To maximise your return, plan carefully when selecting a part time executive.
Mark Nicholls is Director of Tectona Partnership, a bespoke financial advisory service that delivers increased cash flows and profitability for growth ambitious SME’s.
In recent years there has been an increasing trend towards the outsourcing of back office or non-critical services. At the same time, due the economic climate, more and more expert senior executives have started up on their own account as freelancers or part time executives. This is particularly true in the functional areas of Finance, HR and ICT.
It is no longer frowned upon to use part timers in senior roles – indeed the benefits and risks are now well understood and many business owners are increasingly using senior executives to bolster their management team and core competencies. After all, the costs are less than a full timer and the risks are lower as the part timer can often be secured on an ‘easy in easy out ‘ basis.
As an entrepreneur myself who has set up a business providing financial solutions to SME’s, I am in a very good position to offer advice to owner managers or MDs who wish to maximise the benefits of using a part timer.
Is the part time executive committed to you?
It is essential that the executive that you hire for a long term, yet part time, assignment is genuinely committed to a portfolio career and is not just biding their time until a full time employment opportunity becomes available. After all most part timers are looking for a new work/life balance having exited a corporate career.
Having a portfolio career is quite different to having a single job. The executive needs to be flexible and fully able to cope with a number of clients’ demands and cultures at the same time. Although the person will only be on-site with you on a part time basis, you will nevertheless be potentially looking for support 24/7. You therefore need to be absolutely sure that the executive can cope with the demands of this new ‘lifestyle’.
Do they fit?
It is particularly difficult for an entrepreneur to assess whether the executive is technically competent ie. they have the appropriate technical skills to do the job. As a minimum, one should check that they have a recognised degree and professional body qualification. Their CV and case studies, although important, are unlikely to be the determinant of success in the role that you are trying to fill.
To some extent, the part timer’s technical competence is taken as a given. More important however is that person’s ability to relate the owner manager and his/her staff. This is where personality, outlook and communication style become critical. The role of a part timer can be doubly demanding as the executive is only on site for, say, a couple of days a week.
The relationship between the executive and the MD will only survive and develop positively if some care and attention is paid to the selection criteria upfront.
Personality profiling might be useful however profiling is never not a sound way of making a decision in isolation. At Tectona Partnership, we take this matching so seriously that we advocate that the entrepreneur has the opportunity to link up with prospective part time executive outside the business environment (a lunch/dinner, round of golf or a pint in the local) before agreeing to proceed. This may be viewed as subjective but it should at least determine whether the MD and part timer can ‘get on’.
Scoping the assignment
Having decided that you will use a part time resource, you will need to then assess the scope of the work to be undertaken. This will have a major bearing on the effectiveness of the delivery and the return on investment.
You will want to see that the executive has a structured approach to sizing the job and that they are not simply ‘feathering their own bed’.
To get this right, we at Tectona suggest that the part timer undertakes a short sharp best practice audit to scope out the work in terms of activies and timelines as identify some early wins and savings.
Armed with the outputs from this exercise, expectations can be managed, a budget agreed and a return on investment calculated.
The benefits of using a part time executive
1. Reputation, reputation, reputation
Freelancers are only as good as their last piece of work. Their next piece of work usually arises from a positive referral or testimonial. They have a vested interest in delivering high quality outcomes from each assignment and not ‘outstaying their welcome’.
Part time executives have typically worked in corporate environments and have dealt with a wide variety of financial and commercial challenges. They will probably also have carried out part time or interim assignments since leaving corporate life. In the case of FDs, very often their remit will have included responsibility for other functions such as HR and IT. The part time executive therefore comes with a great deal of expertise which is likely to maximise the probability of delivering a success assignment.
3. Outcome focused
Unlike full time employees, part time executives are not paid for just ‘turning up’. The emphasis is far more project oriented, similar to an interim manager, particularly if the objectives and scope of the assignment have been agreed upfront.
With more and more part time executives deciding to take the freelance route (either as independents or through an umbrella brand such as Tectona Partnership), an organisation can hire someone within days rather enduring the long drawn out process of recruiting for full time head. The contract can be agreed on an ‘easy in easy out’ basis, thereby reducing risk.
5. Early wins
The part time executive does not get involved in the office politics and can therefore very quickly propose or make changes. They have no interest in career progression within the client organisation and can therefore remain focussed on delivery and outcomes. They bring independence and objectivity to the challenges ahead.
The part time executive is a growing and valuable resource to smaller businesses which cannot afford or do not need a full time employee. The hiring company can extract huge value out of the assignment if they are aware of the specific nuances of freelance activity. Managing expectations is critical in a part time relationship – it is vital that the scope of work to be delivered is clearly mapped out and that regular performance reviews are undertaken to assure quality of delivery.
It is essential that the client feels that they have chosen someone who is a ‘perfect’ fit for their organisation – personality is likely to count for more than technical competence.