I am often asked what defines an Executive Interim and the online community often seeks to debate this subject too. Veterans in the field are frequently presented with the same arguments and repeated views with very little ground being covered. This creates a minefield for new starters to the profession who are looking for clarity, and headaches for the rest of us as we have debated this topic for years without tangible gain.

It’s natural that people want to define themselves to sell their talents

When developing a service offering last year I created a project name ‘The Banana’. It was easier to use a temporary name internally, (and was the butt of many a joke), but the outside world would be doubly confused if I tried to sell them ‘The Banana’ until it was appropriately titled or branded.

Hence why I needed a title and name that fit the purpose of what would eventually be sold. In considering the effort spent in order to define what ‘The Banana’ was, I concluded we can more easily define what something is, by what it isn’t:

Interims are not employees; freelancers do not get paid holidays; consultants are not under the direct control of the client; and so on.

So what exactly is an interim again?

But what is an interim, and why should we worry about whether someone is a consultant or a freelancer? I constantly hear that an ‘interim does this’ whilst a ‘consultant does that’- why do we struggle to find a common understanding and why does it even matter?

Whatever title an independent business chooses to go by, I believe we should measure them by the output they are poised to achieve rather than how they’ve been labelled. Therefore, freelancer / consultant / interim / temporary rock star are all valid terms and all are equally true. As a sum of all parts, it is an individual’s particular line of expertise that is the focus of the conversation and is the verb to the noun.

Imagine that elevator moment with the original creator of ‘the car’. What issues did that person go through in order to settle on their banana moment? ‘Self-propelling thing’ sounds complicated, whilst ‘Car’ was not yet an evolved term. Evolution plays a small part too – an automobile, or a motorised carriage, later becomes motorcar and subsequently car (I’m guessing here a little). The point being there is no right or wrong at the point of origin and there is a required tipping point before the new and funky becomes a mass trend of understanding.

Irrespective of what such a vehicle is called today, we can all be in agreement such motorised transportation will get you from point A to point B. But we also refine our understanding of a car by its perceived function: sports; family; off road; military; police; electric; hybrid, and so on.

Developing a shared point of view

So we take a common understanding and apply real world capabilities that help an observer gain an immediate picture about the ‘doing features’ of that car. We know by default that it can go places, that it’s powered by an engine of some sorts; that it seats people.

But we don’t further refine a car by what it isn’t and instead we describe a car by what it seeks to do, whether that is to go as fast as possible, or carry as much as possible.

I would encourage a similar mindset in our community. An interim by any name is a commercial entity built to provide products and services. So when it comes to trying to settle on a definition, we already have one to hand- ‘business’. So let’s focus on, and celebrate, the qualities and value such small, independent businesses provide and leave the labelling of interims for history to determine.

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