Interim Executive Leadership: Strategic Advantages to Taking Your Time

Interim Executive Leadership

When you have an empty seat in the C-Suite, there’s a natural inclination to fill it in a hurry. After all, the higher up the chain, the greater the number of team members affected by the absence of leadership … in theory, anyway.  So that impulse to dive right in and find a replacement is completely understandable.

In many cases, though, the exact opposite is really what’s called for. First, hiring mistakes are expensive, and the bigger the title, the more dollar signs attached to that error. Consider hitting the pause button for a moment and viewing the situation not as a hole to be plugged but as an inflection point for your organization. Very simply, a change at the executive level is an opportunity to improve your company, and one not to be missed.

That’s why many organizations turn to interim executives in situations like this. Some still recoil from the idea of a ‘hired gun’ who might not become the long-term answer, but many more are seeing the benefits of interim leadership. Here’s why:

Worldview

You could hire an executive with years of experience in your industry. And you’ll wind up with someone who knows all the things you already know. A seasoned interim C-level executive is likely to have worked across a number of diverse industries, and can bring all that experience to the table. You don’t know what you don’t know … but chances are good that an interim exec does.

Zoom Out

Perhaps you’ve crafted a detailed job description. It thoroughly outlines the way your organization does things in that particular department and the qualities of the candidate who will mesh perfectly with that mission. There’s only one potential problem there, but it’s a big one: What if that way of doing things no longer aligns with the company’s mission?

We see this frequently with CIO hires brought in to hammer the square peg of technology into the round hole of the company’s aims and goals. It rarely ends well, doing organizational damage not only as an expensive misfire but at the cost of employee morale. Much better to take a step back and align the department’s mission with that of the organization, and again the breadth of experience of an interim executive can be invaluable here. Now you can hire your permanent solution with an eye towards where your organization is going instead of where it’s been.

In the Trenches

Many leaders confuse interim management with consulting, but while there’s certainly some crossover there are differences as well. A consultant typically will assess a given situation and dispense advice for others to execute. The interim manager will be hands on, executing strategy as well as advising.

Dating Before You Marry

It’s not unusual for an interim executive to turn out to be the long-term solution you were looking for in the first place. In that case, you’ve had an extended try-before-you-buy period to see how he or she gets things done, the new ideas brought to the table, and the fit with your team and culture. This is far superior to even the most careful interview process for a permanent hire.

A permanent C-level hire may in the end be your best solution. But there’s little downside to walking the interim path first. You’ll benefit from broader experience and the opportunity to make sure that what you’re hiring for is really what you need.

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