Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Transitioning into senior management – Part 9: consultant or in-house? – the interim CXO

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on June 14, 2011

This is my ninth installment in a series on transitioning into senior management (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, postings 158-165 for parts 1-8.) I added two installments on taking and working in a non-CEO, CXO position in an organization with Part 5 and Part 6 then turned to issues of working as a CEO in Part 7 and Part 8. I was initially planning on turning to the issues of working with a board of directors as a CEO for this series installment, but I realized I have left a gap in my initial discussions of the non-CEO CXO, and I am going to address that first.

I wrote about interim CEO positions in Part 8 and I turn to the issues of working as an interim CXO here, and I start with a basic question. If you take an interim CXO position are you taking a consulting assignment or are you working in-house?

• Formally, this might go either way and I have done both, and certainly where criteria such as being offered in-house employee benefits are concerned and whether you sign on as if a consultant or an in-house employee by contract terms.
• But this formality does not matter functionally or operationally as you perform your work there. Always treat an interim assignment, whether it is of set duration or open-ended as to job tenure as if you are working there as a consultant.
• This means thinking, planning and carrying through with a priority on the issues and problems that prompted this business to bring in someone interim into a leadership position. Here, the problems and issues will generally be complex, of wide ranging scope and require both operational and strategic development. And it is likely that these issues are going to call for skills in working across the table of organization in ways that people already there cannot do, as well as using specialized expertise not currently available in-house.
• Always treat an interim assignment, whether it is of set duration or open-ended as to job tenure as if you are working there as in-house. This means going past the insider, outsider barriers that often separate consultants for hire from in-house members of that organization’s community and culture. As a CXO and a member of the organization’s senior strategic team you need to think and act as a full member of that team, and with both a short term here and now perspective, and with a long term strategic and planning perspective. It is all but certain that what you do while in this position will help to shape thinking and action well beyond your tenure there, and that is why you were hired for this position – to both build and develop for the here and now and to help build a foundation that the organization can proceed from.

Let me take this out of the abstract by citing a very specific type of example, I have worked with. A group of founders launch a startup and they proceed to build, assembling a working draft business plan and developing and building towards public release and sale of their planned products or services. I have written 59 postings on this general topic area in my Startups and Early Stage Businesses directory, and will be adding more to that, and in this context I would specifically cite my series on building and managing an online store (postings 20-33, 35, 37, 40, 41 and 55) as a detailed working example of the steps, decisions and processes involved. And along the way the founders realize they need business development stage-specific help at a senior level with setting up and managing a nascent Finance and Accounting department. They know their intended products and services, and their marketplace they are building to work within and a lot more, but they do not know how to connect all of the dots in building this crucial infrastructure component in all its details, and so that it effectively meets their rapidly evolving needs.

If they are seeking outside capital investment, this may in fact be a need that is brought to their attention as a due diligence requirement on the part of potential backers, and bringing in the right CFO is increasingly a requirement for obtaining venture capital support in particular. But however they arrive at this decision, they reach it and look for someone with the right background and experience in successfully working with a business like theirs at their stage of development. And this hire may or may not come in as a member of the founding team. They may require at least part and perhaps all of their compensation as salary and their staying on long term may be an open issue not ready for discussion even if it is a possibility. Anyone taking this type of CFO position should view it as an interim assignment unless and until developing circumstances dictate otherwise, and as a matter of mutual agreement by all key parties concerned.

More established organizations can need this type of help too:

• to address a need for significant change.
• to fill a gap in their leadership when confronted with a sudden and unexpected loss of a member of their senior team that will extend long enough in duration so as to need an interim solution, or
• for any of a wide range of other possible reasons that do not necessarily involve change management or crisis remediation.

I am going to turn next to the issues of reporting to a board of directors.

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