Rise of the permanent interim executive

You have a dilemma: Your big, mission-critical project needs full-time, executive-level leadership for the next year. You cannot spare anyone from your current executive team and no one in the leadership pipeline has the proven skills needed for the job. You don't want to hire someone new because you don't expect to have an opening for the new hire a year from now.

Situations like this occur every day throughout the healthcare industry, and increasingly, hospitals and health systems are turning to interim executives to fill this need. With market demand growing, more and more experienced executives are opting to become permanent interims.

Isn't "permanent interim" an oxymoron?

Permanent interim executives are highly-skilled leaders who have a burning desire to make sustainable change, produce quantifiable financial gains and improve clinical outcomes — all on a temporary, full-time basis.

Executive positions are stressful jobs that demand an exceptional commitment of time and energy. People who hold these positions often dream of finding careers that are equally rewarding, but allow for a different work-life balance. Today, some executives are finding that life as a permanent interim gives them an opportunity to use the skills gained over a career, while exercising more control over when and where they work.

Permanent interims are often retired or approaching retirement, but not ready to quit working altogether. They are typically over-qualified for the temporary jobs they fill, so they are able to step into a role and make an impact from day one. They are usually self-employed, providing for their own health insurance and pension benefits. Most all reputable interim executives work through firms such as Integrated Healthcare Strategies, a division of Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc.

In Peter Drucker's book, Managing in the Next Society, he wrote, "One prediction I've heard is that in a few years the people who are not employees of the organization for which they work will greatly exceed the number who are." Hospitals subcontract for housekeeping services with outside firms who pay the cleaning staff. They contract with physician groups to staff the emergency department. They occasionally hire clerical employees through temp agencies to reduce a billing backlog. These are examples of the phenomenon Mr. Drucker was talking about, but they are hardly the only ones.

MBO Partners, a firm offering operating infrastructure for independent workers, reports that in 2015, 2.9 million American workers earned $100,000 or more as full-time interims. Mr. Drucker called contract work at the upper level "intellectual capital on demand." Gallagher Integrated fields many requests for people with executive experience to fill jobs that are not expected to be permanent. These projects are most often related to a key leadership vacancy or a major project that needs additional attention. One frequent request we receive is for an interim CFO. We also field calls for an interim CNO or nursing director. We place interim chief human resources officers and CEOs in interim positions as well.  

Why not consider hiring a recently retired CFO with merger experience as an interim executive to manage the financial side of your next major acquisition? Why not hire a seasoned HR officer as an interim executive to assist your hospital with a major reorganization? Why not look for the best available leader for your project, instead of assigning it to someone who is merely adequate to the task? Doesn't the availability of well-qualified executives willing work on an interim basis open up the possibility of obtaining better leadership for your organization?

Increasingly, we are living in an "on-demand" world, and our workplaces are reflecting the changes happening in society. Healthcare, with its breathtaking pace of change and exceptional pressures on costs, is an industry where interim executives can make a meaningful impact. Fortunately, there is a ready pool of highly qualified and experienced healthcare executives who have chosen careers as permanent interims.

This article was originally published by Integrated Healthcare Strategies, a division of Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. For more content like this, visit the Knowledge Center.

Download Gallagher Integrated's free interim leadership guide here for access to articles, checklists, timelines and more information that helps organizations better understand the benefits of interim leadership.

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