In the modern workplace temporary independent executives are on the rise, and it’s changing the way companies work.
A number of factors has caused an increase in former corporate executives offering their services to companies on a temporary or project basis. It can be debated whether these executives are part of a growing career category referred to as independent executives or simply joining hundreds of thousands of other small business owners. Either way, no longer does an executive need to spend countless hours working for the same company year after year, only to have most of the total accomplishments achieved in year one. Nor does a CEO or business owner need to spend months looking for the perfect candidate to fill a range of needs over the next couple of years to then have the executive peak within the first year or not work out at all. The speed of business in today’s market is pushing the need for quicker decisions, shorter timelines, and immediate results. There is no one-size-fits-all in the executive suite. As a result, we are seeing a shift from needing to own an executive’s expertise for a number of years to simply leasing expertise on an as-needed basis. We see top-level executives enjoying long and accomplished careers as independent executives.
Is Being an Independent Executive the Right Career Path for You?
There are a number of ways an independent executive can work with and make an impact for companies and leaders. Any of these can offer a great amount of flexibility, financial freedom, and challenges as an alternative career choice to being a fully employed executive for a single company. Many executives see working as an independent executive more as building a business of one (or solopreneur) rather than simply working independently. This can be a challenging decision, starting with whether growing an independent executive business is the right choice for you.
As mentioned, most executives choose this career for one of three reasons: freedom of the work, a gap while looking for their next full-time role, or semi-retirement/just sold their company and transitioning out of a full-time role.
Freedom of the Work
“Freedom” is prone to interpretation and depends on your perspective, particularly for independent executives. What we hear most is that they enjoy the challenge of working with a variety of companies with varying levels of needs and challenges. Most tend to get bored easily, so a new challenge offers a great amount of stimulation, and once the situation has stabilized or goals are accomplished, the executive is ready to transition.
It is easy to question how much freedom an independent executive actually has. The executive is either scheduled out with networking events trying to get the business or is tied up with clients once he or she gets the business. As true as this is, the executive still has the ultimate decision about which events to attend, as well as how many and which clients and situations to take on. The workload can then be adjusted as personal and professional situations change., she only takes engagements up to four days a week with no travel, since she is very involved in coaching her children’s soccer teams. At one point, she decided to invest her time in developing part of her toolkit into a technology suite and was available only one to two days per week. As that was launched and until revenues came in, she then started taking on more engagements. Other
We’ll use an interim executive named Joanna as an example. Joanna only takes engagements up to four days a week with no travel, since she is very involved in coaching their children’s soccer teams. At one point, she decided to invest her time in developing part of her toolkit into a technology suite and was available only one to two days per week. As that was launched and until revenues came in, she then started taking on more engagements. Other executives we have worked with enjoy taking three- to six-month engagements working five to six days per week, then take the next couple of months off.
What type of freedom you want and how much of it can affect the type of work an executive decides to pursue.
Looking for the Next Role as an Independent Executive
It is not uncommon for executives to look at doing some interim executive or management consulting project work while they look for their next full-time role. It became more common during the recent economic recovery for executives to use this model as a foot in the door. It then continued as a means for executives to test the waters for their next position. Using the Project-to-Perm model, they will start an engagement on a contract basis then transition to a full-time employee at some point. Think of this as foresight for both the executive and the company. Experienced executives have a good idea at this point in their careers what types of companies and roles they enjoy and want to take. It is always challenging to make a decision to accept an employment offer based on research and interviews. This model gives the executive hands-on experience with the company, the position, and expectations prior to accepting a full-time employment offer.
Semi-Retired or Sold Company
The two most popular statements we get from this group of executives is, “I’m not ready to retire yet, but I’m also not ready to go back to corporate America full time” and, “I’ve just sold my company and want to continue working, but don’t see myself starting another company or working full-time for someone else.” Independent executive work is a great alternative to both situations and why about one-third of the executives we’ve surveyed are in this category.
Whatever the reason, the good news is that it doesn’t need to be a life-changing career decision as it once was. As long as executives can get enough work, they absolutely love it. They have flexibility, they get to pick their jobs, and it gives them more choice in what work they do. It doesn’t matter if they are retirement age or in the middle of their career; it can be a great choice for many.