The Benefits of Hiring Interim Leaders

AESC Members work diligently to provide executive talent solutions for organizations across all industries and in all geographies—spanning 1,200+ offices in 70+ countries. Bringing a deep level of expertise to their clients, our Members have a unique vantage point as they help companies build effective organizational cultures and advise on leadership strategies impacting business leaders and the world. 

With our AESC Member Spotlights, we speak with members to get their take on the profession, industry and sector-specific trends, regional insights and more. 

Here, Witt/Kieffer's Brian Krehbiel discusses the firm's recently launched new practice Witt/Kieffer Interim Leadership

Tell us about Witt/Kieffer's new initiative in interim leadership.

Witt/Kieffer's success has always been driven by asking our clients what they need – and then addressing those needs. The launch of the Witt/Kieffer Interim Leadership practice is a case in point. Clients are increasingly requesting support in placing interim leaders in addition to – and as a foundation for – permanent placements. Healthcare is going through such dramatic change which creates change and uncertainty at the top. Interim executives are a solution for managing that change within the C-Suite, maintaining momentum and positioning for the future.  

Why are interim leaders so important in the healthcare space now?

In short, interim leaders have become critical to overall leadership stability and success. I mentioned above that healthcare is in flux, so there's a lot of leadership turnover. For healthcare CEOs, for example, turnover is just under 20% annually. The solution to a CEO vacancy is not always to immediately launch a search for the next CEO. Hiring an interim can allow companies time to take stock, think about the role (e.g., do we need a different kind of CEO?), and then recruit the right permanent CEO. The interim can play a key role in assessing the role and making suggestions for what to look for in the next hire. Interim executives give options and insight into leadership that hospitals and health systems really need today.  

What are some moments that lend themselves well to hiring an interim?

The most obvious "moment" is when an executive departs suddenly. Someone needs to fill that role, and asking other executives in the organization to pick up the slack is asking a lot. An interim keeps things running and keeps momentum going.

Another moment is during a merger or acquisition. Sometimes a key hiring needs to wait until a merger concludes, so an interim can provide a bridge while a restructuring or consolidation plays out.

Finally, another moment is when a new role is created—a large health system might create a new regional CFO or COO position, for example, and want someone to come in to assess the role and its needs. These are just a few of many situations we're seeing.

What are the responsibilities and roles interim leaders excel at?

Most interim executives we work with are highly experienced and later in their careers. They've seen a little bit of everything, so they are good at stepping right in and managing a tough situation. They also excel at offering strategic advice, as they bring an outsider's lens. 

Beyond operations and strategy, however, it's important to look at soft skills and leadership gravitas. A good interim executive will have a positive, calming presence. She or he will understand the organization's culture and staff, and work successfully within that context.

What are the advantages for executives who pursue interim leadership as a career choice?

It can be really enjoyable, for one thing. As I said, executives who sign up to be interims have been around. They are usually professionally and financially secure and are looking for new challenges. They usually find reward in a temporary executive role where they can really make a difference. The executives I work with tell me they grow and really enjoy the whole experience.

Another thing that comes to mind is that it gives an executive a certain career flexibility. They get to choose which assignments to take on and know that each will be for a finite period. Executives like to have this increased amount of control over their work and career.  

What factors should Boards consider when selecting an interim leader?

That's an important question. Boards need to have someone who collaborates with them. This means an executive with experience and gravitas, as I mentioned, but also someone who appreciates the role of governance and what the board needs to do its job. In the case of an interim CEO, the board will be looking for a partner with strategic input and long-term vision. If it's a COO, CFO, CHRO, etc., the board will want someone who can educate them, answer questions, and provide guidance. The interim's relationship with the board is critical to the success of the tenure.