The Third Sector research team has recently completed the Improving Nonprofits by Tailoring and Expanding Resources for Interim Management (INTERIM) Project. This initiative is an in-depth study delving into needs for interim professionals and how those resources can be uniquely tailored to interim executives.
During this study, professionals from Third Sector interviewed interims and nonprofit leaders from various organizations and questioned them about resources and other vital aspects of interim leadership. Here is some insight on what our team of experts found in the study.
Interim Management and Leadership
Every interim role is unique, but certain themes in leadership and management styles emerge across most interim positions. In terms of leadership, most interims emphasize a collaborative leadership approach where the processes of assessing the organization, clarifying a vision, and facilitating progress are communal and consensual. This is a different type of leadership model than what would be expected for the permanent successor. In terms of management, most roles require the interim professional to assume a third-party counsel regarding if the right people are in the right roles and orchestrate a process to connect objectives with accountability.
Learning on the Fly: Diagnostics and Prescriptives
Nonprofit organizations differ considerably in terms of size, age, competitiveness, resources, mission, policies, and communities served. This creates a broad range of potential clients that each are seeking a series of critical tasks from the interim management professional. If a nonprofit executive is to be successful as an interim professional, he or she must be willing and able to learn from, adapt to, and diagnose new organizational contexts “on the fly,” which, for many, requires a change of executive habit and a rigor for diagnostics prior to becoming too prescriptive too quickly.
Resource Referral Sharing Amongst Interim Leaders
Opportunities and resources for nonprofit interim management are typically shared either via peer-to-peer networks or through formal relationships with management support organizations. Interim professionals appear to vary substantially in their preferences between these approaches. Some find great value in formal relationships with management support organizations while others prefer to collaborate and share resources informally via a network of current or past colleagues. Every community seems to have a unique infrastructure for resource and referral sharing with sub-communities of practitioners affiliated or non-affiliated with organizations, and varying levels of formality and informality in collegial networking and information-sharing.
Several consistent themes emerged regarding the challenges associated with nonprofit interim management. These include discovering issues not disclosed during the hiring process (either intentionally or not); identifying the right problems to address and conveying why some issues are prioritized over others; facing distrust, skepticism, and resistance to change from the Board and/or staff; educating the Board about the value of interim management; emphasizing interim roles as being temporary; clarifying roles, policies, and procedures for the Board; and, making difficult termination and redesigning decisions to maximize efficiency.
Interim professionals use a variety of approaches when it comes to developing their own leadership skills. Most of these strategies rely on community relationships such as peer networks, formal affiliations with management support organizations, and group networking events. These relationships provide a space for learning, resource sharing, and peer support. Other avenues for leadership development include access to research/publications, trainings and workshops, and simply reflecting on the lessons learned from experiences.
The top four resources that interim professionals described as supportive services for successful interim management were:
- A supportive network of trusted content area experts
- Curriculum materials offered by management service organizations
- Workshops/trainings offered by management service organizations
- Articles, publications, and conferences offered by reputable sources
That said, there was substantial diversity in the types of resources described for enabling successful interim management in the nonprofit sector.
The next phase of our INTERIM Project research will reach out to over 600 professionals throughout the United States to participate in an online survey that further explores these six themes in greater detail to determine a “state of the nonprofit interim leadership industry,” the demographics of today’s interim nonprofit executive leader, the tools and resources in highest demand, methods for creating, reviewing, and disseminating those tools, and the prioritized community and industry infrastructure favored by today’s nonprofit interim leader. Not only will Third Sector Company be in a better position to plan its own evolution with the industry, but we also hope as an industry leader to make this information available to the entire sector to improve and enhance the advancement of nonprofit interim executive leadership throughout the country.
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