An excerpt from our new book The Executive Search where we explore what an interim executive is and compare them to all available options.
Interim staffing is not a new concept. Interim coaches are commonplace in football, particularly at the collegiate level. Or, if you have had the misfortune to find yourself in an emergency room at a hospital, odds are you were treated in some way by an interim doctor, nurse, or other ER staff member. Each hospital operates a little differently; each likely uses a different software system and has variations of policies and procedures, but the physician and nursing profession are the same across the board and can be staffed and leveraged on an interim basis—quite similarly to executives, in fact.
Interim Executive, Consultant, Coach: What’s the Difference?
It seems as though there are almost as many terms used to describe interim executive talent as there are words for water in the Hawaiian language. Many of these are driven by the marketplace and by perceptions. Since the underlying principles of how executives market and sell their services are the same, we use the term interim executives throughout this book to refer to executives stepping into companies on a part-time, temporary, or project basis. Here are a few examples of popular terms and how they are typically applied.
A part-time or fractional engagement occupies fewer than five days per week. A part-time executive role is typically one to
three days per week and can last for up to a year or more. Such placements are common in the areas of finance, IT, and marketing. Companies have neither the budget nor the need for full-time executives in these roles, but they certainly need executive-level expertise. The need is ongoing, and the role is likely needed until the company grows to the point of justifying the full-time cost.
For example, a company lacks the financial expertise to grow without taking unnecessary risks. A part-time CFO will bring in the right expertise to give leadership the ability to make the right decisions for the organization.
The terms interim and temporary are often used interchangeably. They usually refer to an engagement in which the executive is needed five days a week for a short duration. This is most common when an executive is brought in to fill a gap between the departure of one key executive and the start date of a new executive, when there is an initiative requiring hands-on expertise and management that is missing from that company, or when the current executive team does not have bandwidth to accomplish an initiative.
For example, a company is experiencing rapid growth, and the infrastructure is starting to collapse. Most of the management team that started with the company has been promoted from within, more for seniority and tenure than for ability or expertise. While the CEO concentrates on continuing the growth, an interim president or COO can architect more flexible and scalable infrastructure so the organization can withstand rapid growth.
An executive is brought in to complete a specific task: often an assessment, planning, and execution assignment, typically completed within a short timeframe. This is a great option for companies to fill an expertise gap, execute a strategic plan or project, or test the waters with something new.
Marketing and information technology projects, for example, are the most common to be completed on a project basis, such as a new strategy, website, and launch or the evaluation, selection, and implementation of an ERP system.
An executive is brought on initially on a project or interim basis. After working together for some time, both the executive and the company decide there is a longer-term role that would be a good fit, and the executive is offered full-time employment.
For example, a large manufacturing and distribution company has a business unit that is underperforming and needs high- level expertise. After a successful engagement by an Interim VP of operations, the company creates a global VP of operations role to oversee all business units and offers the interim executive the new full-time role.
From a seasoned executive’s perspective, interim assignments also make sense. Executives are often judged based on their resumés: the companies they worked for, what they did, and what they accomplished during their tenure. As a result, executives are more careful than ever when accepting their next full-time roles. They need to choose as carefully as the company does. Between full-time assignments, though, high-caliber executives don’t sit still. They want to keep themselves busy even while they aren’t as quick to jump into their next role as they may have been in prior decades. Through part-time or interim engagements, such executives are able to gain valuable insights about a company to determine whether they can provide longer-term value in a role.
Here are a few other examples of how companies can leverage the flexible C-Suite workforce.
CEO oversees sales but is getting too busy, resulting in stagnating or decreasing sales. Bring in a part-time sales executive for two to three days per week for four to six months to put the necessary sales organization structure into place, then transition to a longer-term sales manager or someone internal who has been coached to be a manager during the interim.
Marketing is failing to deliver on the brand or new leads. A part-time marketing executive can bring a new perspective and new ideas to create innovative marketing programs that will increase leads and elevate the brand again, not only in the U.S. but also in the global marketplace.
The company isn’t running as efficiently as it should be and has seen declining profits. An operations executive can come in and quickly assess the areas of the company that could run more efficiently. Many times, this interim executive can identify hidden sources of cost, waste, and profit leakage and in the process of closing critical short-term gaps will simultaneously work on the longer-term goals of increasing profits.
Leaders are looking to sell the company or make an acquisition. There’s nobody with a better perspective than an interim executive with industry-specific experience buying and selling companies and who has no emotional involvement in the transaction.