The Olympics are the perfect example of the difference between champions who win gold, silver or bronze, and everyone else who goes home empty handed. The winner could be winning by just one ten thousandths of a second.
Why do you think you or I are any different in our work – if we could improve our performance just a couple percentage points, we’d stand out from the masses clear as day.
Steve Jobs was genius at nuance, the subtle improvement that could cause massively asymmetric outcomes in favor of Apple. Thirty companies had MP3 products delivering hardware, software and content for streaming music. The category was done. Then along came the iPod. Not major changes, but so much better!
I was having a conversation with company founders in a healthcare startup who made the comment: “we’re new to being entrepreneurs.”
That was their opening for free advice. It’s hard building and scaling a business when most startups fail or have a tough time and that’s not celebrated enough. Instead we just marvel at the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and aspire to be like Uber, Facebook, Google.
The truth is that most every new businesses – it’s a slog. A grind. A tough battle at some point in their existence, if not in fact for many years. Steve Ballmer of Microsoft had a phrase for this: the long middle. He said its fairly easy to be creative, think up a brilliant new product, and decide to charge forward. Then comes the middle: the long slog.
How many owners or executive teams are truly confident that their organization is operating at it’s best? How many have a true action plan for the future? And how many of those can actually execute on the plan?
Donald Sull, a lecturer at MIT and an expert on strategy execution surveyed hundreds of companies on how strategy is executed and found that many lack agility or have difficulties adapting to market circumstances. In a HBR article he reported that most organizations either “react so slowly that they can’t seize fleeting opportunities or mitigate emerging threats or react quickly but lose sight of company strategy”.
These fears are echoed by executives across companies and industries.
A multi-billion dollar consumer products company wanted to revamp the organization to stay competitive and relevant to customers around the globe. One area of focus was technology. IT had been outsourced, and as a result the company lost control of its ability to innovate. Acquisitions over the years compounded the problem, with divisions in silos operating with extreme variability in skills, behavior, interface and processes country to county.
From Europe to Asia to South America and North America, management came together with a vision to take a disjointed organization and transform it into one collaborative global IT structure. Under this model IT would take charge of application and infrastructure management, security, enterprise architecture, staffing, and performance management.
The global CIO had his hands full, running several initiatives:
2017 offered daily excitement. The markets continued an unrelenting upward streak. While some debate the strength of underlying fundamentals, valuations public and private rose all year long.
In our business at InterimExecs, demand for interim management continued strongly while gaining momentum in the US. We had fun matching inspiring companies and executives together that were focused on growth, transformation, or taking on big initiatives and goals (see some of our favorite moments of 2017 here: www.interimexecs.org/2017-review).
Thanks to Peter Diamandis and the Abundance360 team, I now know 2018 will prove to be even better in all respects.
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.”
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.
After a call with a “strategy” director (I hate quotes, but let me do this just once) at a multibillion dollar public company, I couldn’t help but thank Forrest Gump for popularizing the proverb:
Stupid is as stupid does
This company is in a sleepy industry and to continue to grow they must find new ways to innovate. Our conversation circled around a request to help in what would be a major, breathtaking pivot into a completely new sector. To succeed, the company would need more leadership and more firepower than organic growth would provide, meaning they were looking to acquisitions. And we had the perfect target – a fit so good as to be called an epiphany.
Interim executives, or interims, have recently become an important tool that organizations can use to effectively address a variety of pressing needs. Having said that, many companies are either unaware that interims are even available or appropriate for their current situation. The most common understanding of the role of an interim is to fill an immediate need in the executive team caused by a sudden voluntary or involuntary departure. In this case, a seasoned executive can step right in and allow the company to progress unabated. While much of what an interim does is similar to consulting, successful execution is critical and unique to the role of interims. This blog presents seven case studies to help companies better understand other instances where interims can help. There are certainly more examples, but these are representative. While seven represents everything from the apocalypse to luck in gambling, we’ll stick with seven.