Engaging with executive interims – time for a fresh perspective
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 the services of an executive interim. Typically, companies follow the tried and tested route for hiring a senior employee as closely as possible, along with the same HR processes that follow at offer stage. At best this causes unnecessary delays and, at worst, results in missing out on the best candidates. The knock-on effect to business objectives only then becomes clear.
A 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 different reasons – getting something done that’s outside of a company’s skillset or beyond its usual resources, or to cover a highly skilled job in someone’s planned or unplanned absence.
The usual problems present when interims are thought of as potential employees, and hiring processes follow that line of thought. Instead of the standard issue job description followed by first / second / third round interview to offer format, basing the process around a business request for a proposal (RFP) would be a more accurate way of looking at the situation.
Such an RFP-led process will immediately set the tone that discussions are b2b in nature, rather than one leading to a personal service.
Decide early on what the key factors for success are, and what risk factors exist that could derail the outcome. For example, balancing the need of someone to deploy full time will narrow the field, whilst considering a more flexible approach will broaden it. Similarly, looking for a rare skillset but the lack of an expenses budget only allows to source locally or deciding you already know what you will budget to pay 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 those of employees. A process designed to attract an employee may focus on the brand of the company, its pipeline and where it sees itself in five years. However, the interim is less concerned with these factors, and more focused on how interesting the project is and whether this will add to their toolkit or fill in any gaps in their portfolio of clients. Will this take them away from home during the week or not? 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 number. 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
But money is often not the most important factor. Corporate culture, training and career development are simply not on the list. Executive Interims seek a level of respect out of any process. They are directors of their own company, 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. No Interim sets themselves up for failure and will do everything to avoid any risk to their reputational currency.
Once you have narrowed down who you wish to meet and assess, avoid selling them the company pitch! Focus instead on why they are there and use the meeting to drive the due diligence in your process. You don’t need to know of any gaps in their 15-25+ year employment history prior to setting up independently, or where they see themselves in five years’ time. But you certainly are interested in evidence of where their skills and experience will apply to the project, and examples or recent case studies you can reference against.
The best interims in any field are hard to find and even harder to secure. Ensuring you have a well-oiled process in place will enable you to attract the best interim talent. Companies you are competing with for the same skillsets are likely to be stuck in their habits, meaning you will attract and engage your preferred interim before they are even out of the starting blocks. Keep the right type of contracts to hand and the length of decision making to a minimum. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your interim can start adding value.
And finally, define your terms
When your interim starts work, remember to revisit the question of what success looks like. What criteria will you set now that you have the benefit of their input? Don’t be afraid to challenge the interim, but at the same time provide them with the resources and autonomy to ‘just get on’. Build in feedback opportunities and you and the interim will be better informed on not only ‘what success looks like’, but how soon.
Straightforward questions provide for straightforward answers, and sometimes all that is needed is a fresh perspective.
Dafydd Wright, Managing Partner | dafydd.wright@theRSAgroup.com