CEOs Need More Hours in the Day

CEOs Need More Hours in the Day

How Interim Executives Bring Immediate Relief—Enabling CEOs to Focus on Growth & Recovery

By Pamela Wasley, CEO, Cerius Executives

Most CEOs are smart, resilient, and extremely capable of juggling multiple demands under huge pressure. Today, however, as a result of the continued impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, top leaders are under more strain than ever.

“Working with clients, optimizing day-to-day operations, watching fiscal performance, and planning long-range growth initiatives are more than a full-time job for CEOs,” said Kristen McAlister, President, COO, Cerius Executives. “So when a global pandemic presents a major disruption—affecting both business performance, associate work habits, and widespread safety precautions—CEOs plates are overflowing.”

This is precisely where an interim executive can step in and give CEOs a break.

Bringing in an interim executive can be a huge relief for today’s CEOs—many of whom are stretched way too thin. An interim executive is able to step in, quickly assess the company’s specific situation, and bring their range of experiences and expertise to unburden the CEO from whatever’s weighing him or her down. They take ownership so the CEO can focus on more strategic, demanding or time-sensitive activities.

Freeing Up CEOs to Address Other Immediate Needs

With an interim executive on board, CEOs can offload some of their responsibilities and apply their focus to other immediate concerns. In light of the pandemic and global shifts in business, that list is probably lengthy. Here are a few specific areas that may demand CEOs’ attention right now:

Being more strategic.

By removing one or more hats, CEOs can achieve more. For some, this freedom gives them more time to solve problems or reach out to customers, while for others it allows them to be more strategic in their long-term planning. In fact, one CEO was able to grow his company through new business deals and acquisitions during this break because he finally had more time to create and implement a strategic plan. This was only possible because he had an interim executive in place to take over day-to-day operations.

Getting people decisions right. 

In Peter Drucker’s classic Harvard Business Review article on this topic, he noted that “executives spend more time on managing people and making people decisions than on anything else—and they should. No other decisions are so long-lasting in their consequences or so difficult to unmake.”

This focus on talent is especially true now. Over the past nine months, as the coronavirus pandemic hit businesses in varying ways, many CEOs who had previously let go of the talent reins to the CHRO, are reversing their approach. Many CEOs are pulling back a lot of the talent issues onto his or her plate—spending more time on hiring exceptional talent or leadership development work. This is another strong reason to hire an interim executive—to give the CEO the proper time and energy to make future-critical hiring decisions.

Empowering colleagues.

Many CEOs recognize that empowering employees to become leaders is the key to a faster-performing, more flexible organization. Increasing delegation, decision-making, and empowerment can help develop strong teams at all levels, and therefore, increase an organization’s agility and success.  

As Marshall Goldsmith writes in a story for Harvard Business Review, “Your employees understand their jobs. They know their tasks, roles and functions within the organization, and it’s time for you to let them do what they need to do to get the job done.

Creating and sustaining a positive work culture.

Whether employees are working from home or back in the office, they need the consistency of a strong work culture. They also need to hear from the CEO about business progress—to replace their uncertainty with balanced hope, optimism, and realistic expectations for the future.

Being present and visible to workers.

Even if CEOs were strong and frequent communicators before, they need to be even more so now. They need to be as present and visible as possible. Many employees are working longer hours than ever, and it’s important for leaders to be seen by workers, to stay in touch, to transparently discuss what’s working or not working, and have ample opportunities to offer encouragement.

Ensuring associate safety and well-being.

As pandemic recovery shifts from being a sprint to a marathon, CEOs need to ensure that their organizations never lose sight of priority number one—employee health, safety, and well-being. That means continual effort to examine and evaluate safety precautions, and make long-term decisions about return-to-work policies, expansion of collaboration tools, and how to continue supporting customers safely and effectively.

One CEO’s Success Story

“We had one CEO bring on an interim president to help get his company out of a rut,” said McAlister. “His company was going through a tough time where drastic change was needed, but the CEO had difficulty implementing the necessary changes since he felt loyal to employees who had been with him since the start of the company. He was even debating if he should sell the company! Luckily he found an interim president through Cerius Executives, and with this president’s help, they were able to get out of this time of hardship.”

In this example, the interim president stepped in and brought a new perspective. He was able to implement the sweeping changes needed, mentored employees on how to improve their productivity, and improved the general performance of the company. The CEO felt like he had a huge weight lifted off his shoulders. With this interim president, the CEO was able to make strategic moves, which ultimately led to company growth, and in the end, convinced him not to sell the company.

Flexibility Built-In

One of the greatest benefits of interim management is the flexibility it offers CEOs. At any time, the CEO can resume his or her responsibilities, take back ownership of certain functions, or continue to work with the interim leader on longer-term solutions, after the more immediate needs are addressed.

The Bottom Line

Whether your CEO is wearing too many hats, needs more time to address strategic issues, or needs a break simply to get a fresh perspective on the business in a changing landscape, bringing in an interim executive to take some of the load off can be invaluable.

With many advantages—and zero long-term commitment—hiring an interim executive to support your CEO may be one of the strongest pandemic recovery moves you can make.

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