Interim executive directors are a fairly new and growing, unique professional field that has been developing in the U.S. since the 1970’s. It started in the faith based and private sector and is now seen as an extremely successful business model.
Interims must be highly experienced individuals or teams that specialize in taking the helm quickly to guide the company for a short time (generally 3-12 months). They are responsive, flexible, high-energy people who bring vision and quick results.
“In a strange way, interim executives are the models of modern management because they are only there for a short while.” Forbes.com Julian Birkinshaw, London Business School
An excellent Interim Executive has the following qualities: a drive to excel, a high-speed learner and an enterprising spirit, coupled with the ability to sense real risk. The excellent Interim Executive is able to deliver strong and credible results and to uphold behavioral standards that reflect the agency culture and values. Credibility is especially important, as quickly building trust and confidence leads to an ability to influence a wide array of stakeholders.
Interim Executive Directors are not candidates for the position of CEO or Executive Director.
Why use an IED?
Research has shown that organizations that use interims are stronger, more optimistic, more financially sound and better prepared to welcome their new leader.
· Interim Execs are focused on getting things done
· Have no personal agenda
· And are intent on working themselves out of a job
(Forbes.com Julian Birkinshaw, London Business School)
Uses of an Interim Executive
· A time of crisis when an executive leaves without warning for health reasons, or termination by the board or during a merger. Someone is needed to fill the gap, manage the concerns of staff, board and stakeholders and ensure operations continue smoothly.
· Interim Executives are often hired when there is a need for a “turnaround” or to stabilize an organization before bringing in a permanent executive director. Skills needed to bring change to an agency are not necessarily the same skills needed to run the operation on an ongoing basis.
o Interim Executives are seasoned leaders who have greater skill levels and experience to handle challenges. From the outset, they can work to solve specific problems such as a need for change management, financial stability, or operations issues and pave the wave to new solutions.
· When a founder or long-term CEO leaves the agency. Filling the shoes of a Founder can be difficult and frequently the first person to take a Founder’s or long-term Executive’s position runs into serious challenges.
o An Interim Executive serves as a bridge to assist with the transition. Executive Interim Directors are skilled in assisting with the separation from the old CEO by providing a forum for expressing the accomplishments of the departed CEO along with other sometimes bottled up emotions. Everyone is given a neutral zone to talk about what characteristics they would like their next CEO to bring. By creating more distance and time, as well as allowing for expression of views and feelings, a more welcoming environment is created for the incoming permanent CEO. The new CEO is able to “hit the ground running” without being weighted down with old baggage.
· When an executive goes on Sabbatical and someone is needed to fill in for a set period of time. Often, the Interim Executive takes on specific projects during the Sabbatical such as engaging in a neutral departmental assessment.
· Director departure or leave of absence which includes finance, Human Resources, Development Programs or any senior leader. Nonprofits may also bring in an Interim Director to set the stage for a newly created position.
Qualifications of an Interim Executive
- Seasoned former Executive Directors with specialized skills and expertise that address a range of organizational issues.
- Capable of quickly sizing up the situation and developing an action plan that is shared with the Board.
- Trained in transition management including organizational development, with good communication skills for wary funders, anxious staff and concerned board members.
- Skilled in performing agency/departmental assessments.
- Capacity to provide a calm, stabilizing influence for the organization during an often complex time of transition.
- Ability to effectively communicate independent, objective evaluation of the strengths and challenges of the organization during their placement period.
- Skilled in working in tandem with the transition consultant/recruiter and developing on-boarding plans for the incoming CEO.
- Not a candidate for the permanent position.
Typical Tenure and Cost of an Interim Executive
The average duration of an Interim Executive Director is four to nine months. When significant strategic planning or a “turnaround” is needed, a contract could extend up to 18 months or more. Other Interim Executive positions such as CFO or Development Director generally last four to six months.
The veteran Interim Executive is able to quickly set priorities related to the transition and other issues communicated by staff and board. Little time is spent on developing outside relationships given the temporary nature of the job. The specialized work needed during this period is accomplished quickly and with expertise. The focus is on the transition, assessment, and other priorities as agreed upon with the Board.
Hiring an Interim Executive Director is a cost-effective solution for leadership needs. Budget line compensation for the Interim Executive is comparable to that of a permanent position as it is usually on contract and is between 20 to 30 hours per week. Taxes and benefits are not included. The nonprofit has the benefit of a more skilled person in this temporary role during this transitional period.