How I Became an Interim Convert

I started working with Bob Jordan (co-founder of the Association of Interim Executives and interim extraordinaire) a few years back when he was launching the first network for interim executives. I came on board even though at the time I hadn’t heard of an interim, and was probably with the majority of the population envisioning a temporary fill-in until the real executive showed up. Oh how wrong I was.

The next few years were spent talking to hundreds of executives from around the world. Though I did not yet have the business background to fully grasp the successes and war stories that each executive shared with me it became clear that two words summed up what interim management meant: execution and results.

There were deals made, disasters avoided, drama between team members put to rest, and founders or owners given some breathing room to do what they do best. I was fascinated that there was no playing it safe for interims – this wasn’t about a power trip to the top or about finding a position where they could sit on a fat paycheck for years and years. The language and tone was different. Each executive had seen the good, the bad and the ugly and felt like they could actually bring change to an organization.

I began to hear the same theme over and over, and realized that interim executives have a unique mindset that allows them to take on these short assignments time and time again.

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No it’s an Interim. Around the office we often bring up images of super heroes when we talk about interims because their breadth of experience gives them the “power” to tackle the toughest situations in any area of business. Interims know exactly what to focus on. An Interim CFO, for example, can walk into a middle market company, and like a doctor who has seen hundreds of cases and had years of training, will diagnose the problem and prescribe the right solution to get a company back to health.

Adrenaline Junkie? There is a difference between taking risk and being foolish, but interims definitely have an aversion to the boring. I guess once you reach a point in your career where you’ve built enough confidence to be able to hit a home run in your sleep, you would seek out that next curve ball just to show that you can. Some executives prefer the stability of a full time job, but I love what one interim told me: “my job is to make myself obsolete.” Once the thrill of fixing the situation is gone and the company has reached calm waters, the interim would rather bring in a replacement and find the next storm to take on and tame.

Report card time. Everything’s about big data and metadata these days. Metrics. Yet, many companies do a lot of guess work when it comes to building teams, products, customer bases, marketing and onward. As Bob says, “what gets measured gets improved”. An interim assignment is not defined by the short time that an executive is with a company, but the results they bring during that period. Interims are driven by these benchmarks and in many cases choose to have some of their compensation reflect the success they bring to a company. Part of this is the nature of interim. Companies are not bound to the executive and can show them the door at any time, so your career is riding on your ability to execute. If you can’t make the cut, you won’t last as an interim.

Once interim-newbie, I am now a convert, and am excited to see the specialty catching on. Words like supertemp and change agent are in the news, but we still have a long way to go. I see headlines about companies appointing an interim CEO, but the phrase is not being used in the way I have come to know it. A board member may step in, but in many cases, frankly, this is a babysitter. A placeholder. The two key words that are core to interim – execution and results – are missing.

So teaming up with Bob and other serious interim execs has fueled a mission to build this specialty, band together executives at the top of their game, and allow companies access to this powerful resource. That is why we formed the Association of Interim Executives. We see a future for interim management. What will it take for you to become a convert too?

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