Have you ever sat in a management meeting and heard some terrific ideas – but when it comes time to act, everyone begs off?
The fact is most managers are just too busy, says Kevin Jeffrey, a partner with Caldwell Partners International.
Last month, Caldwell Partners released a study entitled, The “Just-in-Time” Executive. It shows that companies are warming to the trend of hiring short-term, or interim, executives to undertake important initiatives.
“A key thing to understand is that they are not consultants, brought in to give advice,” says Calgary-based Jeffrey. “These people are doers, they are going to execute on a particular plan.”
In most cases, the interim executive is over age 40; over-qualified for the job; has worked at a senior management level position for more than one organization; is immune to office politics; can hit the ground running; and offers expertise at a fraction of the cost of hiring a full-time employee.
If a company needs to launch a product, establish a new company division, direct a merger, mentor a manager, right-size, or fill an unexpected opening, the interim executive may fill the bill, says Jeffrey.
|Shannon Oatway, Business Edge|
|Jeffrey says most execs brought in for short-term jobs are experienced managers who are immune from office politics.|
In its study, Caldwell acknowledges that freelancers, temps, contract workers and free agents have been around for centuries, dating back to medieval times when knights sold their services to the highest bidder.
The report raises the analogy of free agency in sports, where athletes are hired for a short term to help a team win a Stanley Cup or World Series. It suggests the use of executive “ringers” might have a similar impact with businesses.
Calgary’s oilpatch for years has had an “organic” interim executive system. Due to normal cycles in the business, senior executives have always been available, between jobs, to help fill another company’s needs.
“It used to be word of mouth, where someone would say: ‘I have a friend, or know somebody who can help you out,’ ” explains Jeffrey. “But the problem is if that friend isn’t right for the job, it’s harder to fire them, because they’ve been recommended by someone you know.”
Caldwell Partners was established 30 years ago, and has focused on executive searches at the CEO and VP levels, as well as recruiting for boards of directors.
About seven years ago, the company began offering an interim executive service because it recognized there was talent out on the streets that their clients needed.
Caldwell says it has placed several hundred interim workers Canada-wide in that time. Postings typically last three to six months, or 12 to 18 months, depending on the task.
Although most of these interim employees had previously retired from full-time work, many had fulfilling experiences and were eventually hired full-time, adds Jeffrey.
According to Statistics Canada 2000 figures, about five per cent of managers, on average, are interim or contract executives. Another study (Labour Force Historical Review 2000) shows that the number of senior management occupations has dropped 37 per cent from 1987 to 2000, meaning managers are juggling more work than ever.
Jeffrey believes the statistics and anecdotal evidence suggest that the contract executive is here to stay. The leading edge of the Boomer Generation preparing to retire will create large gaps in companies, especially at the senior level.
“You can’t underestimate the impact of the demographic shift, and how powerful it’s going to be,” he says.
“We talk to people every day. They might be employed right now, but say they are going to retire in a year or two. This idea (of interim work) appeals to many.” Both men and women are filling the gaps, he adds, in numbers that mirror the workplace.
“At senior levels most (companies) don’t care if it’s a man or a woman, they just want the person to drive the project through.”
What are senior executives looking for? A recent study suggests they would use another qualified team member for the following:
* 25 per cent would tackle a special project;
* 20 per cent would fill a sudden departure or leave of absence;
* 17 per cent would bridge the transition period between an outgoing and incoming senior executive;
* 15 per cent would investigate acquisition, divestiture or organizational resizing options;
* 13 per cent would lead a product or service launch;
* 10 per cent would reinvent a process or practice.
Jeffrey explains that the market for interim executives is hot when the economy is expanding, slow when times are flat, and excellent when it’s down-sliding. “Currently, things are very good,” he says.
“We are in a recession of indecision. When times are uncertain, companies don’t want to take on a big salary for the next 10 years.”
An interim executive, he says, make perfect sense.