An interim leader is one of the most valuable, yet unexploited, resources for building organizational health in the modern era. Diane Mulcahy describes the context for interim leadership in The Gig Economy: “Companies are taking previous full-time jobs and breaking them down into smaller projects or tasks to be automated, outsourced, or contracted out. It’s cheaper, more flexible, and more efficient to do so.” This broad premise is the context for interim or gig leaders. Interim leaders do more than just fill “jobs”, they assume significant leadership roles in growing organizations worldwide.
During the 1990’s, authors Charles Handy and William Bridges predicted changes to the world of work that are especially relevant to the rise of gig leaders. Consider Handy’s analogy of a doughnut in The Empty Raincoat. The doughnut comprises a central core of key employees and an outside hole comprised of portfolio workers who provide the ultimate in flexibility and effectiveness. In Handy’s earlier book, The Age of Unreason, he predicted a “shamrock organization, based around a core of essential executives and workers supported by outside contractors and part-time resources.” In Job Shift William Bridges states, “Work will not be contained in the familiar envelopes we call jobs”. He even uses the term “gig” when postulating that “the terms of work have been reframed away from positions and towards assignments or even gigs.” These doughnuts, shamrocks, and gigs shape the context for the advent of interim leadership.
Handy and Bridges’ vision can be seen today in the rise of the “gig economy”. A 2017 report on U.S. employment from Upwork and the Freelancers Union reveals that more than ever, professionals are choosing to freelance; in fact, up to 35% of the total U.S. workforce in 2017 were contract, freelance workers. According to the research paper The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015 (March 29th, 2016) published by Lawrence F. Katz and Alan B. Krueger, “94% of net job growth in the past decade was in the alternative work category (non-permanent employment)”, and interim leaders are at the cutting edge of this trend in the world of work. In addition, human resource professionals observe a global shift over the last decade in demand for those who perform jobs focused on skills, rather than career paths. This is driven by organizational needs for speed and agility which fuel the increasing requirement to supplement the permanent workforce with other talented professionals. It is much faster, for example, to hire a contract worker than a permanent professional. In addition, new technologies and options for virtual work fuel these shifts in the workforce and the ways organizations and gig workers connect.
In Accelerate (XLR8), John Kotter paints a picture of the world of work: “The world is now changing at a rate at which the basic systems, structures, and cultures built over the past century cannot keep up with the demands being placed on them.” He discusses a constant organizational challenge related to this: “You find yourself going back again and again to the same small number of trusted people to lead key initiatives. That puts obvious limits on what can be done and at what speed.” One way in which Kotter suggests this challenge can be alleviated is to, “selectively hire people who see and appreciate the true turbulence you face.” This is an opportunity for interim leaders.
A 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends survey suggests, “As organizations become more digital, they face a growing imperative to redesign themselves to move faster, adapt more quickly, learn rapidly, and embrace dynamic career demands. Leading organizations are moving past the design phase to actively build this new organization.” Also, there is the impact of the attitude of millennials towards work that indicates a growing acceptance of the gig economy. Many millennials are confident about virtual employment, intent on making an impact throughout their careers, and eager to find an ideal work-life balance. As the twenty-first century progresses, the traditional working relationship between employer and employee is likely to keep transforming.
For more information, Rise of the Gig Leaders provides a detailed analysis of interim leadership. Please check-out the YouTube link as an introduction to the book https://youtu.be/iHMesdPFbro