The corporate economic situation, with its combination of increasingly volatile markets and a skilled workforce that is constantly concerned with work-life balance, is driving SMEs to hire interim managers.
Philippe Thévenot and his wife Katja have co-founded Chiefs on Demand, a company that helps SMEs to find competent executives without having the means to offer a permanent full-time position. The platform acts as an intermediary between SMEs and directors on a "time-sharing" ("part-time") basis, regardless of the industry. Launched in 2016, the Rolle (VD)-based company works with nearly 40 companies and approximately 100 directors, aged 32 to 65. They share their expertise here.
How have business needs evolved in recent years?
Philippe Thévenot: Today, SMEs need to meet almost the same requirements as large companies, but with significantly fewer resources. For example, there is a growing demand for IT and new technology skills. Likewise, many SMEs would benefit from having a director, but do not have the volume of work required for a permanent, full-time position. However, few managers are willing to take on part-time work. Furthermore, many organisations today are faced with significantly more administrative tasks. The best solution to this problem is to pool resources, i.e. to have interim management positions, where experienced professionals are assigned to a specific and clearly defined mission.
Can companies request multiple temporary executives for different positions?
Thévenot: There are two scenarios. Generally speaking, these are companies that need an executive in finance and organization. Creating such a position is a necessary step towards making a company competitive. Alternatively, some companies have a small team with limited needs - a sales team that needs to be driven for half a day a week, for example - and need an anchor that a time-sharing manager can provide. Some tasks, for example in IT or technology, can be outsourced, but it is increasingly important to build a proprietary strategy in this area. However, some SMEs rely entirely on the department head, creating a hybrid position that can be problematic, as this person typically has no decision-making power at the corporate level. Therefore, a manager-pooling solution such as the one proposed by Chiefs on Demand can be particularly beneficial in such cases.
Is it advisable to have a large number of temporary executives in a company? Isn't there a risk of losing consistency?
Thévenot: I can't imagine a company where all executives are time-sharing. If this were the case, the management team would lack a firm footing in the company. To maintain a steady identity and keep the quality of products or services at the highest level, a certain continuity in the management team is necessary. But today, a system of mutualization can be envisaged for strategic positions. Each SME must define which functions are affected and to what extent.
Are we moving towards a normalization of this practice?
Thévenot: Without a doubt. For one thing, the volatility of markets and the end of employment contracts as we have known them since the industrial revolution mean that we simply won't have a choice. Secondly, the digitization of practices, with for example the widespread use of the cloud and a whole range of online tools, has already replaced certain high-value tasks - sometimes at the expense of data security. On the human resources side, we are also seeing a fundamental shift, with an increasing need to find top skills, while offering flexibility in leadership roles. As a result, even career-minded graduates tend to place more emphasis on balancing work and leisure time and diversifying their activities.
Which strengths can temporary directors bring to the table compared to permanent directors?
Thévenot: First of all, temporary managers have a greater incentive to give their all, because if the results are unsatisfactory, the collaboration is likely to end quickly. Secondly, these professionals work in several positions concurrently, which gives them a more global perspective and provides them with a fresh perspective on certain issues, similar to consultants.
Why do executives choose to combine multiple part-time positions?
Thévenot: The first managers we worked with simply had no choice. Typically, they were senior managers in their 50s who, because of their age and experience, were expensive and struggling to find a permanent position. Now we're also dealing with younger executives, 35 to 50 years old, who have already accomplished part of their career and are questioning themselves, often as a result of reorganizations that took place during the pandemic. After 15 or 20 years in management positions, many of these people find themselves in a financial position that allows them to devote part of their time to another less remunerative professional activity, or to a personal project that is close to their heart. We also see that among the younger generation of executives, there is a need to rebalance their private and professional lives.