In a digital world where everything that can be measured is measured, do you still need strong leadership? What difference does management make when data steers the ship?
Many technology companies have the mindset that data trumps all, but are some companies suffering as a result? Look to the news to see how this is playing out:
•Zenefits’ founder Parker Conrad was thrown out for creating a culture that violated insurance laws
•Uber’s CEO resigned for multiple behavioral reasons (writing code to defy local authorities; sexual harassment allegations; staff and senior team exiting or fired)
•Volkswagen techies wrote ingenious code to defeat auto emissions testing. Smart, but illegal.
“Action and feeling go together, and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling.”
– William James
One of the biggest benefits business owners report when they take on fresh leadership, whether an interim or fractional executive is a sense of relief. Of having done the right thing. They report the feeling that someone else shouldered a burden that was becoming impossible. Just too large to handle alone, or with the current resources on hand.
The real reason behind this for all of us business owners is that the challenge is just too painful to deal with on our own. Whether it’s family dynamics, lack of future planning, or declining business, we get embroiled in the inertia of our organizations. Sometimes the pain is so vast, the only solution is to sell the company.
After a call with a “strategy” director (I hate quotes, but let me do this just once) at a multibillion dollar public company, I couldn’t help but thank Forrest Gump for popularizing the proverb:
Stupid is as stupid does
This company is in a sleepy industry and to continue to grow they must find new ways to innovate. Our conversation circled around a request to help in what would be a major, breathtaking pivot into a completely new sector. To succeed, the company would need more leadership and more firepower than organic growth would provide, meaning they were looking to acquisitions. And we had the perfect target – a fit so good as to be called an epiphany.
When InterimExecs sent in RED Team member and Interim CEO, Michelle Barnes, into the Tourette Association of America, the organization was in a state of flux. The CEO had exited, staff was demoralized, the office was in a bit of chaos, and everyone was questioning what the future would look like.
An interim leader is an accomplished operating executive, highly skilled from extensive training in corporate or entrepreneurial environments. Interim leaders focus on helping companies through periods of change, transformation, or transition. Assignments can run anywhere from a few months to two years, but the executive is usually focused on helping a company get to the next stage of growth or turnaround. Examples of when an interim may be brought in include:
Putting processes, systems, controls, and operational improvements in place
Ramping up a company’s growth to prepare it for investment or sale
Increasing sales, brand positioning and awareness
Interim executives engage around the world with client companies ranging from startup to growth mode, private to public to nonprofit and NGO, multibillion dollar robust multinationals to struggling or failing businesses, products and divisions.
Basketball legend Magic Johnson has made a success of his career as a business owner and investor. But it didn’t come easy or naturally. One of the mentors he credits with imparting priceless lessons is Creative Artists Agency co-founder Michael Ovitz. When Magic was just about to embark on a career in business, the legendary Hollywood agent told Magic that he’d never become any better than the people around him.
This made sense to Magic, and the next day he fired his entire staff. Magic detailed this recently at a speech delivered to the Association for Corporate Growth in Las Vegas, showing the audience by placing his hand at chest height and saying “my team could take me here” and then raising his hand to head level and saying “but they couldn’t take me to here.”
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.
“No duty the executive had to perform was so trying as to put the right man in the right place.” -Thomas Jefferson
Private equity fund managers aren’t in the caretaking business. They are in the business of sparking change within companies that can be grown or turned around to produce big returns for their institutional investors. And that change can’t be just incremental. Fund managers strive to be in the business of transformation.
Sometimes, along with capital, transformation means bringing in solid, experienced leadership to help take a company to the next level.
When an interim CEO or CFO parachutes into a company they have first-hand experience of what measurements and benchmarks (analytics) are useful and how to use and prioritize them. There is also solid recognition that data and numbers can eliminate a great deal of negativity and get people focused on solutions. Taking action is key, and that often begins with active listening to quickly figure out the exact condition of the company.
An interim must get the facts by asking people what they see and where their main areas of concern are. It is rare during this initial listening process that someone does not say something like “if we had better lighting in this area quality control would improve!”
There is no question that the executive search process is long. When a C-level executive bolts or an organization is going through a transformation – acquisition, product launch, market expansion, etc. – the right leadership needs to be in place, and needs to be in place now.
Vision Share, a consortium of eye banks, experienced this firsthand. Their mission, ensuring corneas be sent worldwide for transplant by eye surgeons, was hampered by organizational problems. The board of directors knew a new CEO was needed, but “the permanent search was estimated to be 6-9 months and came with a guarantee of a year’s employment,” Cindy Reed, Board Member at Vision Share said. “We really felt like we needed more than that.”
The board went to the Association of Interim Executives’ Rapid Executive Deployment Program to bring in Gregg Steinberg as Interim CEO to stabilize the organization, achieve immediate growth goals, and prepare them to hire the permanent CEO.
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.