Know Your Need: Full-Time vs. Interim vs. Fractional Executives

fractional interim executives

If you’re running a startup or small business and looking for new ways to grow or expand your products, services or reach—and struggling to figure out exactly how to do that—you may want to consider expanding your executive board. But hiring executives is a serious commitment. Depending on your specific needs and budget, bringing someone on full-time may be unnecessary or unrealistic.

Thankfully, you don’t need to! Growing businesses can choose whether they want to employ full-time, interim or fractional executives to accomplish their goals, without putting a drain on resources. But how do these roles differ from one another? And how do you determine which option is a better fit for your business?

Let’s break down everything you need to know about full-time vs. interim vs. fractional executives, and how to make an informed decision that best-serves your goals.

What is a Full-Time Executive?

When the conversation to pursue executive-level leadership arises, many businesses immediately think about hiring a full-time leader. When you hire a full-time executive, you’re bringing on a new managing member of your business for the foreseeable future. This is no small decision! However, it’s a great option if you have the budget and you see your business benefitting from their skills and insight over the long term.

Full-time executives help strategically plan future operational goals, coordinate and oversee others in departments below them, and implement new and improved policies to meet business goals. Bringing on an executive full-time is a commitment, but it has the potential to transform your business for the better when you hire the right person.

What is an Interim Executive?

Interim executives are often confused with full-time executives because they operate in much the same capacity—except their tenure has an end date. Interim executives may serve in their role for the duration of a project or during a period of transition, until their expertise or oversight are no longer needed. Essentially, they’re a temporary solution to the need for a specific capacity of high-level leadership.

A growing company might hire an interim executive as they pursue M&A activity, or as they expand a budding arm of their operations. More established companies might tap an interim executive after a core member of the leadership team leaves, to fill the role while they search for a more permanent replacement. In either case, there’s a mutual understanding that eventually, the interim executive will vacate their position.

What is a Fractional Executive?

Many business owners don’t often realize that such a thing as a fractional executive exists—at least, not in the capacity they need. As an alternative to the full-time executive, a fractional executive is brought on—as the name suggests—in a fractional capacity. They’ll work part-time or on a limited contract, bringing you the insight, skill, and expertise you desire, without taking an active, everyday role in the business.

Fractional executives are a great option if you’re looking for help leveling up your business in a specific area. They are generally former executives or high-level consultants who have been developing their skills for years. While you may not have the budget or need for long-term, ongoing executive support, you’re still getting a wealth of experience and knowledge when you choose to bring a fractional executive onto your team.

What Level of Executive Involvement do You Need?

When deciding whether to hire a full-time, interim or fractional executive, it’s helpful to closely examine your operation, consider the reason you’re looking for executive support in the first place, and weigh your unique needs against the pros and cons of each option.

The Case for Full-Time: An Everyday Steward

Think of the full-time executive as an everyday steward for your business. You bring them on so that your business will benefit from their expertise, but you’re also giving them power, sway and the opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the trajectory of your company. You’re entrusting them to maintain high-level knowledge of their field, continue to cultivate a robust professional network and provide ongoing guidance and support to get your team and company where you want it to be. They are given the opportunity to look after and guide an important aspect of your work, so that others can focus their attention on other projects.

The Case for Interim: Expertise with an Expiration Date

if your business is going through a grow period of faces a crisis of leadership at a pivotal time, an interim executive could be the panacea. These individuals are able to step in and perform at a high level, focusing on the specific challenges that you’re struggling to overcome right now. Then, once they’ve worked to develop solutions and implement lasting strategies, there’s an amicable split—the executive takes their expertise to a new company while you focus on finding a more permanent C-suite occupant (if necessary). From growth stewardship to succession planning, your interim executive (and the overhead that comes with them) is only there as long as you need them.

The Case for Fractional: Affordable Expertise

In contrast to the steady, ongoing stewardship that a full-time executive provides, a fractional executive offers businesses affordable expertise. Working to develop a complicated new strategic initiative under a hard deadline? Lacking a specific strategic skill to get your business to the next level? Looking to delegate high-level responsibility to someone else, but it’s not a large enough workload to require a full-time executive role? These are all great moments to consider bringing in a fractional executive. Find someone to take care of the task you need assistance with and save yourself the cost of a full-time executive you don’t truly need.

Aim to Fulfill Your Business Objectives

Executive support is crucial for a thriving business—but not all companies need the same level of support. Carefully evaluate your situation, get clear on where you want to go, then find the right person to help get you there. Whether you’re looking for full-time stewardship, interim assistance or fractional expertise, there’s an executive out there ready to help.

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