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Interim Executives: A Viable Solution to Keep Your Hospital on Track

Steady leadership is a critical stabilizer during challenging times. Conversely, high levels of executive turnover can destabilize an organization’s workforce, operations and strategic vision. Unfortunately, U.S. hospitals have been experiencing high executive turnover for several years. In fact, healthcare organizations — along with technology firms, government agencies and nonprofits — topped other industries for CEO turnover in 2022, according to a report by the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.  

CEOs aren’t the only executives leaving their positions. Workforce data from the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) reveals a correlation between a CEO departure and other C-level executives leaving within a year of the CEO. All C-suite vacancies fuel the uncertainties staff and providers face in today’s ever-changing healthcare environment.

Executive turnover at community and rural hospitals creates a larger ripple effect because the leaders have broader scopes of responsibility and less administrative support. In the best-case scenario, when a leader departs, succession planning has taken place and there is already someone identified to fill the position. More often, though, an immediate replacement is unavailable and recruitment is a prolonged process. To fill talent vacuums and sustain operations, interim executives can fill an important role.

Interim leadership is efficient and can also offer advantages 

Since the pandemic, many hospital executives have semi-retired, creating a pool of ready-to-deploy interim execs across C-suite disciplines. These leaders often bring decades of experience in improving operational, financial and clinical hospital performance. They can assume critical tasks, offer objectivity to the facility, and bring knowledge, skills, enthusiasm and optimism to the position. Often, interim leaders shine a light on organizational “blind spots” when it comes to resource management and operational efficiencies. With a desire to improve outcomes on a temporary, full-time basis, these leaders can be valuable change agents, positioning hospitals for success and laying the groundwork for recruitment of a full-time C-suite executive. 

Interim leaders also make great potential candidates for permanent leadership positions. They have gained valuable insight into the organization, led the team through various operational challenges, and positioned them to achieve successful outcomes. There have been numerous instances of hospitals and health systems embarking on exhaustive searches for new permanent leaders, only to find that the best candidate for the positions turned out to be their interim leaders. 

Many hospitals have incorporated interim leadership into their talent strategies by partnering with a consultant to find the right fit for vacancies. Working with a partner, the process should include a national search for qualified, culturally aligned candidates; a multipoint screening selection protocol; background checks; and assistance with interviewing and negotiating. 

At the very least, interim placement buys time and provides stability during transitions. But interim leaders can accomplish so much more by assessing organizational needs and growth potential through fresh eyes. Going forward, trends in healthcare and human capital will continue to drive the use of interim executives.

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