The concept of an Interim Executive Director (ED) isn’t well known in the nonprofit arena…yet. But, it’s becoming more mainstream and for many good business reasons.
Did you know? On average, it takes a Board of Directors 9 months to recruit a new Executive Director. By the time they are on-boarded and contributing, a year may have passed since the departure of their prior leader. While Board members may step up to “mind the gap”, the truth is that employees, partners and funders can lose confidence in your organization during this leadership transition and key employees may leave. Just organizing payroll, developing a budget and/or supervising the employees may keep the lights on, but without professional leadership, your organization can be harmed and stymied while the Board should be focused on finding your next leader.
Interim, acting, project, contract, fractional. The array of titles can make your head spin, but they all point to a specialized type of executive that companies call on when they are going through transformation. So let’s break it down:
Interim Executive: Interim executives typically engage for 1 month to 2 years. This title can cover a lot of use cases, but in all cases, the company needs some kind of change or upgrade. The organization may have a leadership gap. Maybe they are not sure if they are on the right track, and they need an executive to create an operational roadmap and then execute and implement to ramp up growth. Maybe its technology or security issues; or an effective leader to reposition the company, update brand and build out a best-practices sales team to bring them into the new digital era. In all cases, executives across the C-suite can be drawn on for these types of assignments: CEO, CFO, COO, CIO, CMO, CSO.
Acting Executive: Acting executive is another word for interim, though typically points to a time frame where an executive is stepping into a role for a short time while the permanent search takes place.
Most HR execs have been trained to look for candidates who have a track record sticking with companies for long periods of time. For many companies going through upheaval, rapid growth, or dramatic changes in their markets, that long-term permanent employee mindset may actually be more detrimental. When a company must evolve quickly, an executive hired on full-time may not be the right leader nine months or a year down the road.
The speed at which companies move in today’s world to stay relevant has paved the way for the new specialty of interim management, which includes executives focused on operations to finance, technology, sales and marketing. Interims are skilled operators who run, build, grow, and fix businesses. They take on accountability in C-level roles making decisions, reporting to the board, and being held responsible for the results.
Unlike executives who choose long-term, permanent jobs, interims are wired for transformation and usually are called in when companies need a leadership boost to get them on the right path. Once an interim brings an organization, division, or department to a better state of affairs, that new-found clarity and direction gives the HR team a cleaner slate by which to recruit and hire the next permanent person in the role.
In the Computerworld article “The latest in IT services? CIO hired guns“, Robert Jordan, CEO of the Association of Interim Executives explained to Computerworld that interim executives are responsible for “hiring, firing and making decisions”.
Thank you to RED Team members, Damon Neth and Dean Samuels, who also provided great insights. Dean Samuels, Interim CIO, said “This is exactly what the future is. We’ve gone from an IT asset portfolio to an IT service portfolio. So if IT has transformed into a services portfolio, why wouldn’t you get an IT service-oriented CIO as a service?”
Interim CIO, Damon Neth explained the honesty that comes with interim executives adding “I have no problem selling unpopular messages if I believe that they’re right for the organization or addressing the elephant in the room.”
In a digital world where everything that can be measured is measured, do you still need strong leadership? What difference does management make when data steers the ship?
Many technology companies have the mindset that data trumps all, but are some companies suffering as a result? Look to the news to see how this is playing out:
•Zenefits’ founder Parker Conrad was thrown out for creating a culture that violated insurance laws
•Uber’s CEO resigned for multiple behavioral reasons (writing code to defy local authorities; sexual harassment allegations; staff and senior team exiting or fired)
•Volkswagen techies wrote ingenious code to defeat auto emissions testing. Smart, but illegal.
After two years of unrelenting decline and $6M in losses, the owners of Styrotek, a packaging manufacturer for table grapes decided they needed to bring in outside help to turn things around.
Styrotek was founded in 1973 by a group of grape growers who came together to produce boxes for their farming operations in the central valley of California. While manufacturing was not originally in the company DNA, the business got to the point of creating a consistent product and quickly grew along with the grape industry.
That was until 2014 when things started to go sideways. “The company was somewhat in disarray,” Chris Caratan, one of the owner’s of Styrotek said. “Our management team at the time was not working up to par and there were some surprises in year-end numbers.”
The truism that every business needs marketing cannot be denied, even by businesses that owe the majority of their growth to word-of-mouth referrals. However, confusion arises when businesses mistake marketing for sales. In simple terms, marketing builds demand, sales closes the deal.
The goal of marketing is to increase sales and, by perforce, grow revenue. The trick is in measuring the success of your marketing efforts. What metrics do you use to measure marketing effectiveness? Although profit is the ultimate goal, it’s not the sole measurement of success. Other benchmarks along the way indicate the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.
Many private equity funds hear the words “interim executive” and think the only application is turnaround or short-term fill-in. But for PE funds seeking a great return, they look to interims for their unique abilities to build and transform companies.
Here are six major use cases for interim executives in PE-owned portfolio companies:
Interim Executives in Diligence
Most funds hope to spread their wings – work beyond industries where they’ve already had success, by looking at new industries where acquisitions may cost less and produce higher returns. The further afield they go, the more they need expert leadership removed from prior operating teams.
“Action and feeling go together, and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling.”
– William James
One of the biggest benefits business owners report when they take on fresh leadership, whether an interim or fractional executive is a sense of relief. Of having done the right thing. They report the feeling that someone else shouldered a burden that was becoming impossible. Just too large to handle alone, or with the current resources on hand.
The real reason behind this for all of us business owners is that the challenge is just too painful to deal with on our own. Whether it’s family dynamics, lack of future planning, or declining business, we get embroiled in the inertia of our organizations. Sometimes the pain is so vast, the only solution is to sell the company.
In 1932, one of history’s greatest architects, Frank Lloyd Wright founded the Taliesen Fellowship and welcomed 23 apprentices into his world. For the next 27 years Wright taught and lived between Wisconsin and Taliesen West in Scottsdale, Arizona, with numerous sets of students, some of whom went on to work for his firm after graduating. In his 1943 memoir, Frank Lloyd Wright: An Autobiography, Wright listed a Taliesen fellow’s ideal qualities:
I. An honest ego in a healthy body – good correlation
II. Love of truth and nature
III. Sincerity and courage
IV. Ability for action
First-year Change Agent members have access to the Interim Institute’s 4 hour audio program on the Fundamentals of Interim Management, and a one-hour strategy session to help jumpstart their interim career.
*$200 additional charge for Accelerator Program only applies for first-year members. After the first year, membership renews at $485/year.