Interim Operations Executive: Leveraging an Interim Executive to Maximize Internal Resources
Most companies consider an interim executive simply to be a temporary executive who fills a full-time role while the company is replacing the position on a longer-term basis. This can be the case, but it is just one of 101 ways an interim executive can step in and impact a company.
An interim executive can fill in, supplement, and even complement an existing team at all levels of a company. One of the biggest impacts an interim executive can have that is probably the least mentioned is becoming an adjunct to the internal team. It is rare that an organization has 100 percent of the talent and resources it needs; there is usually either something missing or existing resources aren’t being used at full capacity.
This is most often true with employees who have been with the company since its early stages and have been promoted accordingly. At this point, employees have an incredible amount of industry and company knowledge but lack the skills needed to match the current needs of the organization. The internal team has lots of knowledge and heart. They will follow the owner of the company anywhere. Lacking knowledge and/or understanding of where the owner is headed with the company and how they can help to get it there is where cracks in the foundation and infrastructure begin to widen and cause visible and painful issues.
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We worked with a company that had been in business for over ten years facing this situation. Though the CEO, Jonas, was a great leader, he had neither the bandwidth nor the expertise to elevate his team to the next level. Sales were starting to lag, and operational issues were becoming a common occurrence. He was faced with a few decisions, including whether his director of operations, who had been with him for much of the company’s history, was the best fit for the position.
Jonas decided to bring in an interim executive who has worked with his type of company in similar situations before. The interim executive, Mike, did not take on a formal or official role or title in the company. Instead, he spent time understanding the company, getting to know all of the employees, and working side-by-side with them. Based on his experiences and outside perspective, he was able to provide valuable resources and insights the company was able to quickly leverage.
The team then went through its first strategic planning meeting in years. Like most companies, they either did not see a need for it or their prior efforts had yielded dismal impact. For this session, all levels of the organization were involved, not just top leadership.
It was incredible to see the organization transform. When you walked into the building, their strategic initiatives were now posted all over the wall in the form of symbols and pictures. Anyone you asked in the organization could not only tell you what the goals of the company were but also how their jobs contributed to it. It was a meaningful, memorable, lasting exercise in establishing enterprise-wide buy-in.
Mike also spent some time working side-by-side with the director of operations, Ted. The interim executive found that Ted was capable and his expertise could be leveraged well beyond his current responsibilities; he was just missing some tools and basic knowledge that are not easily learned when you have only worked for one or two small organizations throughout a career.
Over a six-month period, a few days a week, Mike and Ted worked together to set up key processes, resulting in significant results: they reduced COGS by 36 percent, eliminated 100 non-producing SKUS, increased fill rates by 20 percent and reduced scrap by 4 percent. Ted started to thrive given his new skill sets and was able to then influence the growth of others in the organization.
Interim executives lesson learned
Since the initial assignment, Mike comes back every year to assist with the company’s strategic planning and progress.
The right tools, training, and a workable strategic plan can turn sand into diamonds. This missing expertise can be brought in and transferred to the internal team on a short-term for long-term results. It is often challenging for a leader to figure out what direction to go, how to get there, and who on your team can help. Never discount the abilities of those on your team, both known, unknown, and untapped. Consider bringing in an interim executive with the right expertise to not only act as a sounding board but also as a catalyst for your team. An outside perspective plus an extensive career working in these situations and an extra set of hands can make the difference between a functioning team and a high- performing team.
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