Interim Executives: Providing Stability in Times of Uncertainty

By Brian Krehbiel

Times of disruption and uncertainty are times in which organizations tend to seek help from interim executives. I’ve noticed this phenomenon over more than two decades of providing interim executives to hospitals and health systems. When the future is cloudy, organizations are often reluctant to fill open positions with permanent hires, and instead look to executives who can serve them capably for a finite period of time. Interim leadership buys the organization valuable time and generates a feeling of organizational stability.

What many organizations may not realize is just how much benefit and return on investment they can experience from hiring an interim executive, especially during a crisis. Interims are much more than a stop-gap measure. In fact, in many ways they are ideally suited for times of immense change. Interim leaders:

  • Thrive on uncertainty. This is a primary reason executives pursue interim roles—they relish the opportunity to enter a chaotic situation and lend stability. They hope to make a big difference in a short period of time. Organizations in flux benefit from executives with this mindset.
  • Can objectively advise on the current situation. Interim leaders are in a position to take an unvarnished look at their role, the state of the organization and the shifting marketplace, and to offer candid, objective advice. In many cases, an outsider can help an organization to recalibrate in ways that an insider cannot. They can help the organization strategically envision its future.
  • Speak from experience. Executives who fill interim positions tend to be late in their careers and have had a broad mix of experiences. They’ve seen a thing or two, and this wisdom is invaluable in turbulent times.
  • Take pressure off the leadership team. Too often when a vacancy occurs executives from inside the organization are called upon to pick up the slack. The classic case is a COO filling in as interim CEO after the departure or firing of the chief executive. The downside is that the COO is now doing the job of two executives. Bringing in an interim leader from the outside, in most cases, eases the strain on the organization’s permanent leadership team.

In any industry, the demand for interim executives tends to be proportional to the amount of disruption experienced at a given time. We are currently involved in a very disruptive event, meaning that the need for – and benefit of – interim leadership is great.

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