The original article appeared in Forbes: Rediscovering Fractional Leadership In Response To Crisis by Wouter Vermeulen
In November of last year, I was thumbing through The Economist’s forecast titled “The World in 2020.” While I thought then that their forecast wasn’t overly optimistic, I had no idea what would transpire come the new year: the acquittal of President Donald Trump in an impeachment trial, the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in cities around the world in memory of George Floyd and in protest against police brutality, and a seemingly uncontrollable global pandemic that drastically shifted the employment situation of millions of people and shut down large portions of our economies around the world.
I started and had been operating my company — a talent acquisition and development firm for the tech industry — amid the lowest unemployment on record in the U.S., and saw that turn the tables on us in a matter of weeks. We went from calling on passive senior executive leaders to receiving an influx of calls and résumés from the same people who didn’t have a minute to talk to us earlier in the year.
The phone rang on the candidate side, but on the company side, nobody picked up. It was panic galore as HR and executive leaders tried to figure out remote work and how to keep employees and residents safe — not to mention dealing with the painful decision to reduce and/or furlough large portions of their staff. All a sudden, the talent shortage we had faced and the challenge of getting in front of great talent disappeared, but businesses weren’t too eager to continue or bring back permanent full-time hires just yet. This is where I started to see the reawakening of fractional leadership as a rescue tool.
Over the past few years, we partnered with technology companies to help them find exceptional executive talent that we mostly placed on a permanent, full-time basis. Once in a while, we received a call from a client who wanted us to find a fractional-interim CHRO, CMO or SVP of product, but the past decade of growth in tech wasn’t all that conducive to this type of service. Clients wanted executives in seats. The desire for fractional leadership services just wasn’t there when businesses wanted someone on a permanent basis, and there wasn’t a supply of great talent that was willing to work in this model.
Now, almost overnight, things have changed and the “Great Rehire” is producing an uptick in companies looking at fractional-interim hires — i.e., leaders who take up part-time positions in the SVP/C-suite and bring vast experience and skills to the role — as the solution. Our firm, for example, is currently working on several fractional leadership searches, one of which is a leading mobile marketing technology firm looking for a fractional chief people officer. The company needed to cut back on its talent acquisition team and is now trying to completely redesign its talent acquisition, management and development strategies. The client sees the benefits fractional brings to both parties.
The benefits in the post-pandemic workforce (and this labor market) are substantial. A fractional leader brings more objectivity — a fresher, outside perspective — to the table with regards to their subject matter expertise and experience managing and leading teams within different company cultures. This leader also has a unique opportunity to challenge the status quo on how things have been done, in addition to the often-larger amount of scalability experience they come with from an operational and financial perspective. And companies looking to hire or replace executive talent from a different financial position than they were in six months ago get to work with new talent before they decide to hire this leader permanently. It’s a win for executive talent and companies rebuilding their executive teams alike.
As the workplace embraces its new normal, companies will see the benefits of a model like this. Will 2020 become the year of fractional leadership?