Executive Options (Part 2): Benefits of Interim Management in Healthcare
Interim Management: What was Old is New Again
Due to many factors including cost, time, ROI, skill or culture match, interim management had fallen out of favor as an approach to tide the course. Yet, the very reasons it was successful in the past are still very much relevant in the circumstances of the current environment, which merits it to be one of the top “life preserving” action steps. In fact, many organizations have learned that inviting and investing in routine, random, “outside ranks” organizational diagnostic checks is vital to recognizing unforseen or unanticipated issues, allowing organizations to nimbly course correct before significant damage occurs.
An experienced interim can often input objective, qualified advice during a indeterminate period; allocate ample time to logically and carefully assess the current state and respective needs; and formulate a thoughtful set of options, plans, or selections. In this way, an interim can maintain and/or foster forward momentum, calm and stabilize staff, and, if needed, clear decks, which will support the attraction of and ultimate success of strong candidates. Often an interim can be an effective change agent to remove obstacles, fill skill voids, or provide education or alternative messaging to advance appropriate agendas that were stalled or met with resistance under current leadership. They can provide validation and/or preserve current relationships that are necessary for ongoing management by acting as a necessary but short term disrupter.
These elements completely align with the mandates for health transformation and innovations necessary to change workflows in a maturing, networked electronic world. In addition, if these successes are celebrated from the fresh perspective garnered from interim management, audit diagnostics will continue to reap the future benefits of thought invigoration and growth of staff skillset.
Why Go Outside?
In precarious times many organizations opt for instant gratification via terminations or other abrupt actions; in essence, adopting a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” mentality. For obvious reasons, rarely are these rash efforts productive in either the short or long term. Alternatively, some will appoint an interim from within hoping to minimize disruption and promote confidence. There are times when this might work, however, with the storm swells ahead on so many fronts there are distinct limitations with this approach. Often there will be a team assigned to provide leadership for an interim period, but this action dilutes accountability, as there is no one individual who is responsible, and hospital committees are infamously both inefficient and ineffective.
There are a myriad of accounts in which this approach is littered with pink slips related to failed EHR implementations. While board members have the best interest of the organization as their fiduciary responsibility, they seldom fully appreciate the core root causes, as usually they have limited experience or knowledge to lead a complex hospital. The tug to promote from within (often especially relying on organizational familiarity and anticipated shorter runway to action) fails to recognize the role disparities of a CEO and other executives. In short, precarious times require clarity of focus. As such, it is not best navigated by someone thrust into a role who is essentially doing on-the-job training, as well as concurrently responsible for their other full-time job. Turnarounds need an interim to tackle the politically charged decisions and deal with the unhealthy organizational behaviors. Internal individuals may not have the objectivity, skill set, nor the political capital to effect change. Along these same lines, an internal candidate may directly or indirectly handicap an effective search and the ultimate success of the successor. This can be more costly to the organization than the original situation.
What can an organization expect from a professional Interim?
Employing a professional interim addresses a number of conventional concerns. First, fresh perspective and additional experiential skill sets are invaluable. These aptitudes can help validate and provide assurance that the organization’s vision and infrastructure are on track. They can help to provide organizational stability as it adjusts to change. By completing an objective organizational assessment, they can create (either independently or collaboratively) based on need and expectations a move-forward plan and make necessary fine-tuning of course trajectory, including difficult considerations and actions. They can assist with mentoring and on-boarding as needed. If the interim is set up for ongoing diagnostic audits, they can corroborate alignment, foster and fortify direction, and provide peripheral vision and insight. It is key to remember that, like any hire, not all “interims” are the same nor are they a “jack of all trades”. It is imperative to have someone who is experienced, seasoned, and has the skill sets aligned with the organization’s needs.
How should an organization implement an Interim program as part of its ongoing path to success?
There are many routes an organization can choose from to fill voids in their teams. Like most things, the first step is recognizing there is a need and appreciating where it makes sense to “rent” in order to supplement efforts or where it makes sense to outsource versus “build” or “own”. The traditional paths include promoting from within, organizational HR searches, engaging a consulting firm, word of mouth, etc. As with most considerations, there are pros and cons, and most organizations see the highest ROI from objective and principled methods.
In the healthcare IT space in particular, it is exceptionally hard to find these key resources. Many forward thinking organizations have found it necessary to change their historical approach of using internal HR for these specialized circumstances and are now partnering in new ways with a focused executive search firm. This is not to be confused with just providing a search for candidates but rather structuring a new business symbiotic relationship. These firms are nimble and have their pulse on the advancing trends, along with access to the industry leaders. With their diverse efforts in the vendor, academic, as well as provider spaces, they are best able to identify opportunities, share expertise, and beyond to address the unique challenges and complexities of the healthcare industry. In short, they can often be an invaluable organizational leadership sounding board and focus group.
The Interim Management world is a new “space” for some search and consulting firms and some use this approach as a nugget to get their foot in the door, like a “bait and switch”. It is important to implement due diligence to get the right partner. Key elements to look for include one that recognizes that “interim” is just that: interim and not a permanent position. Interim has a finite, defined period. They should have access to currently employed, as well as career interim candidates with verifiable track records.
Kim O’Leesky is the Vice President of Business Development with Skinner & Associates Executive Search, Inc. As a highly regarded, published, and sought out industry leader, Kim has been instrumental in creating, advancing, and optimizing methodologies concerning technology-enabled Healthcare Transformation, Informatics, Governance and Compliance with community, urban, academic, not-for-profit and for-profit healthcare entities nationally and globally.