Leadership on demand (Guest commentary)

Using an interim executive can bridge the management gap
By Jane Matthews and Michael Dick
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/01/2008

Employee churn is a challenge every organization must face, regardless of how well it engages and rewards staff, and the executive suites are not immune.

As an HR professional, you must ask yourself if you have the right level of succession planning and leadership development happening within the organization to replace the knowledge gap.

McKinsey and Company, a New York-based management consulting firm, recently completed two followup studies to its 1997 global research paper

The War for Talent.

Both studies concluded the single most important issue companies will need to deal with in the next few years is finding talent. McKinsey found too many organizations dismiss talent management as a short-term, tactical problem rather than an integral part of long-term business strategy.

In Canada, the generation of workers who are now in the workforce and available to replace the boomers are 20 per cent fewer in numbers, according to Statistics Canada. Those still in school readying themselves to enter the workforce are an additional 15 per cent fewer in numbers, so finding leadership talent in a declining workforce will be a more difficult task for HR professionals well into the next decade.

But the problem isn’t one just sitting in the future. Organizations are already finding that an executive search can often be a lengthy process in order to find the right fit, putting added pressure on existing management. Organizations in this situation might want to consider interim executive management as an effective stop-gap measure.

Already a widely used business practice in Europe and the United Kingdom, interim management is finding its place in North America. It involves the temporary assignment of a seasoned executive to manage through a period of transition, crisis or change within a business.

There are a number of different situations that can create a need for an interim executive: crisis management, sudden departure, extended leaves, managing change or transition, taking a company public, mergers and acquisitions and project management. Disability can also create temporary voids in the executive management suites.

Whatever the reason for the departure, having an interim executive fill in while the incumbent is on a leave and then having the interim executive around to help facilitate the return-to-work process, increases the success rate and provides a win-win for both the individual and the company.

One of the major benefits of using interim management is to fill senior level vacancies within days, enabling the business to move forward. Because there are no long briefing sessions and interview processes, an experienced interim executive can hit the ground running, be readily available, be paid a daily rate and get introduced quickly into the existing corporate culture.

In addition, the organization can tap the expertise of the interim executive to help recruit a full-time replacement or fill a newly-created position, smooth the transition period of the new incumbent and provide support for senior management or the board of directors.

Interim management also makes sense for organizations that don’t require a full-time executive but want the seasoned expertise of a senior-level person with a good track record. The volume of work may not require a full-time vice-president of human resources or a chief financial officer, but the nature of the work may require part-time, executive-level expertise.

An interim executive can also play a mentoring role, especially in smaller organizations that may only have a CEO at the top leading a team of hands-on managers.

Whether struggling with issues such as cash flow, customer service, employee engagement, pricing models or expansion into new markets, an interim executive who has “seen it all” can bring proven solutions to the table and offer clarity on priorities and challenges. Additionally, they usually have an extensive network of other experienced professionals who can assist and advise in a wide variety of areas.

Now more than ever, organizations are facing key leadership gaps. The use of interim executives allows organizations to deal effectively with the loss and take the time to find the right replacement. Leadership on demand is a key strategy for any HR professional to manage the upcoming loss of knowledge and leadership as the boomers start to leave the workforce.

Jane Matthews is the national managing principal and Michael Dick is the principal, human resources, Toronto practice at the Osborne Group, an organization that provides interim management and consulting services. For more information, visit www.osborne-group.com.

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