Modern-day CEOs are taking on a barrage of new responsibilities in the age of rapid technological advancement and global expansion. Industry disruption seems to be an everyday occurrence and businesses are transforming at the speed of light. These new realities can pile never before seen challenges on a CEO’s plate that already runneth over.
How does a CEO conquer a growing list of to-do’s from establishing a strong organizational culture to developing growth strategies, and managing delicate political and stakeholder relations while forging ahead in this modern era? Opportunities to enter new markets and continuously innovate are top of mind in this day and age where technology has led to more competition and rapid change. The catch-22 is that a CEO is an army of one yet still are, charged with responding with agility and confidence to seize growth opportunities while ensuring organizational stability.
Although a CEO may wear many hats — and wear them well — wise CEOs are aware of their limitations. As the global business climate evolves, it is common for a chief executive to need additional skill sets to adequately respond with strategic agility. In these cases, a permanent CEO may opt to bring in on-demand or interim executives to execute on projects or new initiatives, working with them side-by-side, tackling new challenges as a team.
An interim executive brings a wealth of experiences and specialized expertise that complements permanent CEOs skills. A CEO can quickly form an on-demand team to fill gaps whether they need to adopt technological advances to keep up with the competition, navigate a turnaround during a historic recession, identify potential acquisitions, or revamp systems and processes that align with organizational culture.
A $500M division of a multi-billion dollar CPG company, for example, realized that in order to implement a global revamp of SAP and revitalize an outsourcing project that went south, additional expertise was needed on the team. An interim CIO was brought on board to serve alongside the CEO and global CIO to ensure that the technology transformation went off without a hitch. In other cases, an outsourced or part-time CIO might be called in to navigate a merger or acquisition and make sure a strong post-acquisition integration plan is in place, a must when bringing together multiple technology systems.
Many chief executive officers have the industry experience but need functional experience alongside them to get through for growth or complex transformation. For example, a CEO might want a partner or someone to share ideas with to avoid unforeseen roadblocks and ensure systems and processes are in place to break down silos, instill clear communication across the organization, and create operational efficiencies. In a traditional COO-CEO relationship, deep trust and shared vision are essential elements that make a COO a vital part of a CEO’s success. Similarly, an Interim COO instills a sense of strong collaboration, while serving as an immediate solution to get into action fast.
Key characteristics of an interim executive include being able to partner with a permanent CEO and/or the board to drive positive change An interim executive – whether CFO, COO, CIO, or another role – brings a fresh perspective to a challenge while providing an assessment that is truly unbiased. This is because an interim executive is not a permanent fixture in an organization or faced with ongoing political issues. As a result, they have a laser focus on resolving the problem.
An interim executive can also act as a “right hand,” and supplement a CEO’s knowledge and skill base. When a CEO is strapped for time and resources, they can trust that the interim will bring valuable experience and functional expertise to fill in leadership gaps and execute on strategies they develop with the permanent CEO.
Some organizations do not have the breadth of their knowledge to capture new markets, embrace technology, or drive innovation. An interim executive can train permanent executive leaders and make organizational changes to encourage forward movement across the organization. For example, for older corporations still using legacy systems and processes that are inefficient or impede new opportunities, interim executives can infuse fresh thinking and energy into the organization.
Founders or CEOs of early-stage companies that are undergoing rapid growth or challenges also benefit from an interim executive. From establishing best practices for management, leadership development, and establishing operational and financial systems, an interim CEO or interim executive can help a founder ensure the company will be in a position to scale to the next level and thrive.
For a CEO facing an ever-changing modern marketplace, a powerful team of executive resources can be quickly formed around them to address leadership gaps or project-based needs. To drive long-term success, many CEOs know they shouldn’t go it alone. Increasingly, more forward-thinking CEOs are leveraging the expertise of interim executives.