasters – pick your poison:

  1. The Power Trip Fake. Some full-time executives have great corporate careers, and then decide that instead of sitting on a beach they will give interim a try. But many times they are stuck in their glory days where as a big name executive they had…power. They spoke, and people listened. So the power trip faker jumps into an interim assignment the same way, expecting that people will bow down to all their great advice. But here’s the thing: interim executives specialize in listening, which often leads them to find the solutions within the people in the company who know the nuts and bolts – the workings of the business — better than anyone in the world. Interims empower people to take ownership and initiative, because ultimately their goal is to make themselves obsolete. When they leave they want things to be running so smoothly that the company doesn’t even know they are gone.
  1. The Play It Safe Fake. Many interim fakers have spent their careers within a corporate hierarchy. They operated in maintenance mode to keep things chugging along, and more than anything…to keep their job. Therefore, when they come into an interim assignment they are not likely to make the tough decisions to help companies move and transform. Sometimes they were shielded or coddled by an organization, usually larger than middle market companies, so maybe they didn’t have to make many bold or high risk decisions. Their misconception of being an interim is that it is just another form of employment. You can usually spot the play it safe faker because they default to their resume – not their results. True interims don’t just list companies– they show you how they moved the meter.
  1. The Consultant Fake. Some consultants say they are like interims. They gave advice. They did analysis. They made pretty reports. But they never stepped into decision making roles where they had authority to hire, fire, carry out a plan and be held accountable for results. That would carry a level of risk and operational prowess consultants are not willing to take on. Implementation and execution are dirty words for consultants, yet the lifeblood for true interims.
  1. The Tell You What You Want to Hear Faker. This fake has played in a world where bringing up hard or controversial topics may put their livelihood on the line. The result? The client doesn’t get the full truth. This pretender plays to the board or management team, gathering gossip or intel that will help embed themselves more snugly and firmly within an organization. Except – that’s not the interim’s mission. Interims have hard deliverables, and set out to create vision within an organization to achieve those goals, implement and execute with the team, and then move on to do it again somewhere else. Interims are always hired to speak truth, even if it means delivering hard news and taking tough actions. Otherwise, why hire an objective third party?
  1. The Job Seeker Fake. Pretending to be interim while seeking permanent employment shows lack of commitment or honesty and it’s why we insist on stringent standards for the RED Team. The job seeker fake turns “interim” to fill the gap while they look for a permanent position, which offers the safety and security they are used to. As a result, when they get the job offer, they cut and run, leaving the client in the lurch. True interim executives take on an assignment because they fall in love with the opportunity or challenge in front of them and believe they can bring value. They choose not to be a permanent executive because it’s those challenges – helping a company ramp up growth, fixing broken companies, enter new markets, integrate an acquisition – that gets their blood pumping. They see the relationship with the client as sacred and will work from start to finish to complete their mission.

It was interesting that during the recession of 2009/2010, a database in Europe of supposed interim executives rose from about 1,000 to over 10,000 – in just one year. Hmm…really?

While every executive got their start in interim somewhere (we even created a course to help executives navigate into the world of interim), we believe in a world of quality over quantity. True interims are dedicated to this career, and should tell you why – why they love it! To have a successful career taking on assignment after assignment, interims have to pay for themselves – ten times over. True interims can deploy into any situation, see and execute through a new lens that usually uncovers untapped opportunity and a path forward.

So we say no to the fakers. Because companies should get executive talent at the level and integrity of the Navy Seals. The SWOT Team. The Olympic sprinters.  For companies embracing transformation, innovation, change, growth and new thinking, the RED Team – highly qualified true interim execs – stand ready to be deployed.