Decoding Executive Titles: The Difference Between Interim, Fractional, Project & Part-Time Executives

Decoding Executive Titles: The Difference Between Interim, Fractional, Project & Part-Time Executives

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.

Fractional Executive: Fractional has become a more specialized term to describe a long term engagement not occupying all of the executive’s time. Fractional executives may work with 2-3 companies at once in C-level roles and typically are brought in when the company does not need the full-time capacity of an executive. This title is especially popular in C-level roles such as CFO, CIO, or CMO, where companies can get serious fire power for a fraction of the time (and cost). The popularity of fractional executives is increasing as early stage companies realize they can now afford an outstanding executive without having to pay for a full time executive, or pay benefits or other costs associated with full time permanent hires. In many cases, investors such as venture funds will insist that an early stage company, despite lack of significant revenue, retain a fractional CFO, even if for only a few hours a month. The fractional CFO can have huge impact on strategy while not needing many hours to be of value, and yet still oversee the work of a controller, bookkeeper or other financial staff engaged in day-to-day accounting and financial tasks.

Part-Time Executives: Part-time executive is another label for fractional executives, and executives who specialize in this typically are working with multiple clients at once, but in all cases serving in C-level roles with decision making authority (not the same as consulting!)

Project Executive: In many cases interims (which still is the catch-all phrase for the specialty), will go into a company on a project basis.  Job title doesn’t always matter with a project executive and in many cases they work alongside an owner or the permanent executive team to accomplish a project or goal. Often that means the executive is stepping into a new role versus filling a current role in the company. This usually comes into play during one-time events, so a full-time executive replacement may not even be made once the project executive exits the company.  For example, a company could open a new division overseas and bring on a project-based operations executive to set up a manufacturing facility and hire the staff. An organization could be going through a merger, and bring on an interim on a project basis to help with merger integration. A CIO may be hired to complete an ERP implementation, an outsourcing effort, or other technology upgrade. These assignments have very clear deliverables and therefore an end date.