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Could Interim Executives Ride to the Rescue of UK plc?

11th June 2020

Moving frequently between different businesses with the energy and ideas to make things happen, interim executives could be just what the UK economy needs to relaunch after Covid-19.  Here’s why.

The former CEO of Intel, the late Andrew Grove, believed “unencumbered by emotional attachment… new managers can see things much more objectively.” Equally unencumbered by emotional attachment, interim executives are comfortable challenging entrenched thinking. They’ll rapidly weigh things up and express their experienced views on what the business should be doing next. Not bound by career promotion concerns, their decision-making is always focused on what’s best for the organisation, not them.

David Epstein in his book ‘Range’, describes interim executives perfectly. They are able to move effortlessly from one business sector to another, managing a range of change situations. Their specialism is being generalist.

With broad integrative skills they bring to work an extensive toolkit of relentless on-assignment experience. They relish applying what’s worked in one business environment to another. Because they move between organisations frequently they are unfazed by change and are therefore best suited to being thrown into ambiguity.

The best way to get something done fast is to ask someone overqualified sort it out. This is where interim executives add rapid value because their profile is always a level or two above each assignment they take on. They’ll instinctively know what to do to benefit a business.  Possessing wider experience than is needed means they’ll also have the capability to deal with any unexpected bumps in the road. No time is wasted getting ‘up to speed’ or learning the business.

Leaving capability in place
A typical executive has already had more than twenty years of leadership experience in business before becoming an interim. A recent paper by Woods et al. (2019) of Surrey Business School on the competencies and behaviours of effective interims showed that helping others was a key motivator. Having reached a senior level in their careers and demonstrated they can lead and manage change, interim executives are largely motivated by sharing their experience to benefit others. Success for them is leaving a business and a team in a transformed state, having shared and embedded a career’s worth of learning and expertise.

Transferring knowledge across the economy
One of my more striking placements was introducing an automotive production manager to a large NHS Trust to implement new ideas and efficiencies into their operating theatres.

Interims start a different assignment every six to eighteen months, often moving between unrelated business sectors. They are unrivalled in their ability to apply learning and best-practice between different businesses. Whereas recruiters recommend hiring from the same sector, interim executives do the opposite. In doing so, they are accelerating the transfer of learning, knowledge and best practice across the economy.

Flexible, available and proven
Interim executives are a flexible, experienced and proven resource.  Most great interims are on assignment, but if available and fully briefed, they can commence an assignment immediately. All experienced interims know  how to manage the assignment efficiently from entry point through to exit and a thorough handover.

Cost efficient and value for your investment in them
Interim executives are an extremely efficient resource when you are managing a change, facing challenges or uncertainty. They’ll only charge you for the days and work delivered. There are no upfront or termination fees. You get exactly what you pay for.

Able to navigate the uncharted
In ‘Uncharted’ Margaret Heffernan writes about the importance of ‘preparedness’. Interim executives bring with them leadership capability honed by managing ambiguous and difficult situations. Courageous in the face of uncertainty, they draw on vast experience of preparing businesses to navigate the uncharted.

There’s nothing quite like experience
Interim executives are used to managing situations not job descriptions. They just need to know what needs to be done and they’re onto it. They don’t need managing day to day because their instincts, based upon years of having done it before gives them the confidence and knowledge to get on with it. You can never have too much experience in a crisis. As John Wayne once said courageous leadership was “…being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

Unencumbered, unfazed, experienced, overqualified, interim executives are riding to the rescue. 

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