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The Value of Interim Leadership

By Scott Corzine, Kevin Cowherd, Valerie S. Hart, Duane Lohn

May 21, 2020

All organizations experience unexpected or transformative situations requiring an expansion of leadership roles and skills. This – can be driven by changes in strategy, compliance needs, or other events. Leadership teams pursue what they see as the right talent fit for the long-term by investing in the necessary recruiting, interviewing, and onboarding of key personnel.

However, companies pursuing the perceived right talent fit for a long-term role may inadvertently hire the wrong skillset before the organization’s needs are fully understood in the new context. This condition may lead to expensive hiring mistakes or protracted vacancies that negatively impact growth and operations.

The current business environment demands agility, especially in these situations. One solution lies in utilizing expert interim leadership. These professionals fill the talent gap while reducing risk, so that company leadership can refine their long-term requirements and recruit the right resource.

What is Interim Leadership? 

Interim leadership is the temporary use of an outside expert in an internal role. The leader is onboarded with the clear expectation of fulfilling a short-term, specific need for the enterprise. This strategy can be applied by both functional leaders and C-suite executives seeking to maintain momentum or address the as yet unknown needs.

The Continuum of Interim Leadership Need

There are a variety of situations when organizations need to consider seeking interim leaders. We identify these situations along a continuum of need:

Graph showing spectrum of leadership needs

Event-Driven Needs

Whether it is a crisis event, such as an economic downturn or cybersecurity attack, organizations often need to respond rapidly to an event-driven need. Engaging an interim leader, such as an interim Chief Risk Officer (CRO) or interim Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), provides rapid, expert execution during a critical period.

Crises require specific skillsets, and organizations can accelerate their recoveries by leveraging interim resources with proven track records.

Skill Gap Needs

Organizations often face situations where specific functional, subject matter, or technical skill is required to deliver on key strategies. For example, organizations seeking to accelerate their compliance programs may require a dedicated Chief Compliance Officer, while organizations pursuing serial acquisitions may need a resource dedicated to acquisition and strategic development.

In situations where skill gaps are discovered, it can often be more cost effective to ramp up strategy execution via an interim resource than to suffer the opportunity cost of waiting for the recruitment of the perfect resource. This is especially true when the resource needed is highly niche and expensive. An interim solution provides cushion while leaders carefully evaluate and recruit a long-term resource.

Time & Capacity Driven Needs

Opportunity cost is incurred whenever a key strategy is constrained by missing resources. Interim leaders can counter the gap between desired future state and the current situation. Organizations seeking to implement cross-functional programs and/or Program Management Offices (PMOs) find that interim PMO leaders provide immediate cross-functional execution and expertise to rapidly scale program efforts.

Functional Restructuring Needs

Organizations are not static entities. As they grow or contract, there is often the need to restructure roles within the C-suite or in key business functions. For example, if the opportunity arises to implement a shared service model, a seasoned interim shared services manager can accelerate progress by rapidly developing and executing an appropriate shared service solution.

The Benefits of Interim Leadership 

Wherever an organization lands along this continuum of need, there are overarching benefits to leveraging interim leadership during periods of complexity and change.

  • Stability in times of uncertainty and vulnerability – In the face of an unexpected exit of a leader or an unforeseen compliance event, bringing in the right interim expertise can re-stabilize organizational performance.
  • Objectivity and independence – Without a career stake at play, interim leaders leverage unbiased outside perspectives, assessing and executing necessary decisions without pre-existing organizational biases or agendas.
  • Bandwidth and time allowing the right long-term hiring decision – Competent interim leaders ensure that current goals and objectives are met, providing the time and bandwidth necessary to determine the skillsets, experience, and characteristics necessary for the permanent role. This approach will also reduce the risk of a failed, costly long-term hire.
  • Elevated expertise without elevated salary expectations – An interim leader can bring a broad range of experience to the role from many organizations and across industries. Additionally, the leader may have already solved similar problems for other firms, allowing the company to set the foundation for the role without incurring compensation cost that is unsustainable once the long-term needs are fully known.

Rapid execution – The temporary nature of their tenure provides interim leaders with the remit to leverage their background expertise and cross-organizational experience and rapidly drive focus, decision-making, and execution. This mandate includes helping leadership teams reprioritize or reset goals to determine new routes to success.

Best Practices for Leveraging Interim Leaders 

When considering the best approach to engaging interim leadership, we recommend the following practices:

  • Do not wait for a full-time resource to arrive before pursuing interim leadership options. This delay can cause real harm to staff productivity and business results.
  • Do not grow too attached to interim executives or their operating styles. They are there for a specific reason and for a limited time. Their perspective is a key benefit, and they are often not equipped or interested in long-term, run-the-business efforts.
  • Identify specific goals and monitor execution in partnership with an interim leader. This approach will both help rapidly assimilate the leader while also managing the timeline for ultimately offboarding the resource.
  • Leverage the interim resource to uncover new opportunities and needs within the organization, while also refining the requirements for the long-term hire. Interim leaders should help refine the search criteria for a permanent candidate by demonstrating desired skillsets, validating or redefining preexisting strategies and setting expectations.

Conclusion

An interim leader serves as an expertise driven, short-term solution for crucial organizational needs. Companies can leverage these professionals to more effectively prepare themselves, and their organization for long-term, permanent hiring while minimizing short-term risk and capturing intermediate opportunities.

Connect with us if you are interested in learning more about next steps and best practices for hiring an interim leader.