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Interim executives know how to navigate the uncharted


4TH MAY 2020


Margaret Heffernan’s book, Uncharted, explores the “ineradicable uncertainty of life” – and more than ever nothing is more uncertain than the future. No-one could have foreseen today’s global pandemic which has created a complex business environment and is a perfect example of wide-ranging fallout from unpredictable events.

Companies may have no warning when these kinds of events will occur, but being able to manage crisis, change and uncertainty is about preparedness. Companies should mitigate risk by overpreparing, so that they are always ready to cope.

In an ideal world, companies would be in a constant state of readiness for crisis, with capability built into the organisation, rather than the just-in-time panic which many resource-challenged businesses endure. Having the experience available to cope with all eventualities is simply not possible.

As a result, crisis managers are in demand more than ever. An important cohort working today are interim executives. They are in business to help manage uncertainty, transition and change at a moment’s notice.  These battle-scarred, experienced business guardians have spent their careers learning and managing through most types of business challenge. The best of them are purely driven by benefiting others with their experience of managing change.

David Epstein in his book Range explains how these specialist generalists have learned to adapt because they are open to joining a completely new organisation on a regular basis. Because interim executives join a new organisation on average every 9 months, they have learned a lot, rapidly. This means that the best interims can usually walk into most transition and change situations and instinctively know what needs to be done next.

Moving from retail to distribution, from not for profit to business services, or engineering to healthcare, these expert game-changing executives are not fazed by uncertainty. They apply what has worked before, adapting to each situation. This takes courage, lots of experience and, above all, the ability to engage with most people they meet and work with.

Experience of managing challenging situations – repeatedly – has the edge over only knowing how to manage in predictable, plannable environments. As Margaret Heffernan writes, “it is in the interstices of uncertainty that we encounter the need and find the freedom to forge our identity and future.”

Interim executives have chosen this career path, spending their lives seeking out difficult situations to manage. Their successes are deeply human. They are courageous when it comes to stepping up to the plate, curious to learn – and driven by prosocial values of helping others manage change and uncertainty.

Interim executives will be in high demand over the coming days, weeks, and months in the wake of this global pandemic. These courageous change experts are helping businesses turn today’s uncertainties into better tomorrows.

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