Consider the benefits of leveraging interim leadership to minimize disruption during critical times.
A fast-growing company was concerned about its current Marketing leadership but did not want to dismiss an executive without a new hire to replace them, and so a dilemma was brought to the company’s Leadership Team and Board of Directors: how do we meet the company’s high growth expectations without taking the time to replace a fulltime Leadership position?
The day after this question was asked, I got the call: “Can you be in Atlanta on Monday? No, wait—it’s Louisville.” It was the phone call that would bring me in as an interim leader for a fast-growing company with a new technology platform set to disrupt a sleepy market, but this needed strong Marketing Leadership as a result. It needed a new approach for a host of Sales and Marketing activities. This meant creating a new brand positioning, a more scalable approach to Demand Generation, establishing processes around the day-to-day operations, identifying job roles and hiring people to fill them, and integrating the new team together.
However, this company is not alone—as organizations look for new growth levers, they inevitably face the friction associated with bringing in high-performing, full-time talent. As a result, companies often call upon leveraging Interim Leadership to help them scale quickly and more effectively than they could alone.
What Does An Interim Leader Do?
Rather than fill a permanent leadership role, companies use interim leaders to get through tough challenges, including corporate transitions, brand transformations, and exit strategies. Though interim leaders are experts in their field and can fill strategic or operational roles, their greatest value is in their ability to define, accelerate, and deliver organizational change.
As a general rule, interim leaders:
- Quickly absorb company mission and goals
- Understand what they must accomplish and why
- Embrace the fact that the role’s success is based on connecting with others and creating an immediate impact on the company, regardless of the permanency of the project
- Recognize the two timeframes for impact: decisions that affect current results and decisions that set the groundwork for future improvements
When to Consider Leveraging Interim Leadership
There can be various moments where an interim leader may be the ideal choice for your company. A few of those scenarios may include:
- Preparing the role for a new type of candidate. In the early stages of a new product, it is often unclear where the true market sits. As a result, a company’s marketing efforts can be scattered and is better suited for an interim leader who can be nimble while helping to mold the position
- Needing a specialized skill set for a finite period of time
- To quickly and seamlessly fill a role from any sudden departures
- A surge that’s needed before the next critical milestone. The immediate drive can be a quick sprint, but either because of capacity limitations or capability shortcomings in the executive team as a whole, there is a burning need for additional help to lead the company in one particular area.
Organizations hire interim leaders for a variety of reasons, but the key motivator is flexibility. Companies want the ability to leverage the help of an expert when they need it, and the temporary nature of an interim role gives them the fastest route-to-market without a long-term commitment.
As a result, companies can leverage interim leadership across the brand portfolio to fulfill a number of business objectives:
Benefit #1: Buy Companies More Time
Temporary situations can create drastic setbacks for companies, especially if you need more time to test different solutions. Using an interim leader can provide an extra resource boost so you aren’t rushed in making a critical decision (and potentially choosing a solution that won’t deliver long-term business results).
In addition, unique circumstances like drastically different competitive pressures – or a shift to a wholly new customer segment – require special skills and expertise that aren’t necessarily needed for the long term. An interim leader can be on site quickly to respond to these needs and develop implementable strategies to maintain the organization during these periods. Having that extended opportunity to evaluate your company’s processes and tighten any loose ends with an expert leader’s help can ensure a smoother transition and a successful operation in the long run.
Benefit #2: Settle Employee Turmoil
Change in leadership happens for a variety of reasons, and regardless of the who, how, or why, leadership shake-ups come with uncertainty. This can manifest itself in employee turnover, missed opportunities and goals, and a decrease in organizational performance. Any precursor issues or obstacles may become enlarged by a loss of leadership so preventative measures need to be taken.
These setbacks can be largely avoided by employing a steady hand that can keep the team moving forward, either on the same path or transitioning to a new direction. A change in leadership can become a positive, switching your employee’s mindset of “We’re failing” or “we’re falling into chaos” to one of “Someone is here to surge growth and accelerate new opportunities.”
Benefit #3: Offer an Objective Perspective
Using an interim leader gives the company an outside perspective coupled with deep operational expertise to provide context and uncover opportunities that may have been overlooked.
With any major organizational change, it’s easy to succumb to our own beliefs and ideas that can limit productivity and problem-solving. With a collective of other peers to draw upon, an interim leader can perform some benchmarking exercises to remind organizational leaders that other companies go through similar experiences and help them separate emotions and personal sentiments from the facts. Our Collective consists of a group of interim leaders & advisors such as CMO’s and CDO’s who can provide that feedback through different client’s experiences and leverage each other’s expertise.
Benefit #4: Provide Coaching and Resource Development
Because the interim leader comes from outside the company, he or she can speak openly with other senior leadership team members to assess skills and recommend additional development in weak areas. He or she can also assess whether there are internal options to draw upon.
Doing this internally can sometimes be taken too personally and be detrimental to the organization. Interim leaders are the “heavy lifters” and don’t mind being seen as the bad guy since they will depart from their role once the project is complete. They take the unpleasant and unpopular tasks that may be too difficult or undesirable for senior leaders, and as a result, they can help organizational leaders avoid long-term negative feelings. This can include layoffs, budgetary revisions, implementing new regulations and even taking steps towards conflict-resolve to benefit company culture morale.
Benefit #5: Provide Temporary Respite
Sometimes, boards labor unsuccessfully, trying to make their executive relationships work. They coach, cajole, threaten, and finally, they have to terminate. This is extremely hard work for both the board and staff. Often, the organization has just gone through a turbulent period of change capped by the executive’s departure or has had one executive for many years, and it might be time for a break.
Regardless of the reason for the change, an interim executive can step in to work with the board and help them discover how to develop and support the next executive in a way that is beneficial to the organization, its new executive director, the board, and staff.
The benefits of leveraging interim leadership are often immediately recognized, but the true value continues after the interim has departed. Bringing in a temporary expert can be the catalyst your business needs to support its mission and reach the next level of success. This will also ensure that your company’s long-term goals can be reached and that the culture is preserved for a smoother transition from the interim leader to the permanent.