Recall the cliché “a rising tide floats all boats”? As our economy begins to pick up steam, it becomes increasingly important to make sure your revenue operations are running at full throttle so you can take full advantage of the rising tide. To do this, should you hire full-time employees, outside contractors, or some mix? Business is becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of contracting highly skilled and experienced execs with successful track records to tackle challenging business problems and to help accelerate current growth or simply get the train back on the track. What better way to maximize upside potential and mitigate risk of failure than to hire someone who has done it before. I had the opportunity to catch up with Paul Travis, author of “Leadership on Demand: Why Smart CEO’s Use Interim Talent to Drive Revenue.” I asked a few questions about his perspective on the question of how, where, and when interim execs can add the greatest value to new ventures.
Altus: Can you describe what you mean by “Leadership on Demand” in the context of leveraging outsourced executive talent in new ventures, be it large or small companies?
Paul: An analogy will help here. Fluorescent light bulbs typically have a high cost (surge) when turned on and commonly take some time to “brighten,” but over the long term, have lower operating rates which offset that initial costly period. Incandescent bulbs, on the other hand, by their nature, have a constant output and cost, which is more efficient than fluorescents if the lights are going to be on for a relatively short time. The W2 senior executive represents the fluorescent bulb—the interim executive, the incandescent.
Now come the two dynamics which are unaccounted for in the analogy. A) The extreme rate of change involved in new ventures, when you consider the overall rate of change, and B) The “Performance Vacuum” discussed in the book, which occurs during the customary 3-9 months it takes to hire a permanent W2 sales or marketing executive—between the time the need is determined, through the interview process, and the on-boarding process.
In this light, pardon the pun, the CEO or board is wise to engage “Leadership on Demand” rather than this critical work being unattended to—or worse, being spread among the rest of the senior team. In that same 3-9 month period, the interim (instant-on) leader may well have identified structural changes or opportunities that result in the long-term (fluorescent) hire being more precisely defined—for better long-term success.
Altus: What do you think are the greatest advantages of utilizing interim sales/business development management in the current economically challenged environment in early stage businesses and new ventures in larger companies?
Paul: Whether a given business is experiencing new levels of hardship or opportunity in the current business environment, the truth is that the future is less predictable than ever. Greater levels of global competition, and increasing cycles of change resulting from technology mean that business models and competitive landscapes can change overnight.
Interim revenue-generation leadership is particularly well suited in these times, because of the ability to match the skills set with the unique challenges of the moment. One of the case studies from the book that comes to mind is the company in Canada that replaced a sitting VP Sales (who was exceptionally strong in his comfort zone) with an interim who was able to modify the sales process to more appropriately fit the company’s new direction, which resulted in huge payoffs for the company.
Altus: What is the right circumstance or timing to exercise “Leadership on Demand” and seek out contracted sales or business development expertise?
Paul: There is no one “right” circumstance. In fact, in the book we address some of the qualitative aspects of the decision-maker or influencer that usually has the courage to consider something outside the “norm” of the way we’ve always done things. They include a recognition that business process is not keeping up with increasing rate of change availed by technology and a level of trust that the groundwork/systems/process brought by a senior interim exec will benefit the organization long after they have moved along.
Altus: What advice would you give to a CEO who is trying to determine if an interim VP Sales/Business Development executive is the right approach, or if a full-time VP Sales/Business Development is better suited?
Paul: Learn from the experiences of others, even if you think your situation is “unique.” The book has detailed case studies—both pro and con—that will help inform your decision.
Altus: In your book you talk about the merits of Generalists vs Specialists. Can you elaborate on where these different skill profiles are best utilized in a new venture?
Paul: While there certainly is a time and a place for generalists and another for specialists, we heard from most of our interviewed experts that new ventures experience such fast revenue model shifts (aka “pivots”) it can be difficult to keep specialists in the wings. Once a business leader has settled on a particular revenue model, the interim generalist will have defined a scalable process, proven the case, and identified key attributes in hiring the long term, W2 executive.
While this is not a radical “rocket science” shift, we have found that this new engagement mindset takes time to sink in. The next best step, if your curiosity has been piqued, is to pick up the book—execs have told us it is just right to absorb on a two-hour flight.