Tag Archives: executive

What is the value proposition of an Interim Executive?

Interim Executive Services as defined in my ‘About‘ page is not as common in the US as it is in Europe.  On the continent, in order to practice as an interim executive, a person needs to have a certification similar to a CPA in the US.  In the US, it is still the wild west when it comes to interim executives.  A few years back, a private enterprise in NC attempted to establish a credential for interim executives but the effort failed so now it is a buyer beware market.  There are firms providing interim services but in my experience these firms do very little in terms of either training or providing oversight for their interims.  The interims are placed and they are usually on their own from that point.  This raises the question of the value proposition of an interim executive because the proposed pricing is usually higher than the hourly rate for the employee being replaced.

In my experience dealing with buyers of interim services, the first and often most heavily weighed consideration is the cost of the interim resource.  The less sophisticated the decision maker, the more likely that they will be motivated primarily if not exclusively by cost.  This is because they do not get or choose to ignore the value proposition.  This has happened to me time after time.  Each time, I held my ground and demanded a fair premium for my services.  In each case, I told my client that if they did not find value in my services, they could terminate me without cause or notice.  Once they had a chance to experience what a sophisticated interim executive could provide, the cost issue was not raised again.  A decision maker that seizes an opportunity to buy interim services at a small or no premium should be worried about what they will be getting for their money.

I am aware of interim firms that prey on executives in transition that are desperate for income.  Some of these interims will take any job at any price.  The interim firm then sells their services based on price alone and is successful getting a markup of 30% to 50% while providing a price sensitive decision maker just what they paid for.

What would rationalize a premium for a sophisticated interim executive?  There are many considerations that a decision maker should contemplate in addition or in lieu of rate.  I am making repetitive use of the adjective ‘sophisticated’ when referring to interim executives.  There are differences in the sophistication of interim executives and the decision makers that engage them.  These differences are discussed in an earlier article.

The criteria below while useful in understanding the value proposition of a sophisticated interim executive may be equally if not more valuable in evaluating potential interim resources for fit in your organization.

I would advise against hiring the first interim you see unless you have a recommendation from a source that you highly trust.  When I worked with Tatum, they made it a habit to present at least two resources on each project so that the decision maker would have the ability to see more than one alternative and make their own choice instead of letting the interim firm sell them on whoever happened to be currently sitting on their bench with nothing better to be doing at the time.

Experience – One thing worth paying a premium for is experience.  The typical sophisticated interim executive is a late career individual with a lot of experience, usually in a number of organizations.  The depth and breadth of this experience allows them to assimilate quickly an organization and to begin creating value almost immediately.  This is particularly true if the interim has on-point experience, something you should always look for.

In addition to career experience, it is worth paying a premium for an interim executive with multiple interim engagements on their CV.  The approach to a position as an interim is radically different from what one would take as an employee.  It is worth paying a premium for an experienced interim unless you already have another interim in the organization that can serve as a mentor.

Credentials – In addition to being highly experienced, sophisticated interims tend to carry above average credentials.  Things like advanced degrees, CPA certifications, ACHE, HFMA  and/or fellowships.  These credentials may or may not specifically make one person better than another but the probability that a credentialed executive is going to have a higher level of cognitive capability and an innate drive toward personal excellence is a pretty safe bet.  Another consideration is that no one requires executives to seek advanced education and professional credentialing.  In a situation where everything else is equal, I will always favor a credentialed individual because the very fact that they have obtained a credential is proof of their drive to go beyond the minimum required to get by.  In my experience, credentialed executives are always superior for this reason alone.  As most of us that are credentialed know, you do actually learn something in the credentialing process that might come in handy once in a while.

Expertise – Knowing what you are doing should count for something.  I have seen more than one decision maker hire the first resource they could find that had a heart beat only to make the situation infinitely worse when the interim executive failed.  Most decision makers I have met do not know how to supervise or manage an interim executive.  For example, I would argue that most CEOs do not have the ability to manage a CFO from a technical or risk management standpoint.  I discuss this phenomenon in an earlier article.  The risk for the decision maker is that if the interim fails, the decision maker will usually be held accountable.  The interim will go on to the next gig while the decision maker that may not have been considering relocating finds himself hanging paper from home.

MentorshipSophisticated interims are invaluable in the potential they present to mentor rising executives in an organization.  A sophisticated interim executive that knows how to mentor properly can help turn younger leaders into rising stars.  In addition, interim engagements frequently lead to demand for additional interim resources that were not anticipated at the beginning of an engagement.  In this situation, an interim that has the capability to manage and/or mentor other interims can bring a very high value to an organization.  I have engaged a number of interims while serving as an interim myself.  I can say from experience that I believe I have delivered substantial value by making sure that the other interims were doing what they are supposed to be doing.

Judgment – You have probably heard the one liner that says, “Good judgment comes from the experience we get by exercising bad judgment.”  I would argue that having the ability to bring above average experience and judgment to bear on a problem is worth paying for.  Experienced executives, especially interim executives can be expected to have better judgment than a decision maker might be accustomed to.

Stability – A transition situation is unstable by definition.  My practice has shown me that the only thing you can be certain of in a transitory situation is that you cannot be certain of anything.  Some people have difficulty dealing with unstable, unpredictable situations.  After or arguably before a decision maker initiates a transition, they should be thinking ahead about their next steps and high among them should be an effort to stabilize the situation so that a business interruption or a bad outcome may be avoided.

Morphing deals – Some people need predictability and stability in order to function effectively.  They are unnerved by constantly changing circumstances and seize up.  An experienced interim executive knows that as a project progresses, things will happen and changes will become necessary that were not initially expected.  The project morphs from one set of circumstances to another.  It is worth paying for experience that can not only help stabilize a situation but experience that can adapt to unforeseen challenges.

Easy to sever – I have seen interim engagements fail.  There is no way that I know of  to accurately predict in advance if the interim executive will be what was expected or whether or not they will be effective in your organization.  In the event that the engagement is not working, you should have the ability to have the interim replaced immediately without cause or notice.  I discuss this in my article about contracting.  If the interim deal is not working, it is highly unlikely that it will improve.  I have had to terminate an interim before the end of their second week in an organization.  In the event that something like this occurs, the sooner you act, the less the potential for damage.  The other side of this is that the issue may not be anything worse than a bad fit.  I am happy to be the easiest person in the organization to get rid of but if I am expected to bear this risk, part the premium I receive justifies me taking this risk.

Interim services firms will endeavor to mitigate this risk by asking for minimum engagement time periods.  My advice would be to pay the premium and refuse to accept a minimum term as explained in my contracting article.

Velocity – In my article about contracting, I talk about the importance of velocity as it relates to interim engagements.  Frequently, decision makers procrastinate about making a decision but once they make up their minds, they want the resource TOMORROW.  Providing this kind of flexibility is worth paying a premium for especially if the resource you want has been waiting for you to make a decision.  If you want a resource to sit around waiting for you make a decision and be at you beck and call at any time, you need to be prepared to pay a premium for this luxury.

Rapid acclimation – When I was at Tatum, the firm’s mantra was ‘Velocity.’  The connotation is that the firm focused on rapid response.  What I have learned from the stages of an interim engagement is that once a decision maker decides to bring an interim executive in, they want them tomorrow.  Part of the premium a decision maker pays is to get  an interim executive  to get to their site quickly,   Sophisticated interim executives also know how to assess a situation quickly.  This skill and experience allows them to become productive much faster than would be expected of an employee.  Decision makers tend to vacillate and procrastinate about a decision to bring in interim resources.  They should not be unhappy about paying a premium for a resource that can help them compensate for the time it took to get the interim on their site.

No benefits – An interim deal is simple from the perspective that it usually only involves the professional fee and out of pocket expenses.  Unsophisticated decision makers will compare the salary rate of the departed employee with the billing rate of the interim and conclude that the interim is expensive without taking into consideration that the employee had benefit cost somewhere in the range of 25% of their compensation.  Not having an interim executive on the organization’s benefit plan is clean and can be a cost saving aspect of the engagement.

Living and travel burden – If you don’t think an interim executive deserves a premium, try living in a hotel and traveling every week.  Not only does this create an expense that substantially adds to the cost of an interim engagement, it is very hard on the interim executive.  The longer the engagement lasts, the harder this becomes on the interim.  It is too easy for decision makers to forget the interim executive as they are going home a warm meal and the privilege of going to bed with their spouse while the interim is separated from their family, eating out and going to sleep in a cold bed.  This aspect of interim executive consulting by itself warrants a premium.  I accept that the burden of travel goes with Interim work but I wonder if the price my family and marriage have paid for me to do this work has been worth any amount of money.  I have lost my sensitively about what I ask for my services primarily be causes of the burden that the interim lifestyle places on the consultant.  I discuss this in detail in my article about becoming a an interim executive.

While I could take the position that it is not a problem of mine, I deeply resent the cost associated with being an interim executive.  Travel, food, temporary lodging and other costs associated with an interim executive is a significant proportion of the total cost of an interim resource.  It drives me crazy to pay these costs or incur them on behalf of a client.  This is one of the strongest reasons for making sure that you are getting your money’s worth from any interim you engage.

Hired independently or via a firm – My experience is showing me that there is a growing population of ‘free agent’ interim executives.  Firms that place interims will take somewhere in the range of 30% – 50% of the total professional fee for their overhead and profit.  In addition, because of what I would describe as oppressive government overreach, most if not all firms now require their interims to work on a W-2 instead of a 1099 or K-1.  This can result in the interim losing tax benefit in the best case and paying tax on out-of-pocket expenses in the worst case.  While free agent interims can be harder to find because you have to know how to network to find them, they can be less expensive because they are not taking a hair cut in a direct deal.  In my experience, a free-lance interim is likely to be much better than interims that come from firms for a variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of this article.

Summary – I could go on but I trust that as a decision maker or an interim for that matter, you can see that there is plenty of justification for a premium for interim executive services.  The premiums I have seen run 50% or more over the base salary of the executive being replaced.  If you are a decision maker, you should not be afraid of paying a premium to get superior skills and resources brought to bear quickly on complex or dangerous business problems and or transitions.  Quibbling over rate can slow down the process of getting the right resource and can prevent you from getting the best possible skill in place.  One of the most profound value propositions of an interim executive is their ability to raise the probability that the decision maker that hired them will not also become a victim of the transitions that created the need for the interim in the first place.  In my experience, decision makers routinely discount this aspect of an interim engagement’s value that is in  my opinion one of the strongest reasons for paying a premium for the right interim.

If you are an interim executive, you should not ever sell yourself short.  I took a haircut on a deal that was only supposed to last 3 months to mitigate on behalf of the firm something that I had nothing to do with.  After three months, the firm would not get my rate corrected and the engagement ended up lasting thirteen months.  I will not work with that firm again because they have demonstrated in more than one case involving me that they cannot be trusted.  As an aside, from my perspective in this case, the firm detracted significantly from its value to me while adding insignificantly to the client’s value.  If you have experience as an interim, you know that one certainty is that you are probably going into a situation that will turn out to be significantly different from what was described and invariably more challenging.  You also know that there is a very high probability that you are going to be in the organization much longer than the decision maker assumes at the onset.  In my  experience once you have proven your value, decision makers will take considerably more time getting you out than they took getting you in.  I have helped decision makers over the cost hump by reminding them that hiring me is a no risk proposition.  They can send me packing the day that they decide that the engagement is not working or that I am failing to produce more value than they expected.  I am happy to take this risk as long as I am being appropriately compensated.  I have yet to be sent packing.  In every case, I have remained much longer than initially expected or planned.  Some interim firms prey on unsophisticated executives in transition by buying them at or below what they were receiving as an employee and reselling them at a market consulting rate.  If you allow yourself to be prostituted in this manner it is your own fault.

In closing, I believe there is substantial justification for paying a premium for interim executive services.  I postulate that the time usually lost by decision makers that struggle with the decision to bring an interim in can quickly create costs and/or losses that far exceed any premium.  As I said in an earlier article, if you are a decision maker, make a decision.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss any questions or observations you might have about these blogs or interim executive services in general.  As the only practicing Interim Executive that has done a dissertation on Interim Executive Services in healthcare in the US, I might have an idea or two that might be valuable to you.  I can also help with career transitions or career planning.

The easiest way to keep abreast of this blog is to become a follower.  You will be notified of all updates as they occur.  To become a follower, just click the “Following” link that usually appears as a bubble near the bottom this web page.

This is original work.  This material is copyrighted by me with reproduction prohibited without prior permission.  I note and  provide links to supporting documentation for non-original material.

If you would like to discuss any of this content or ask questions, I may be reached at ras2@me.com. I look forward to engaging in productive discussion with anyone that is a practicing interim executive or a decision maker with experience engaging interim executives in healthcare.

 

 

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How fast can you teach finance?

Sometimes, I am asked, “How did we get into this mess?”  “What did we do wrong?”  My standard answer lies in a phenomena that I have seen in one challenged organization after another and the thing that inspired me to pursue a doctorate degree in Healthcare Administration that was focused on Evidence Based Leadership.  When an organization becomes challenged, in every case in my experience, there has been a consistent pattern of questionable decision making sometimes spanning years leading up to the transition event.

Organizations that consistently do well have one thing in common.  They make consistent, disciplined, evidence based decisions that work out with a high probability of success.  Organizations that end up challenged and in transition have an equally consistent pattern of non-evidence based decisions that have a high probability of not turning out well.  Everyone makes mistakes.  The name of the game is to win more than you lose.

I am used to hearing, “Everything was OK then all of a sudden, we went off the track.”  They want to know if it can be fixed.

I always say, “Absolutely.”

The next question is inevitably, “What will it take?”

To which I respond, “One thing,” as I hold up a single finger.  Remember the movie City Slickers?

Of course, they want to know what the one thing is to which I reply, “I cannot tell you.”

When they want to know why, I say that if I tell you the ‘one thing’ there will be no further need for me.

After letting them stew for a few minutes, I relent.

The ‘one thing’ is to start making disciplined, evidence based business decisions. That is all.  See to it that this happens in your organization and we will never have a chance to work together.

Decision makers have told me, “I understand this concept but I don’t understand all of this finance stuff”.  I tell them that is not a problem because I don’t understand much of it myself.  A lot of people try to impress others by putting the razzle-dazzle on them. They use big words and arcane concepts in an effort to prove they are smarter than me and to convince me I cannot get where I want to go without their help.

In my opinion, it is easy to make something hard but infinitely more complex to make it simple.  I would argue that you do not understand a concept very well yourself if you cannot put it into terms that a lay person can understand.  All too often, complicated presentations sound like so much BS to lay people.  This is a severe problem if the lay people happen to be members of a Board of Directors.  Spouting BS instead of being clear, understandable and transparent has caused more than one executive I know to end up on the job market creating a gig for me in the process.  It almost always leads to a loss of credibility even when it is technically correct.

I had finance committee members in one organization express concern about ‘Voodoo arithmetic’ and ‘Cookie Jar Accounting.’  The prior CFO that was very good in my opinion had managed to lose credibility by failing to be sufficiently clear and transparent with the Finance Committee and Board of Directors.

I like to tell my clients that I can teach you everything you need to know about finance in a couple of sentences.  This never ceases to galvanize their attention.  You mean that you can learn everything you need to know about corporate finance in a couple of sentences?  The answer is an emphatic YES.  Here we go.

The financial performance of any organization is nothing more or less complicated than the weighted average return on investment of each of its many assets.  Collectively this return is generally described alternatively as return on equity or cost of capital.  Except for operating expenses, every commitment of funds the organization makes is an investment in an asset other than cash.  If the return on this investment is greater than the organization’s cost of capital, the effect of the investment will be to improve the financial performance of the organization.  If the return on an incremental investment is lower than the organization’s cost of capital, its effect on operating performance will be detrimental.  A series of bad investments will lead any organization into trouble. From a finance perspective, it doesn’t matter what the investment is.

There you have it.  Corporate fiance in a few sentences.  Everything you need to know to be successful financially and to lead an organization to improved financial and operating results.

Now, I have some questions for you.

Do you know what your cost of capital is?

Do understand how the cost of capital is derived?

When was the last time you considered the effect of what you were planning was going to have on the organization?

When was the last time you got this question in the Board Room?

What did you do the last time you were present when a politically motivated decision or a decision of expediency was being debated?

When was the last time you included in your project plan a mitigation strategy for a proposed investment that was not accretive in its own right?

Have you done a sensitivity analysis to understand the degree to which your project’s assumptions bear on the expected outcome?

Do you understand from your sensitivity analysis the threshold at which you would not recommend that the project go forward?

When was the last time you did an evaluation of asset returns in your existing portfolio to gain a better understanding of which of your investments are accretive and which are not?

Do you understand the difference between return on equity and return on investment?  If you want to get fancy, you can undertake a study of the effects and considerations of leverage on return on investment.

I frequently hear executives say that it is the business of the CFO to know all of the ‘finance stuff.’  My response to this is that if you call yourself an executive and you plan to advocate for anything (especially in a Board room) that requires an investment and you do not have a reasonable command of these concepts, you are an idiot.

Someone might read this and conclude incorrectly that this is all about money and not much else, a complaint I have often heard.  I have a fair amount of experience working in Catholic healthcare.  Every Catholic hospital I have worked in claims to be the one that housed the first nun that uttered the words, “No margin, no mission.”  It is about money but it is about more, the mission.  Unless the organization is financially healthy, it cannot sustain itself and if it loses the ability to sustain itself, it will find its ability to continue to carry out its mission compromised.

This is original work.  I have not seen content of this nature in my extensive dissertation research.  This material is copyrighted by me with reproduction prohibited without prior permission.  I always note and  provide links to supporting documentation for non-original material.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss any questions or observations you might have about these blogs or interim executive services in general.  As the only practicing Interim Executive that has done a dissertation on Interim Executive Services in healthcare in the US, I might have an idea or two you would find value in.  I can also help with career transitions or career planning.

The stages of an interim executive engagement

I have come to realize in my practice that an interim engagement follows a predictable pattern.  I have seen this happen time and again.  I understand the process that a decision maker goes through during the course of an interim engagement.  A majority of decision makers dealing with transitional situations have little or no experience with interim executives.  I asked about this as a part of my dissertation research.  A small proportion of my respondents (35.7%) reported having experience engaging and managing interim executives.  Another 33.6% of my respondents said they were knowledgeable about interim executive services but had not engaged an interim executive.  Similar to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross‘ five stages of grief, I have observed one organization after another going through a similar process during an executive transition.  The primary difference between organizations and decision makers is their exit point from this process. Some never get around to making a decision or decide to avoid the use of an interim.  In order of their occurrence, here are the stages of an interim engagement that I have experienced.

We do not need an interim – When faced with a transition situation, organizations employ a variety of strategies.  Some use internal resources, some leave the position open and others resort to consultants.  In a future blog, I will address the difference between an interim executive and a consultant.  Organizations will frequently initially resist the fees associated with engaging an interim executive.  They will search for any possible alternative to engaging the interim.  They will spend weeks or months struggling with the interim decision.  I have seen the passage of over six months between the time first contact was made with a decision maker regarding an interim position and the time the engagement actually started.

Acceptance of an interim – All too often, once the decision is made to employ an interim, the client wants the interim TOMORROW!.  Generally, the client communicates their desire to accelerate the interim engagement as a means of managing the cost of the interim engagement.  Sometimes, too much time passes between the time the decision maker meets an acceptable interim and the time they make a decision.  Then they are frustrated when they call to find that the interim they wanted is now engaged.  I once had a potential client get upset with me for ‘putting pressure’ on them to hire me.  All I had done was to tell them that I was being proposed by the firm I represented on multiple jobs and if they wanted me, they needed to make a decision.  In this case, one of the reasons they wanted me was perceived cultural fit.  They wanted someone that would fit into a rural eastern North Carolina culture and I had been a hospital CFO in that area.  Two weeks later, I received a desperate call.  They wanted to know how fast I could get to their site to address what had become a big problem.  I told them that I was literally on my way to Milwaukee.  I had been engaged a few days earlier by one of the other clients that had seen me.  The potential client that had let me ‘get away’ was not happy.  Ultimately, the firm lost the gig because they did not have any other resources that this client liked and I got to spend the winter in Milwaukee instead of eastern NC.  If you are a decision maker, MAKE A DECISION.

 
Recognition of the value proposition – I start my engagements with an assessment.  The purpose of the assessment is to determine the degree to which the function I am filling is or is not meeting the needs of the organization.  During the assessment, it is common to find a number of significant opportunities for improvement.  My experience has been that when a client sees the difference between the interim and what they had before or when they see the magnitude of opportunity revealed by the assessment, the value proposition ‘clicks.’  There is no easy way that I have found to tell a prospective client before an engagement that my experience might be valuable to their organization .  It comes across as self serving.  Once they understand the potential of working with a professional interim that is capable of being transformational in their organization, they want to get as much as possible out of the the engagement as fast as they can because they understand that the potential value is multiples of the cost.  This frequently reduces the client’s focus on getting the engagement over as fast as possible.

 
Employment overtures – Somewhere along the line, usually in the six to nine month period of an engagement, the client decides that the interim is highly desirable and recruitment overtures start.  Sometimes, they come to doubt that a recruitment would result in an equal or better permanent solution. According to my dissertation research, 25% – 40% of the time, the overtures result in employment even if it was not the initial intent of either party.  Tatum called this a ‘conversion.’  The respondents to my dissertation research survey stated that they had converted their interim 35.9% of the time.  If the interim is sophisticated, they will generally resist converting as they see consulting preferable to employment.  The challenge to this part of the process is to get through it without the client becoming concerned that they or their organization are not good enough for the interim.

Diminishing returns – If the interim does not convert, they ultimately begin to experience difficulty in achieving transformational gain in the organization.  Initially, they were a novelty full of energy and fresh ideas.  They are generally very impressive compared to their predecessors.  They are humored by the bureaucracy in the organization and their harvest of low hanging fruit is impressive.  Sooner or later, the resistance of the organization to engage in increasingly difficult change and increasing resistance on the part of the bureaucracy reduces the ability of the interim to produce transformational change.  One day the leadership is evaluating their situation and they conclude that the consultants are not earning their keep and the transition(s) start.  I will discuss the topic of culture and change in organizations in a future blog entry.

Recruitment – During this stage of the process, the interim participates in the recruitment by performing a number of key tasks.  They spearhead the development of a revised job description, they develop a specification for the recruiter, they participate in the interviewing and vetting and ultimately in the selection of the permanent candidate.  I have cast the deciding vote on my replacement more than once.

 
Transition – The transition occurs when the interim is replaced by a full time employee which can be the interim.  If it is not to be the interim, the interim generally assists the organization with the recruitment and on-boarding process.  When the on-boarding process is complete, the interim moves on to their next challenge usually leaving their client organization in much better shape and thankful for their service.

I have personally experienced this progression of an interim engagement time after time. I have also seen every one of my engagements run longer than initially discussed.  Before a client appreciates the value proposition, they are very highly motivated to get the engagement over as fast as possible.  I have been told time and again to not expect more than ninety days, 120 days at the most.   My average engagement is nine months and I am currently twenty months into an engagement  was initially mutually understood to be limited to an assessment only.

The other interesting phenomena that I have seen is that the process can be exited at any stage given circumstances unforeseen initially.  This is one reason that I go the extra mile by making it very easy for my clients to exit an engagement should it become necessary.

One of the factors that lead to engagements dragging on is that the client becomes comfortable with the interim and they allow distractions to degrade their focus on moving the organization beyond the interim engagement.  The next thing they know, the engagement is approaching its first anniversary.

If you are a decision maker considering an interim, my hope is that this material will enable you to better manage the engagement and get the most from it for you and your organization.  If you are considering interim services, and if you are any good, you should expect that your engagements will nearly always run longer than initially discussed with the clients.  Therefore, as an interim, you need to be careful making forward commitments that assume the engagement will be over by a time certain.

This is original work.  I have not seen content of this nature in my extensive dissertation research.  This material is copywrited by me with reproduction prohibited without prior permission.  I always note and  provide links to supporting documentation for non-original material.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss any questions or observations you might have about these blogs or interim executive services in general.  As the only practicing Interim Executive that has done a dissertation on Interim Executive Services in healthcare in the US, I might have an idea or two you would find value in.  I can also help with career transitions or career planning.
The easiest way to keep abreast of this blog is to become a follower.  You will be notified of all updates as they occur.  To become a follower, just click the “Following” link in the menu bar at the top of this web page.

If you would like to discuss any of this content or ask questions, I may be reached at ras2@me.com. I look forward to engaging in productive discussion with anyone that is a practicing interim executive or a decision maker with experience engaging interim executives in healthcare.

If the executive is going to get fired anyway, why do they need a contract or severance?

In my last blog, I said I would address the topic of severance packages.   From the perspective of a lay person, a severance deal can be seen as an undeserved reward for failing in an organization.  The severed employee goes on an extended company paid vacation while the minions are left to slave away for months or years cleaning up the mess.

I should clarify my terminology.  I am making a lot of references to CEOs in these commentaries but the principles I am describing apply equally to all of the ‘O’s.  In fact, either the CEO is setting the tone for the organization or what happens to him has a collateral effect on the other executives in organizations.  While I am on this subject, I should also acknowledge my  use of the male gender.  This is not intended to offend anyone or indicate bias.  I am tired of the political correctness that is killing our society.  If you see me use male gender, you can feel free to read him/her in its place.

I covered a number of reasons why an executive might leave an organization in my last article.  The overwhelming majority of causes of executive turnover are not controllable by the executive and sometimes are symptomatic of issues beyond the control of the executive or possibly even the Board.  This is the fundamental reason for a severance package.  In an earlier blog, I covered the risk that other executives are exposed to in the event of CEO turnover.  You can become eligible for turnover by just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A severance package has two basic goals.  The first is to ease recruitment by reducing the risk associated with turnover.  An executive is more likely to join an organization if they believe they are putting themselves or their family at less risk.  The second primary reason for a severance package is similar to the first.  The only way an executive is going to put the needs of the organization ahead of his own is if he does not care whether a course of action results in him losing his job.  An administrative assistant in a hospital once told me that the best CEO the organization had ever had was independently wealthy and did not need the job.  As a result, his focus was always on what was best for the hospital without regard to whether it put his job in jeopardy.   I not have seen other situations where an executive was sufficiently independent that his only goal in every situation was the best outcome for the hospital, especially in the absence of a severance agreement.

Even with a severance package, the executive still has fear of loss of his job.  Without severance, a Board is delusional to believe that their executives are going to engage in material personal risk on behalf of the organization.  They can be expected to pursue the more pressing objective of job preservation.  This type of paralysis will always lead to sub-optimizaton in the organization.   This phenoma explains one reason that interim executives can be transformational in an organization.  They are generally not running for the job and they have nothing to lose by focusing on the best for the organization.  If an organization wants the best from their executives, they must be willing to insulate them from as much risk of repercussion of the politics of their activities as possible.

On the other hand, severance packages can add sting to a bad outcome that results from a bad hiring decision in the first place.  If an organization makes a mistake in recruitment and the executive has a short tenure as a result, the severance package adds insult to injury and makes the turnover even more expensive than it would be otherwise.  Unfortunately, it is difficult if not impossible these days to recuruit a CEO without a severance package and I believe it is becoming increasingly difficult to recuit other well qualified executives without severance packages.  An organization unwilling to offer a severance package may be excluding itself from some of the best qualified candidates in a search.

Michael Rindler writing for Trustee Magazine produced an excellent article on Use and abuse of golden parachutes.  In this article, Mr. Rindler makes a number of observations about how severance packages have been abused and argues for performance based severance.

While I generally agree with Mr. Rindler, I have a somewhat different view.  If an organization wants the best from a CEO or any other ‘O’ for that matter, it must insulate them from the risks that their actions will result in their termination.  If an executive is indifferent regarding whether or not they maintain a job in an organization as long as they are doing the right thing(s), they will get superior results.  It is when they have fear of the repercussions of their activities that they start to sub-optimize or prioritize their self preservation interests above the intents of the organization.

Another reason for severance is that it enhances the recruitment process.  Being an ‘O’ in healthcare these days is among the most unstable, high risk jobs among similar executive positions in any industry.  This risk makes it difficult for an otherwise highly desirable executive to leave a comfortable situation to go into an unknown situation that might offer greater opportunity at unknown risk.  If the executive already has a severance package, they generally will not even consider another situation that does not offer the same ‘safety net’ regardless of the appeal of the new situation.  Therefore, severance packages are often necessary from a competitive perspective if the intent is to recruit the best talent available under the circumstances.

Where does this leave us?  Are severance packages a good idea?  I would say yes on balance.  Is is proper to reward executives for taking risks in an organization that may result in them leaving.  It is also justifiable to use severance packages to ease transitions when the fit is no longer right.  I do agree with Mr. Rindler’s argument that severance packages should be performance based.  I have not seen this done and I expect that many organizations would have difficulty with these arrangements because it is so hard to quantify the performance being measured and the effect of an executive or lack there of in influencing that performance.   The severance packages I have seen for the most part do the exact opposite of what Rindler is suggesting.  In order for them to not be honored, the executive would have to be CONVICTED of a felony related to the performance on their job.  This is also know as the Clinton defense where undisputed perjury does not constitute a crime as long as it is not related directly to the job.

Most of this has been written from the perspective of the Board of an organization.  I would advise a prospective executive to always seek a severance agreement. You have no way of knowing what you are really getting  yourself into and it is a reasonably safe bet that you will learn things that might have changed your mind had you known them before signing on.  Whether you are the CEO or not, you are exposed to a great deal of risk you cannot control and may end up on the street as collateral damage related to the failure of some other executive.  The time to get the severance deal is during the job negotiation.  It will become infinitely more difficult if not impossible after the fact.  I know executives that felt they were promised severance packages that never materialized.  The operative principle here is the same one applied by practitioners of the world’s oldest profession.  They know the perceived value of a service is always higher before it is delivered than after the fact.

In conclusion, severance packages are tricky and frequently they do not work as intended for either party.  Excellent executive talent is in very short supply and severance agreements are minimum requirements in most executive recruitments.  The best an organization can hope for is a package that encourages longevity and enhances the probability of desired outcomes.  Getting this for an organization is the trick.   As is the case in most complicated situations, an astute organization will seek the guidance and counsel of experts in negotiation, employment law and recruitment to obtain the best talent possible at the best cost with mutually beneficial employment arrangements.  Failure to do this can result in the spectacularly bad outcomes Rindler and others complain about.  Whether the complaints are justified or not, the organization can still end up in the media defending their actions handicapped by the fact that the complainants have the benefit of perfect hindsight.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss any questions or observations you might have about these blogs or interim executive services in general.  As the only practicing Interim Executive that has done a dissertation on Interim Executive Services in healthcare in the US, I might have an idea or two you would find value in.  I can also help with career transitions or career planning.

If you would like to discuss any of this content or ask questions, I may be reached at ras2@me.com. I look forward to engaging in productive discussion with anyone that is a practicing interim executive or a decision maker with experience engaging interim executives in healthcare.

Why do CEOs get fired or leave organizations anyway?

In my previous post, I made reference to comments written by ‘TiredofTheOverpaidFailures’ in response to a Becker Review article.

Among other things, this writer said, “As a healthcare staffer for 35 years from entry-level employee to Director, I’ve literally never seen any CFO or CEO leave our organizations for any reason other than to “spend more time with my family”.  It’s true, because in every case they collected an inflated golden parachute for the next 2-3 years and indeed manage to take off time to spend with their family or most of the time do part-time consulting at some other organization where they have no idea the horrific failure they were in the previous position. For that matter, what shape they left the organization in.  They usually consider them “the expert” because they are from somewhere else.”

Clearly, he or she  was very bitter about what they had observed in the front office of their organization over a long period of time.

It is true that some of the folks occupying C-suite offices are not that stellar but more often than not, when they leave it is rarely because they are an idiot.  The system does a pretty good job of weeding out idiots before they can reach positions of such power and influence although I have seen a number of suspects among the casts of characters I have dealt with in healthcare administration.  So if the CEO is not an idiot, why let him go?  I will discuss a variety of situations that I have seen that I believe explain in part why CEO turnover in healthcare is so high.

I frequently hear complaints about what a Board is and is not doing with respect to the organization and the CEO.  A healthcare organization is not much different from a professional sports team.  The Board is the owner and the CEO is the coach.  In the end, like a sports team, the Board only has one switch or lever to use to guide the organization; hire the coach or fire the coach.  As long as the Board has not decided to fire the coach (CEO), by default they are supporting or at least tolerating him.  He is still their guy until the notice is delivered which can happen on the same date that an incentive award is given.  If you do not like what you see the CEO doing, it is not necessarily his fault.  Look to the Board for responsibility for the actions and results of their CEO.

The CEO is taking the organization in the wrong direction.  This does not mean that the direction is actually wrong.  Usually, it is very different from the predecessor’s course of action.  Sometimes, a new CEO will read that the reason for his predecessor’s failure was that he had the organization on the wrong track and the new CEO over compensates and sure enough, in two years or less, the Board concludes the new guy is on the wrong track.  This bad outcome is the fault of the Board.  Strategy and organizational direction is NOT the responsibility of the CEO.  It is the responsibility of the Board.  The CEO can facilitate the process but it should be a Board initiative so that the guidance to the CEO is clear and that the strategy transcends different CEOs should turnover occur.  In fact, a smart Board will insure that a candidate CEO concurs with their strategy BEFORE he is hired.

The leadership of the medical staff comes into the Board room.  I have counseled many CEOs on this phenomena that I believe to be one of the most common reasons for CEO turnover.  Name one case where the leadership of the medical staff went into the Board room and said “The boy is done,” and the Board fired the medial staff.  IT DOES NOT HAPPEN.  Every CEO lives in fear of this phenomena and he has seen many of his peers fall to this situation.  Therefore, CEOs are always constrained in what they can accomplish in the organization because if they push the medical staff too far, even if it is for the right reason, they are done when the vote of no confidence comes.  The CEO typically is hired from out-of-town and relocated to the hospital.  The Board rationalizes that the CEO can find another job elsewhere while doctors are ‘rooted’ in the community.  Whether this logic holds or not, the end result is the same in every case.  If anyone is aware of any case of a Board firing the medical staff and keeping their CEO, I would like to know about it.

A major project fails.  Even projects conceived or started before a CEO’s run starts can fell him.  Major construction projects or I/T projects that are not on time, not on budget or fail to come up flying on both wings represent major risks to a sitting CEO. The CEO does not do the project but he will be held accountable by the Board for failing to put the correct staff, resources and controls in place to ensure that the project is successful and to prevent a medical staff revolt if the medical staff is impacted by the project.

The results are just not there.  A financial plan or a strategic plan should be the result of a process or negotiation undertaken between the Board of Directors, their CEO and his management team.  The plan outlines the intended course of the organization over the coming period.  Once the plan(s) are approved, it is the responsibility of the CEO to execute the plan and deliver the results.  Frequently, the CEO is constrained by limitations of his team and in order to accomplish the organization’s objectives, the team has to be changed.  Sometimes different skill sets or different levels of capability are required than what is present on the incumbent team.  If the CEO fails to deliver the agreed results, the Board is justified in considering removing him for failure to execute.  If the failure is due to weakness of the management team, the CEO still owns the problem.  This is what provokes a lot of the collateral turnover discussed in a previous blog.

Speaking of results, a common error of new CEOs is their failure to get an independent, objective assessment of the organization or conduct their own upon arrival.  A Board tends to be more tolerant of issues that are documented and associated with the prior regime.  A CEO that fails to deliver a thorough assessment to the Board in the earliest part of their run in an organization will discover that after a few months, they will ‘own’ all of the problems in the organization whether they created them or not.  Documenting the initial state of the organization is a good way to establish a base line and clearly delineate what existed at the inception of the CEO’s employment.  An assessment is also a good way to facilitate and support requests for incremental resources to quickly address initial problems.

An Illness or accident interferes with the CEO’s ability to execute.  Sometimes, a CEO is beset by an uncontrollable illness that renders them incapable of continuing their duties.  Boards do not do as good a job of succession planning as they should and when something like this happens, the organization is thrust into an unexpected transition situation.  Sometimes an interim whether internal or external can bridge the gap but if the CEO is permanently disabled, a transition becomes inevitable.  WellStar Health System in Atlanta suffered such an incident in a widely publicized accident when their CEO was riding a motorcycle that he bought at a charity event was struck by an automobile and killed.

Indiscretion.  Don’t ask me why indiscretions occur.  Clearly they arise from CEOs that fail heed the adage of keeping their pen out of the company inkwell.  I know of a case where a CEO fornicated with a physician in a hospital stairwell under the watchful eye of a security camera.  The physician was impregnated and the resulting scandal thrust the organization into an unplanned transition.  A CEO’s position in an organization is very powerful and they have a lot of groupies.  Some of them allow it to go to their head and before they know it, they are felled by their own ego,.

Illegal activity.  The same is true of illegal activity.  Why an otherwise intelligent person with a living standard well above average would engage in illegal activity is one definition of insanity.  This behavior is a living example of Lord Acton’s adage that power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Illegal activity within an organization frequently involves collusion and the fallout can result in collateral turnover and losses of time and resources while the organization is forced to focus on remediation of the crime and the resulting transitions.  A GA hospital CEO ended up in prison following convictions related to government programs.

Fit.  Sometimes, there is a fit problem that was not detected during the interviewing and vetting process.  This lack of fit could be based on personality, skill set or interaction/management style.  Whatever the reason, the hire was a mistake and it will not end well.  Sometimes, family fit is discounted and the CEO’s engagement ends up failing because the family did not relocate or did not tolerate the relocation.

Culture.  A friend quoting his Italian mother liked to say, “The fish stinks from the head.”  Indeed, the culture of an organization emanates from the office of the CEO and the Board room.  The longer a CEO’s predecessor has been in place, the more deeply ingrained the culture he will inherit.  The harder or faster he pushes to implement cultural change, the greater  the risk that he will be come a victim of his efforts.  Organizations resist cultural change and pushing too hard or too fast has more than once resulted in a CEO leaving an organization sooner than he planned.  This is true even if the CEO is acting at the DIRECTION of the Board.  I know of a case where a Board ordered a CEO to take a course of action that resulted in a serious conflict with the medial staff.  The Board had decreed that, “this will not stand.”  Never the less, when the leadership of the Medical staff showed up in the Board room, the CEO was done.  The Board had such remorse that they prepaid over five years of severance but the CEO still left the organization.  By the way, the first successor did not last very long either.

The CEO decides to move on.  It would be nice if organizations created an environment where career advancement transitions could be more open and managed in such a way as to create less turmoil as a result of the transition but this is frequently not the case.  Usually, the first notice a Board has of this situation is when their CEO announces his resignation and thirty-day notice.

Retirement.  Sometimes, the CEO survives until retirement.  If the retirement is handled properly, an orderly succession takes place.  If not, even a retirement can lead to a difficult transition.

The main point of this discussion is to lay groundwork to address the question referenced in my previous blog about the wisdom of severance packages and why I think they are generally the right thing for an organization to do.  My goal in this blog is to illustrate how risky it actually is to be a CEO.  There are a lot of things, many of which are out of the control of a CEO that can lead to CEO turnover.  Part of the reason for a severance agreement is to mitigate risk on both sides of an executive employment deal.  While much of the discussion here has focused on the CEO, the same principles apply to every C-Suite executive generally defined in each organization as the executives reporting directly to the CEO.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss any questions or observations you might have about these blogs or interim executive services in general.  As the only practicing Interim Executive that has done a dissertation on Interim Executive Services in healthcare in the US, I might have an idea or two you would find value in.  I can also help with career transitions or career planning.

If you would like to discuss any of this content or ask questions, I may be reached at ras2@me.com. I look forward to engaging in productive discussion with anyone that is a practicing interim executive or a decision maker with experience engaging interim executives in healthcare.

How do you find an interim executive?

My last blog addressed why you would consider engaging an interim executive. In this blog, I will address the process of finding the correct interim for your need.

During the course of my dissertation research on “The Contribution of Interim Executives to Healthcare,” I inquired about how decision makers find interim executives. Part of this inquiry was directed at understanding the value proposition of firms that provide interim executive services to the healthcare industry. I will deal with the question of the value of interim executive firms in a future blog article.

My questions about sourcing Interim Executives gave several options and the ability for respondents to enter their own response. The summary of responses appear in the table below.

Answer                                                            Percentage of Responses                Cumulative Percentage
Recommended by a colleague(Networking)                          28.3%                                 28.3%

Recommended by a firm                                                        24.6%                                 52.9%

Recommended by a trusted advisor                                      17.1%                                   70.1%
The Interim Executive had been used by the firm before        9.6%                                   79.7%
Recommended by the hosptial’s management company       7.5%                                    87.2%
The interim was internal (already in the organization)              5.9%                                   93.0%
All other                                                                                    5.3%                                   98.4%
Recommended by the Board                                                   1.1%                                   99.5%
Recommended by the GPO                                                     0.5%                                  100.0%

The most common course of action when faced with the need to find an interim executive is to ‘phone a friend.’ Indeed, most of us routinely reach out to friends as we have questions and want to discuss a situation with someone that has traveled that road before.

The next most common solution to this problem was to contact an interim firm with nearly 25% of the respondents stating that they had contacted an interim firm for a recommendation regarding an interim executive. The difference between the colleague and firm courses are statistically significant meaning that the colleague recommendation is clearly preferred to all other methods of finding an Interim Executive.

One of the most common errors decision makers make when searching for either an interim or permanent candidate is failure to assess fit. This is a subject I will also address in the future but in the interim, keep in mind that all interims are not alike and the firms that place them are equally different.

If you choose to do what most people do and ‘phone a friend,’ the first question you should ask is whether they have engaged an interim executive before. If the answer is no as it was in the case of 49.5% of my respondents, keep looking. Executives counseling each other on something they know nothing about is analogous to middle school children teaching each other about sex.  You want to find someone that actually has experience with interims and can tell you what to look for and how to go about the process.

Another very important consideration is to align the type of executive being sought.  In other words, reliance upon an individual or firm that is experienced in the C-Suite may not lead to the best result if you are looking for a second or third tier manager. Organizations and networks of interim executives tend to coalesce around the interim’s career path.  I made this mistake when I went looking among my usual cadre of resources for an interim I had never engaged before, a materials manager.  The process was very painful until I started networking among individuals and firms that have a presence in this area.

Once you decide to look for an interim, how you go about it can make a big difference in the difficulty of finding a resource and the ease of the search for the correct interim, the quality of the interim and the success of the interim engagement. Happy hunting!

Please feel free to contact me to discuss any questions or observations you might have about these blogs or interim executive services in general. As the only living human being that has done a dissertation on interim executive services in healthcare in the US, I might have an idea or two you would find value in.

If you would like to discuss any of this content or ask questions, I may be reached at ras2@me.com. I look forward to engaging in productive discussion with anyone that is a practicing interim executive or a decision maker with experience engaging interim executives in healthcare.

Welcome to my interim executive services blog

This is a new blog from Raymond A. Snead, Jr., D.Sc., FHFMA, FACHE

I am a practicing Interim Executive with a Doctorate degree in Health Services Administration.  My dissertation title is “The Contribution of Interim Executives to the Healthcare Industry.”  As far as  I know, I am the only person to have done a dissertation on interim executive services in healthcare.

The primary purpose of this blog is to advance the cause of interim executive services in healthcare by providing assistance and support to practicing interim executives and the decision makers that retain them.

I look forward to interacting with people interested in getting more from the practice and use of interim executive services in the healthcare indust