Interim Executives Can Be Your Secret Weapon in a Business Transformation

It is a simple and elegant approach to an age-old problem companies face whenever they are going through a business transformation. Bring on board steady, experienced hands to deal with a specific challenge over a defined period.
Stephen Bell
A growing food services company hatched a plan to spin off one of its divisions into a new, stand-alone entity to make it enticing for an acquisition. It was a two-to-three-year plan to strategically position the spin-off and then reap the rewards.

The only real question facing the CEO was finding the right people to manage this strategic transformation. It couldn’t be done by his existing CIO and CFO; they would be under immense pressure to oversee a new business strategy following the divestiture.

What the CEO needed was an experienced executive team that could do all the important groundwork without any concern that the company would ultimately be the target of an acquisition. Who would want to take on a gig that is all hard change and no future?

Enter the interim executive.

In this instance, the company was smart enough to bring in a three-person executive team: an interim CIO to ensure the company was strategically positioned as an acquisition target; an interim VP Operations to execute the transition; and an interim CFO to ensure the company was financially viable as a stand-alone entity.

It was a simple and elegant approach to an age-old problem companies face whenever they are acquiring an entity or selling off part of an old company: having to task an existing executive with managing a spin-off with the knowledge that when the project is done, so are they. Stories about executives being assigned to oversee layoffs or restructuring before they themselves lose their job are never good for an employer brand.

It's also important to note that executive leadership teams are much leaner than they were decades earlier. Many companies have realized that they need to be ruthlessly efficient in their top-of-the-house structure to be competitive and agile.

Scenarios just like this have spawned huge growth in the interim executive market. Steady, experienced hands are brought on board to deal with a specific challenge over a defined period.

The top scenarios that call out for interim executive solutions

Where will you find the greatest value from an interim executive placement? The list can be almost endless, but the three most common scenarios include:

1.  Remedial transformations or turnarounds. When a company retains a consulting firm to produce a detailed study of operations and personnel, there are almost always consequences. People are moved out, others are moved in. For the executive leadership team, the remedial process is simply more work on top of their already demanding schedule. When you need to fix things and right the ship, you need people who are willing to take on the additional work and make tough personnel decisions. Many of the world’s biggest and most successful companies, when faced with a challenge like this, have turned to interim executives to get the job done. An experienced executive, brought in for a defined term, brings a new set of eyes to long-standing problems. And because they do not have their fingerprints on the existing dysfunction, they can make fair and objective decisions on how to move forward. Particularly, who should stay and who should go. The interim executive’s job in this scenario is to fix things, and then get out of the way.

2.  Digital transformations. There is tremendous pressure on all business organizations to find the best ways to apply digital technologies – including machine learning and AI – to existing workflow and business processes. Many organizations that are playing catch-up in the digital transformation game often put all their faith in the technology vendors to help them find, deploy, and adopt new technology. However, these providers are not experienced in managing the impact that digital transformations have on people. They can’t tell you how many of your existing employees can handle the transformation, and what kinds of new jobs you might have to fill to make full use of the technology. An interim executive with experience in these kinds of transformations can help you map out challenges well in advance, and then find solutions. Interim executives are there to challenge conventional thinking and inertia that often derail digital transformations.

3.  Mergers & acquisitions and integrations. Some companies are in constant acquisition mode, and as a result they develop internal skills and capacity to manage the M&A process from start to finish. However, many other companies may only dip their toes in the M&A pool once in their organizational lives, and thus do not have the necessary experience on hand to troubleshoot what is easily one of the most complex, and least-successful, business strategies today. Far too many promising M&As fall apart because the participants could not anticipate all the challenges. There is an entire stream of interim executives with years of experience in M&As of all sizes and types. These are the people who can help you realize the largest possible value from an M&A, with the least amount of waste and dysfunction.

In a business environment that favors organizations that are lean and agile, Interim Executive Management is really the best possible solution for those moments of transformation that challenge the skill set or bandwidth of existing executives. Interim executives are also the perfect people to help you make the tough decisions necessary to transform.

Interim Executive Management is the right solution for a broad array of scenarios where the exact right person for the task at hand isn’t within your organization. Fortunately, the exact right person is only a phone call away.