Interim executives achieve goals faster

Consulting Executives

By Persephone Nicholas

Interim executives achieve goals 20 times faster than permanent senior managers, according to research from US consultancy Corporate Insights.

"For most permanent appointments, senior or board level executives have the first 100 days to manage their transition and prepare for action. Interim managers and executives typically do it in five days," Corporate Insights’ Anton Fishman says.

Jane Neale and Anne Hatton, joint managing directors of Sydney-based executive consulting and search firm Hattonneale, say their experiences support that of the US.

"It doesn’t surprise us because we’ve seen it in action; we’ve had fantastic feedback from clients who’ve benefited from the impact and input of a consulting executive," Neale says.

Hatton, former chief executive of recruitment giant Hudson, and Neale, former managing director of advertising agency George Patterson, say Australia is again facing the pain of talent shortages and will feel it most at senior executive levels.

They say Australia’s ageing population means the situation is unlikely to change and recommend organisations wanting to bolster senior management look beyond conventional recruitment and employment models.

Hatton says the US and British trend for companies to deploy higher-ranking executives and senior management on an interim, part-time or project basis makes sense.

Hattonneale is developing the interim executive sector in the Australian recruitment market, connecting senior executives with businesses seeking executive and senior management input on a consulting, interim advisory or project basis.

"We have nearly 1000 senior executives in our network who’ve come out of permanent work and are looking to consult into businesses," says Neale.

Using interim executives is a smart solution when skills and expertise are in short supply, Hatton says.

"Surplus talent that became available during the [global financial crisis] has been re-absorbed back into business and talent shortages are back on the agenda. The number of quality candidates hasn’t changed; attracting and finding senior executive talent is as tough as ever."

Interim executives, or "hired guns" as they used to be known, are something of a unique breed, according to the Human Capital Institute.

According to its 2008 report, The Interim Executive: Gaining a Competitive Business Edge through Interim Executive Management: "The executives who fill interim positions in companies elect this as their career: These are individuals who enjoy putting out fires, relish the challenge of change and thrive on walking into a new situation, confident of a successful outcome.

"Their commitment is to the task at hand: their confidence is based on `been there, done that’ experience."

Neale says Hattonneale’s network includes many senior executives who feel they have earned a new way of working. "These people are not necessarily old, they’re people who’ve perhaps sold a business, come out of a senior executive role and are looking for either a more balanced lifestyle or a little more variety in their career.

"They are developing what we call a `portfolio career’. They use their skills and experience to add value to client companies on a consulting, interim advisory or project basis."

Mentoring, coaching, non-executive directorships and advisory board roles are all part of the mix. Neale says executives choose how much they want to work.

"We have executives who want a 100 per cent full dance card with a full range of portfolio roles, while others want to work just three or four days a week."

This flexible "just in time" talent pipeline is advantageous for organisations, Hatton says.

"An organisation may be going through change or growth and want to bring in particular expertise to manage part of that process. Alternatively they may want to pull full-time staff out of their usual roles on to a project and then backfill that person for a period of time."

Bringing in fresh blood can help create advantages. "Interim executives can bring in a unique perspective and skills the organisation hasn’t had before, providing a real catalyst for idea generation," says Neale.

Hatton says the company is needs rather than role-centric. "Our focus is less about putting a body there, more about building a business partnership with the organisation, the CEO and their executive team so we can understand how executive talent can better help them achieve the outcomes their business is seeking. We really quiz and challenge clients and ask, for example, ‘What is the current issue? Why are you looking for a new CFO? What outcomes are you looking to achieve?’

"In some instances recruiting a new CFO is not the right process to get to that outcome. They might need to bring someone in on an interim basis to project manage a path. The incumbent might be a good and very capable person but they might need a coach or mentor alongside them for a period."

Hatton says a cautious post-GFC climate means companies welcome the opportunity to acquire senior-level input without the cost or commitment of a permanent hire, but she believes the value goes beyond keeping overheads down.

"You’re engaging with a higher level of skill and experience, so while a person might be more experienced and therefore often more expensive, they can come in, know exactly what they need to do and add a significant amount of value in a lesser period," she says.

There are no short cuts to selecting the right executive. "We need to understand a person’s particular area of skill, expertise and experience but it’s equally important the person’s values and culture fit into an organisation. We connect people who are not only going to be able to do the job technically but also will fit in and contribute more broadly to the organisation," Hatton says.

Neale says interim executives are an under-exploited source of talent, but says the landscape will change. "Some employers are nervous about bringing people in because they worry they will lose intellectual property," Neale says.

"But the benefits gained by bringing in external experience and the legacy they leave behind after working within the organisation, developing intellectual property, training and mentoring the people around them, leaves a strong legacy and body of work that benefits the organisation for years to come."

Article from The Australian, June, 2010.

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