Engaging with executive interims – time for a fresh perspective

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Decide early on what the key success and risk factors are when hiring an executive interim

Habits are hard to break and all too often we return to established patterns of behaviour rather than looking for innovative ways to do things.

The business community has such a process habit when it comes to finding and securing an executive interim. Typically companies closely follow the same tried and tested route for hiring the interim as they do for a senior employee. At best this causes unnecessary delays and, at worst, misses out on the best candidates.

The key to success is to focus on process optimisation and to start the search with the end in mind. Why do you need the interim, and what does success look like on their exit? Interims are usually retained for one of two reasons: getting something done that’s outside of a company’s skillset or resources, or to cover a highly-skilled job in someone’s absence.

Problems arise when interims are thought of as potential employees. Looking at the situation as a business request for a proposal (RFP), instead of the standard-issue job description followed by multiple rounds of interviews-to-offer format, is favourable. It sets the tone that discussions are B2B in nature rather than leading to a personal service.

Decide early on what the key success and risk factors are. For example, considering applicants working flexible hours rather than full-time will broaden the field. Similarly, looking for a rare skillset while lacking an expenses budget will restrict you to sourcing locally. The same problem will arise if you fix your budget for these services before getting a sense of the ‘going rate’ in the market.

Money is important but…

Consider that executive interims’ motivations are different to employees. An employee may place particular emphasis on the brand of the company, its pipeline and where it sees itself in five years. The interim may focus more on how interesting the project is and whether this will add to their toolkit or fill in any gaps in their portfolio of clients. Are there any direct conflicts with existing clients, or will taking on your project impact on their work with an existing customer?

The price for an interim’s input will vary client to client, whereas an employee often has a set financial package in mind and is less mobile on the remuneration. Avoid getting tunnel vision on the number presented and look to a balanced focus on the output value you gain.

…interims often see it differently

Money, corporate culture, training and career development are often not key factors. Executive interims seek a level of respect; they are directors of their own companies, meeting with you to provide a professional service. If they can’t deliver or believe they are not the right person for the task, they will tell you so. Interims don’t set themselves up for failure; they will avoid risking their reputational currency.

Once you have a shortlist of candidates, avoid selling them the company pitch. Focus on why they are there and employ due diligence. Gaps in their employment history prior to setting up independently, or where they see themselves in five years’ time, are less important. Key points are evidence of skills and experience which will apply to the project, and examples or recent case studies you can reference against.

Short supply

The best interims in any field are hard to find and harder to secure; a well-oiled process will enable you to attract the best interim talent. By breaking your habits you will attract and engage your preferred interim before competing companies are even out of the starting block. Keep the right type of contracts to hand and minimise lengthy decision-making, enabling your interim to swiftly start adding value.

Finally, define your terms

When your interim starts work revisit the question of what success looks like. Don’t be afraid to challenge the interim, and be sure to provide them with the resources and autonomy to ‘just get on'. Build in feedback opportunities to better inform both parties on ‘what success looks like’, and how soon.

Straightforward questions provide for straightforward answers, and sometimes all that is needed is a fresh perspective.

Dafydd Wright is managing partner at The RSA Group

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