Will Employee Experience Be the Death Knell for Executive Interims?

By Chris Williams

Employee engagement is out, and employee experience has emerged as its successor. Tailored, highly personal, and focused on the individual rather than the collective, a focus on employee experience aims to use a multitude of feedback tools, apps and self-service technologies to improve the employee experience.

The shift towards employee experience is significant because it is more than a mechanism or process, it’s a philosophy with its own set of evangelists. But as organisations move their people strategy to focus on employee experience, how might this affect the way Executive Interims are deployed within organisations?

The Evolution of Use Cases for Interim Executives

The understanding of capability that Executive Interims can bring has matured over time. No longer purely aggressive implementation tools brought in to do the jobs management don’t want to do themselves, Executive Interim’s now are as much about selling the concept of change as they are about delivering the structural, process and technological changes required. Executive interim has moved to being a proven approach to designing and achieving sustained change of all types through the winning of hearts and minds. As a result, Executive Interims are of course still brought in to do cost reduction, but also to assist in more ‘positive’ business processes such as M&A, growth or transformation.

Will There Be More Opportunities for Interims to Assist in The ‘Dirty’ Side of Change?

So, if the focus on employee experience continues to grow in popularity, could this result in more opportunities for Executive Interims? Firstly, the use of interim as an outsourcing of ‘negative’, rationalisation work could make a return. As businesses look at how they generate positive feeling workplaces as the norm, they would likely retain managers with associations to such practices who would be vital to employee strategies.

This however may result in a regression in the use of Interims back to something more akin to the origins of the industry. Businesses may seek external individuals who firstly can take the negativity associated with cost-saving exercises with them when they leave the firm, and secondly provide a capability that could be lost in other managers who have been encouraged to develop skills more around employee happiness, coaching and progression. In other words, Interims could be seen once again as the perfect tool for doing the difficult cost reduction jobs management doesn’t want to do itself.

From an HR perspective, could we then see increased amounts of need for downsizing exercises or M&A integration activity – two already significant areas of the market, but now with added reason for businesses to want to engage with a specialist to undertake this sort of management?

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Conversely – Will An Interim’s Most Recent Roles Have More Of An Impact On Their Selection?

On the other hand, could an Executive Interim be labelled as pro or anti employee experience based on their previous roles? If employee experience is more of a philosophy than simply a process or output, then someone who does not agree with the philosophy may be seen as having a lack of cultural fit with the organisation.

For instance, if an individual has undertaken three concurrent roles based largely on cost-reduction, will that deter an organisation looking to build greater client centricity between its business units from using such an Interim? From an HR perspective, it is easy to foresee how a company might see the use of the employee experience, based on three pillars of engagement, culture and performance management, as a vital way of building capability across previous boundaries within a firm. Do Interim HRDs need to become more than experts within this area, but evangelists, promoting this concept as their priority in a people strategy and how HR delivers competitive advantage? This may only be an amplification of existing trends, but this is likely to force Interim HRDs further from being generalists and to choose a camp.

What Next?

Whether the HR Interim market moves in this direction or not, Interims are going to have to face up to operating in new environments. Cultural protection of employee experience will rise, and as such many more assignments will require a nuanced approach to operating within this model, regardless of the change efforts of the firm.

Principal, Interim Management, HR Practice
Chris has five years’ experience within executive interim, focusing predominantly on the commercial and HR functions. He has a particular specialism in helping organisations achieve increased revenues and growth objectives. Chris works with corporates and SMEs, as well as supporting portfolio companies for PE/VC funds. Typically, Chris works on change and transformation roles.
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