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Why Interim Leadership in Healthcare Is an Advantage

Interim leadership is one of the most valuable tools in any healthcare organization’s proverbial toolbelt, especially amidst the new challenges that the industry faces as a whole. Necessity fosters innovation, and as the pandemic forced the adoption of many new business practices, industry-wide notions regarding interim leadership have shifted dramatically.  

Before, during and after the pandemic, when it comes to the sink-or-swim reality of planned and unplanned leadership transitions, interim leadership has repeatedly proven to be a life raft through stabilization of the environment, rapid and thorough needs assessments, and results-focused work that continues the forward progress of the organizational agenda.  


Healthcare Challenges Solved Through Interim Leadership 

Interim healthcare executives help fill critical roles during times of instability and transition. While long-term solutions to leadership succession such as sponsorship and mentorship programs work to alleviate future leadership shortages by promoting from within, such remedies do not ease the immediate needs created by the unplanned departure of a key leader.

Here are some common challenges in healthcare leadership today and how an interim healthcare leader can provide immediate relief and even bolster results:


Challenge: Shifting Organizational Charts

When one leader leaves an organization, their responsibilities may be redistributed among other leaders. This over-taxing of an already demanding agenda can, in turn, cause other team members to quit from burnout. This domino effect has been dubbed turnover contagion and has become a dangerous thorn in the sides of many healthcare organizations. It is bad enough when this happens among staff members, but it can be catastrophic in the executive leadership setting.

Vacancies in key leadership positions are flattening organizational charts and forcing reassessment of top-down responsibilities. This could mean creating entirely new leadership positions, facilitating new, synergistic relationships between departments, and more.


Solution: Interim Leaders Relieve Pressure on Other Executives

Unless a successor has already been identified for an executive’s exit, chances are the rest of the leadership team will take on new responsibilities that may not even be in their wheelhouse. An interim leader can minimize or even erase the frustrations that accompany an unplanned leadership vacancy. 

While some organizations may hesitate to employ such strategies due to false notions about interim leaders’ limited experience, the evidence proves otherwise. In fact, Kirby Bates conducted a survey that found “the overall tenure and the educational preparation of interim healthcare leaders is significant with 42% of interim leaders having 20 years or greater experience in permanent leadership before serving as an interim and 86% holding a Master’s Degree or higher.”

Most interim leaders are highly qualified and have already served in long-term leadership positions. Further, working with a healthcare-focused leadership consulting firm such as Kirby Bates will assure the right candidate with the right experience is placed in the interim leadership role and hits the ground running.


Challenge: Increased Merger and Acquisition (M&A) Activity

With an eye on creating strategic and operational value, many healthcare organizations seek M&A opportunities. Deloitte states that hospital M&A activity has increased significantly over the past decade and shows no signs of slowing down, despite varying degrees of success:

“Financial, market, competitive, and regulatory forces are likely to drive further consolidation . . . Many hospital financial executives who have been involved in acquiring or merging hospitals admit to underestimating important cultural, competitive, and market differences of acquired organizations that may limit post-transaction value realization.”


Solution: Interim Leaders Buy Time During Transitions

There is no doubt that unexpected leadership transitions leave organizations at a critical decision point regarding how to proceed and meet already-established goals.  Interim leaders provide much needed, immediate relief while the dust settles, roles solidify, and  the organization searches for a more permanent solution. Generally, any healthcare organization will need time to evaluate its situation, identify challenges, and develop the most efficient solutions. Having a highly qualified, seasoned interim leader in the meantime allows these processes to be carried out more meticulously and without undue time pressure.


Challenge: Increasing Turnover Rates and Competition in the Talent Market

Prolonged voids in leadership will unquestionably damage any healthcare organization’s profitability and stability. While news outlets tend to focus on staff nursing turnover rates, a legitimate issue in its own right, leadership turnover is just as alarming and consequential. A recent Becker’s Hospital Review report stated that CEO resignations are reaching an all-time high in 2022, with 520 leaving their posts from January 1 through the end of April. That is an 18% increase from the same period in 2021.

The healthcare talent pool has also been shrinking for years, and the pandemic has only exacerbated these critical workforce gaps. Leadership talent recruitment, in particular, has proven to be difficult considering the time and effort that go into the search, interview, and recruitment processes. Leadership vacancies bog down the existing leadership team and ultimately damage financial and clinical outcomes.


Solution: Bring New Perspectives to Drive Innovation

When a leadership role is newly vacant, organizations often find that an immediate replacement is either impractical or unavailable. Interim leaders bring immediate stability to the organization and so much more.

Importantly, interim leaders are seasoned executives focused on quickly assessing the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, bringing fresh ideas, and sharing their knowledge with their new organization. Interim leaders give insight into identifying strategic opportunities, optimizing operations, and positioning the organization for future success. Because they bring a neutral, national perspective, uninfluenced by current organizational culture and existing biases, interim healthcare leaders uncover opportunities for new efficiencies and potential in places the organization may least expect them.


Kirby Bates Provides Interim Healthcare Executives

Kirby Bates’ interim leadership services have helped healthcare organizations make efficient, seamless leadership transitions for decades. Our vast network of seasoned interim healthcare executives allows us to – quickly – find the right leader for the right organization during times of instability.

Our laser focus on successful, cost-conscious outcomes for our clients has made us a trusted partner for countless healthcare organizations across the U.S.

To find out more about our interim leadership services, get in touch today!