Being a change leader is not only an area of deep capability for an interim leader, it is an area of significant comfort. An interim understands change perhaps more than most leaders because of the interim’s repeated confrontations with it on the front line. The speed at which an interim is able to deliver results is a product of the interim’s experience, confidence, and resilience. An interim prefers to be the agent of change, not the subject of change. Charles Handy, in The Age of Unreason, cites “discontinuous upside-down thinking” as the way a dynamic leader impacts our changing world. An interim leader loves to play in this sand-pit of chaos and change!
In Built to Last Collins and Porras discuss the concept of alignment; in their view, companies transform themselves into visionary companies through two key alignment processes:
1) developing new alignments to preserve the core and stimulate progress
2) eliminating misalignments that drive an organization away from its core ideology and those that impede progress toward the envisioned future
Both alignment processes are fertile ground for an interim leader. An interim is adept at managing alignment. The Confederation of British Industry states in their business guide, Interim Executive Management, “Interims are hungry for the challenge of changing the state of things and know they can do it because they have successfully done so on many occasions.”
An interim’s raison d’être is to accelerate the pace of change. If an interim can deliver on his or her accountabilities as part of organizational change then the interim will leave a legacy of value and transformation. If the interim encounters an organizational culture that is blocked by obstacles, whether the result of hierarchies, budget, or other constraints, the interim’s effectiveness and energy will lose momentum. However, since an interim has a short-term tenure with an organization, he or she often has more license than a long-term employee to navigate and challenge norms. An interim does this with an authentic interest in the organization’s growth.
When leading change an interim leader often presents a client with alternative scenarios. This process of providing clients with options helps an interim achieve buy-in for proposed changes. This is especially important when an interim delivers change at a rapid pace. An interim uses comprehensive stakeholder management to help engage support for change. Speed of change is a familiar concept for an interim. An interim is not rattled when riding the change-curve roller coaster and is unlikely to be perturbed when projects lurch in different directions. An interim’s ability to react quickly and change course, even in the face of uncertainty and shifting horizons, is an essential part of the interim’s tool kit as a change leader.
Often an interim is responsible for moving the dial to deliver a change program within a short timeframe. An interim may not be with the organization long enough to fully see the change project’s entire implementation. An interim may however be required to design processes to embed change over this longer time period and has a responsibility to leave a legacy of significant value. In many ways this is more challenging for an interim than delivering the original change project under short time pressures. To create processes to successfully embed change, an interim needs to anticipate all the variables in the organization, processes, and people to create the best conditions for successful implementation—without having the opportunity to course-correct in real time. As Robert Schaffer notes in High Impact Consulting, “Management consultants must be more than experts in their field. They must serve as effective change agents and share accountability with their clients for the ultimate outcome of their consulting projects.”
The Confederation of British Industry discusses the role of interims as change leaders in their business guide, Interim Executive Management: “Clients have found that interims are an effective strategic weapon to gain competitive advantage, through rapid and lasting change. They bring a refreshing degree of objectivity and prove excellent at building and leading internal teams and managing external suppliers – including consultants. Changes introduced in this way are far more resilient than those created and imposed by an outside agency.” It is no surprise that an interim leader shows his or her effectiveness when designing, leading, and implementing change programs for clients.