Talk Like an Interim: Changes at Motorola Unit Sound Familiar

Interim executives, like the temporary workforce, take assignments for limited terms and can help decrease a company’s expenses. But that’s pretty much where the comparison ends.

The specialty isn’t about filling slots temporarily — although interims can and do step in when a member of the executive suite steps down unexpectedly — but about bringing in highly experienced experts who come equipped to solve whatever challenging situation a company is experiencing.

In fact, think of it as exactly the opposite of seat-filling. It’s all about bringing dramatic results by expert hands under a tight deadline. Often, the situation is critical, like in the following example.

Motorola Mobility, the cellphone maker purchased by Google last May, recently announced a turnaround effort is underway. Interestingly, inside the company’s innovation wing, the demanding principles that guide the interim executive world are being put to use.

A Wall Street Journal article recently reported that Regina Dugan, recruited from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), will run Motorola’s Advanced Technology and Projects division.

In Dugan’s words, the group will “celebrate impatience.” In that vein, she is hiring metal scientists, acoustics engineers and artificial intelligence experts who will work for her specifically for only two years, according to the article. It’s an idea she borrowed from Darpa, “where people wear their resignation date on their name tags,” the article said.

As comparisons go, this one isn’t perfect. Those innovation experts aren’t C-level executives engaging with a company to set strategy and implement change. But these particular experts are bringing their force to bear in a company that can’t wait for gradual change.

Dugan, and the Pentagon’s Darpa, know that “impatience” is critical to lifting companies out of the doldrums, where Motorola Mobility currently sits.

Those are exactly the conditions that motivate—and demand– interim executives. “Temporary” with a purpose: to bring the critical changes needed under rigid deadline pressures.

It’s a results-driven, impatient field that can help companies when they need it most.