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Leadership,Talent Published Date, 2022

Is Fractional Leadership Right for Your Organization? 5 Questions to Ask

Created By: Regina Cialone, CFRE, Piper Hardin, CFRE, and Shaby T. Rosales
October 20, 2022

In the nonprofit world, we are used to doing things a certain way, but sometimes it can be smart to incorporate good ideas from for-profits. Fractional leadership, in particular, might be one of these ideas whose time has come. “Fractional executives,” writes Mark Thacker in a Fast Company article about the trend in the corporate world, “are there to get the job done, providing the benefits of specialization at a fraction of the cost.”

Fractional leaders work part-time, often on a temporary basis, and when you find the right ones, they will be fully committed to your organization and its mission. This strategy might be the best way to get a discrete project launched or completed, and it could even save you money when compared to traditional recruitment and hiring.

Is fractional leadership right for you? Here are five questions to consider:

1. Has the great resignation/reshuffle/rehire left your organization with an experience deficit (or skill gap)? The past few years have seen a spike in turnover, with a high rate of executive-level departures. Depending on the market in which you operate, you may find it relatively easy to hire a steady supply of recent graduates or professionals with 3-5 years of experience, but the supply of seasoned executives may not be adequate for the demand. Adjusting your expectations of who belongs in executive roles might solve part of the problem; maybe there’s a junior team member with all the skills and twice the enthusiasm. In many cases, however, nothing quite beats experience and judgment built up over a decade or two in the field. This circumstance is also cropping up in the business world. That’s why Wouter Vermeulen wrote in Forbes, “The ‘Great Rehire’ is producing an uptick in companies looking at fractional-interim hires.”

>>> Read more: Why Nonprofits Must Make Peace With Turnover

2. Are you spending too much time finding the perfect full-time, permanent replacement? If your organization is stuck in wait-and-see mode, falling behind on critical projects, it might be time to consider an alternative to business as usual. Consider who might support fractional leadership within and beyond your organization. Board members who see fractional leadership proliferating in their companies might not immediately recognize the potential for this strategy in nonprofit organizations, but once convinced, they might be important champions for disrupting the status quo.

3. Do you make a distinction between subject-matter expertise and standard nonprofit roles? Every institution needs experts to perform core duties. Hospitals have doctors, nurses, and other staff with degrees and experience specific to healthcare. Universities have professors and admissions officers. Think-tanks have policy experts. On the other hand, professionals with more portable sets of skills carry out development, marketing, and other functions. It is this latter category of staff that is most appropriate for fractional leadership. As Thacker writes in Fast Company, “Companies already have in-house experts who know the product or service. What they lack are executives who can turn existing company assets into something bigger and better.”

4. Are you overestimating the uniqueness of your organizational culture? Every nonprofit has its own language and rituals. Maybe you celebrate work anniversaries and other milestones in spectacular fashion. Maybe you gather at the bowling alley every Friday afternoon. These cultural practices are important for fostering a sense of purpose and belonging, but you shouldn’t be too certain that only full-time, permanent staff can fill those (bowling) shoes. Fractional executives might draw upon their years of experience to add a new twist to traditions.

>>> Read more: Diversity Should Be A Leadership Priority, Not A Human Resources Function

5. Could your organization use an injection of fresh thinking? The slowing of the pandemic hasn’t brought a deceleration of change. “As we’ve all learned in the past two years,” our colleague Craig Shelley wrote in a recent blog, “circumstances beyond our power are always waiting around the corner, but this fact makes it all the more urgent to proactively set the course towards the change you want.” The most valuable asset fractional executives might bring to your organization is that they haven’t been by your side from the beginning. Everything they’ve seen and done and tried (and failed) is now at your disposal, along with new ideas and fresh perspectives that might just shake up old habits and take your organization to the next level.

Hiring full-time, permanent executives might be one of those habits that needs shaking up.

Seeking to maintain stability and continuity among your leadership? Connect with us today to understand how Orr Group can supply you with interim embedded leadership for nearly any role or function.

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