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The Interim Executive

By Nadine Greiner, Ph.D.

20 years of research: Clients discuss interim executive management

I am taking this twenty year anniversary of providing professional interim management services as an opportunity to reflect on my client organizations. I have been listening, learning, and taking notes…and in a nutshell, this is what I have learned about engaging interim executives.

In summary, my client organizations selected an interim leader for:  


In times of reassessment or change, committing to a particular direction or workforce doesn’t make sense.  They need the flexibility of an experienced interim leader.


A professional interim is an effective choice when there is a need for an expert and impartial assessment, and when the technical and leadership skills are different than those needed for the permanent hire.  

Immediate results

Clients appreciate having a dedicated, focused, fast-working, temporary leader to get immediate results.

How the need for an Interim arises

The need for interim executive management is usually triggered by the departure of an executive. Rather than viewing the departure as a stressor requiring a quick solution or permanent search, the executive transition is best taken as an opportunity for
organizational assessment and renewal. The interim executive, using strategic, operations, and change management skills, ensures strategic clarity and organization effectiveness so that a permanent leader can excel. 

Another growing need for interim executives in the last 5-6 years is in supplementing senior management to help organizations meet immediate goals.


What are the reasons for engaging an Interim Executive

The 6 main reasons cited for engaging an interim executive:


  1. Assessment: The leadership team wants an assessment of its strategy, governance, and operations in preparation for the search of their permanent executive.

  2. Governance: Governance, compliance, or operational problems need to be addressed by an interim leader with a different skill set that the permanent executive. A professional interim executive manager fixes the problems left behind and paves the way for the new executive.

  3. Shock absorber: The executive’s departure was challenging, and the organization requires process time and stabilization before hiring a new executive. This also allows current staff to apply for the permanent position without bias or perception of favoritism.

  4. Employee relations: An interim is needed to align employees and management to new goals, and to resolve employee relations issues before the new executive can be effective.

  5. Supplementation: Supplementation of senior management is requited to meet immediate goals such as compliance or large-scale projects that require the immediate attention and skill set of a professional interim.

  6. Succession planning: Staffing is such that there needs to be backfill and preparation time for the planned successor as opposed to the planned successor covering two jobs.



What are the skills and results of an Interim Executive

The most successful interim executives were those who were experienced change leaders with a track record of success in senior management roles. They were described as proven practitioners, with specific hands-on experience and a track record of successful interim and permanent management achievement in organizations of different sizes.

They provide immediate leadership, support, and guidance, in defining and implementing change management initiatives, or in maintaining business as usual. The minimum platform of required skills included:


  1. Finance. Operational, capital, forecasting, increasing revenue/funds.

  2. Organization Development. Systems, structure, change management, boards.

  3. Human Resources. Employment law, compensation, benefits, employee relations.

  4. Facilities. Maintenance, improvement, space planning, compliance.

  5. Information Technology. HR and Finance software, internet presence.

  6. Industry. Service/product, business model, competition.


When asked about the results of engaging interim executives, the client companies listed the obvious smooth transition for the incoming leader, and the fulfillment of the needs that made them seek out an interim in the first place. When asked “what is really
important?”, their answer was: Stronger organization with better systems, fewer costs, and clearer goals and metrics. They also pointed to more knowledge and faith in the organization. Some talked with emotion about the legacy of the interim executive even
beyond the transitional period: Building the organization’s credibility, and increasing positive feedback from employees, clients, and funders.


In finishing up, I want to tell my clients that it has been my privilege to be your trusted servant leader for these last 20 years (often repeatedly, in different interim roles). And I want to remind my colleagues of Margaret Mead’s thoughts on change: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.



Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. is a professional Interim Executive in the San Francisco Bay Area. She specializes in leading change, and holds a Ph.D. in Organization Development. Her clients include Apple, Bank of America, Schwab, IBM, Sutter Health, Stanford, Lucille Packard, Dignity, The City of San Francisco, The James Irvine Foundation, The SPCA, and The Sierra Club.

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