What we're talking about
‘Gig executive’ is an umbrella term covering fractional and interim leaders. A fractional leader is a part-time executive working at the top level of a department (known as the C-suite since their job titles often feature the word ‘chief’), who will spend as little as one day a month with a business and often works with multiple clients simultaneously. An interim leader, however, will typically work full-time and implement larger-scale change. Either way, they're an industry expert that a company hires – usually for a minimum of three months – to bring new ideas, manage specific projects and help their business grow.
How to find one
Gig executives – like good consultants – can be hard to find. There are broad interim executive search firms like InterimExecs in the US or NJR in the UK, while other firms focus on specific sectors, such as ForceBrands which recruits for consumer goods companies.
Referrals are your friend and business owners should ask around their own networks for recommendations. But many gig executives are also active on LinkedIn and will advertise in their bio which C-suite position they can be hired for: CEO (chief executive officer), CMO (chief marketing officer), CTO (chief technology officer), CFO (chief financial officer), CIO (chief information officer), etc.
Anna Sullivan, a fractional CMO and founder of social media agency The Creative Exchange, was referred to work with skincare company Aloe Attiva by a former colleague. She spent a few months improving their content and reviewing their analytics to produce more informed posts. She put processes in place and made sure the team could continue what they were doing after she left. ‘They had the bandwidth to get the work done, but they needed someone to get everything organized and provide strategic insight,’ she says.
How to set expectations
While gig executives are generally cheaper than a full-time hire – especially given the costs of healthcare, pensions and a potential equity stake – they are still an expense. In the US, expect to budget $10,000 a month for a full-time interim executive. In the UK, a CFO in London and south-east England will cost at least £1,000+ per day. Anna charges $2,250 per month for fractional CMO work comprising an hourly weekly call, email support and four additional strategy hours.
It's important to set expectations early when hiring a gig executive. A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and a statement of work should be part of the contract – the latter will detail any projects the gig executive will be overseeing and lay out responsibilities and reporting lines.
Also, establish clear methods of communication with the gig executive so they know how and when the other leaders of the business like to be updated on any progress. It's also important to communicate to existing employees that a gig executive is there to help – and not to take their jobs.
Prioritize track record and experience. You want to know that the gig executive has been through the stage of business growth you are currently in. Ask them to give concrete examples of how they have helped a similar company.
Look for leadership and a clear process, not just technical know-how. Ask about the teams, projects and organizations they have led before.
They should share their ‘secret sauce’ upfront. A good gig executive should be communicating ideas and strategies during the interview process, not just promising to deliver them once a contract is signed.
Personality is important. Work out whether the gig executive will – in interim CEO Robert Jordan's words – ‘speak truth to power’. You want to hire someone comfortable with challenging you and your team. If you're not comfortable with that, you might not be ready for a gig executive.
Ben Wolf's book Fractional Leadership includes practical advice on hiring and integrating gig executives.
Recruitment firm Robert Walters produces an annual report on interim management costs in Europe.
InterimExecs has a number of case studies on its website detailing where interim management has helped businesses.
Want to know more about gig executives? Take a look at our briefing here.