Should you work as an interim executive?
As a healthcare executive search firm, we are retained by clients to find leaders, and interim leaders, for their organizations. We would like to share some insights about interim executive work in today’s healthcare world and some points to consider if you are thinking about interim work as your next career step.
Why do organizations need interim executives?
Leadership gaps are associated with greater financial and organizational risks than ever before and having a senior leader depart can be difficult and anxiety inducing. The reflex response is to hire fast – putting a permanent replacement into the vacant position as soon as possible. However, hiring mistakes at the senior level are expensive, demoralizing and destabilizing. Utilizing an interim executive can offset much of the immediate disruption and advance strategic initiatives while simultaneously providing the time and space to recruit a new leader who is the right cultural fit with an organization.
Interim executives can offer a significant contribution to healthcare organizations. Generally, they are veteran executives, bringing experience and expertise in specific domains such as finance, strategy, technology and operations. Many individuals who are drawn to interim assignments do so after enjoying a successful leadership career. Having honed a specific skillset, they find it rewarding to offer their services to organizations who are looking to fill a leadership void or to manage a time sensitive complex project. Sometimes an executive tries an interim assignment and realizes how much they enjoy the challenges that a short-term engagement offers This is especially true where an interim serves as a change agent to drive an emerging agenda or a specific project.
There are advantages to hiring an interim, many which go beyond filling a leadership gap. An interim can provide a specific skillset or expertise that is lacking within an organization and offer an unbiased assessment on an important issue. S/he can keep the trains running while senior leadership or the Board of Directors assume a more deliberate approach to identifying a permanent recruit. This offers an opportunity for an organization to assess the leadership structure as a whole and determine which direction a new leader should strategically guide the business.
Leadership and staff turnover is inevitable. It happens across all industries but the impact of turnover in healthcare stretches beyond financial ramifications and can even directly impact patient care. A good interim brings expertise, stability, and an objective perspective.
Should you consider interim work as your next career step?
Before you consider interim work, you have to evaluate your life circumstances. While an interim is often paid more than a regular employee, the income earned from when you are active on an assignment and getting paid must cover the times when you aren’t working You must be willing to travel, often to places distant from your current home. Will it work for your personal life to be living and working in Arizona and returning home to the east coast once every two weeks for 4-5 days?
Assuming this is an adventure you can undertake, what would make this attractive?
The lure of travel for you and your family might be a draw; six months in Colorado exploring a new part of the country could be appealing.
You may be looking for your next permanent position, but are not sure where you would like to live and work and want to explore other options in depth. Frequently an interim position can evolve into a permanent position. At that point, you know that position and organization well and can make a well-informed decision about your next step.
Do you like being a change agent? An interim executive doesn’t have to worry about his/her career advancement, but can focus on making change and harnessing the best efforts of the team. Do you like to create an environment for learning and reduce the personal risk of the next level of management? You are less constrained by company habit and history and is not mired in organizational politics.
Do you thrive on focusing on a specific task or initiative?
At times organizations want an interim executive with a specific skill set to come in and address an important strategic area that others in the organization don’t have the time or the skills to address. Interim leaders need to be seasoned in their ability to listen effectively, diagnose problems quickly and successfully implement solutions.
Do you enjoy problem solving? One interim executive told us: “I’m able to focus on the issues and can deflect political distractions which otherwise would affect how I can best serve the organization. For me, that makes the job so much more enjoyable!”
Are you able to be immediately productive and “hit the ground running” taking immediate action to stabilize a department or organization? Organizations hiring an interim want Immediate productivity. Depth of experience (you may as an interim be “overqualified” for a specific interim position) coupled with the ability to gain credibility and take necessary steps is crucial.
Are you good with developing relationships and encouraging a team in times of uncertainty? This is often an issue during a leadership transition. Being calm and restoring trust may be an important part of an interim executive’s responsibilities. Establishing stability helps keep talented people from leaving due to uncertainty and C-suite transition.
Being a successful healthcare interim requires front line experience, high emotional intelligence bolstered by the right temperament. As we look to the future in healthcare, further consolidation coupled with greater emphasis on value based care, we are in a climate which is well poised for interim engagements. Healthcare is changing rapidly and organizations patch together coverage for key executives at their peril. Whether you want to be an interim or you want to hire an interim, this is the time to do it.
Annette Cooke is Senior Vice President at ZurickDavis, a retained executive search firm exclusively serving health care organizations. Our ZDinterim division places interim executives to assure strategic momentum and leadership continuity.
If you are interested in possibly working as an interim, email us at: ClientSupport@ZDinterim.com
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Posted on Jun 13, 2018