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The duties of a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) are broad and complex. While often mistaken for a figurehead role, a CEO is tasked with the high-level strategy planning that determines the trajectory of the organization. This includes working with other members of the C-suite to ensure operational excellence—especially at each new phase of business growth. To say the CEO role is essential is an understatement!
Yet, not every business is large enough to warrant keeping a full-time CEO on staff. It begs the question: how can small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) benefit from a CEO’s expertise in times of growth and transition? The answer comes in the form of interim or fractional CEOs.
What are interim and fractional CEOs?
Interim and fractional CEOs are essentially part-time executives who offer their services in different capacities to growing businesses. They offer all the expertise and experience of a well-tenured CEO, but in an as-needed capacity for small businesses that can’t justify a full-time executive.
- Interim CEOs serve in the role for a short-term period—usually less than a year. Companies rely on them to chart a course forward as the company grows, to ensure there’s a high-level plan during periods of uncertainty.
- Fractional CEOs work with businesses in an ongoing capacity, on a true part-time basis. For example, they might be involved for 15-20 hours per month, to provide guidance in specific areas of the business’ operations.
In either capacity, these stand-in executives provide much-needed support, insight and advice to businesses that need an experienced leader at the helm of new and unfamiliar situations. Interim and fractional CEOs offer powerful, actionable advice—without the burden of a full-time executive salary.
Identifying opportunities for success at-scale
One of the chief reasons growing companies bring on an interim CEO is because they’re unsure of how to reach the next level. They’re primed for growth, but don’t necessarily have the systems in place to make the leap. So, they call in an executive who has experience helping companies take the next step forward.
The first thing any executive will do is look for opportunities to create stability. Often, this means looking at core operations through a SWOT lens: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. By understanding strengths and weaknesses, an interim executive can seize on opportunities to address threats. This might mean building a moat around something your business does better than the competition; or, it might mean cutting your losses on an initiative that’s costing the company time, manpower and money.
No matter what actionable insights an interim CEO might bring to the table, behind them is an emphasis on establishing stability. That means seizing the opportunity to create new practices and processes that play to the business’s strengths, cover its weaknesses and directly address its threats.
New processes pave the way for sustainable success
Among the biggest benefits of working with an interim CEO is their ability to establish frameworks and processes that outlast their tenure. Every successful CEO knows that strong processes are the key to repeatable results, which is why they’ll work to identify and implement these strategies as a baseline for everything else that they do. As a result, these processes quickly become part of core business operations and set the foundation for success at a fundamental level.
Say, for example, an interim CEO takes a keen interest in your sales department. In an effort to help your business sell better and meet core KPIs, they install several new processes. They rewrite sales scripts and manuals and help develop core customer profiles that your salespeople can use to sell better. These materials and their accompanying processes become the foundation of your sales efforts—now and for the future. Six months from now, the interim CEO might be gone, but the excellent sales frameworks they’ve installed will remain.
Upskilling your internal management staff
Process development is an invaluable skill that shouldn’t leave your organization when an interim CEO’s tenure is up. Instead, closely align in-house leadership to the CEO and use their presence as a teaching and training opportunity.
How does the CEO approach problem-solving? What variables are they most concerned with when developing new processes? How do they identify opportunities for synergy and build systems to connect them? As your leadership team works alongside an interim CEO and asks these types of questions, they’ll become more adept at applying themselves to solving business challenges—especially by establishing fruitful processes.
Think about an interim CEO as not only an investment in your business’s future but also in the education, training and betterment of staff leadership. The interim executive might only be there in a limited capacity, but the wisdom they impart to your team will help shepherd it forward long after they’re gone.
Pave your own path to success at-scale
Ultimately, every business will face its own obstacles and growing pains as it scales up. Bringing in an interim CEO goes a long way to addressing and alleviating these pains—largely thanks to their ability to install new processes. The investment in an interim executive is one that not only illuminates the path forward but also has the potential to set the tone for success far into the future, thanks to a great foundation of best practices.
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