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Navigating Through Change: Best Practices for Transitioning Interim Executives

April 17, 2023    •    9 min read

The relevance of leadership quality in the success and viability of rural hospitals is undeniable. Effective leadership provides direction, motivation, and innovation, enabling rural hospitals to overcome the unique challenges they face. This is especially crucial during periods of transition, which can disrupt operations and progress if not appropriately managed. Rural hospitals often leverage interim executives – temporary leaders who provide stability and guidance during transitional phases. However, optimizing the usefulness of interim executives requires thoughtful strategies for transitioning them in and out of the organization.

This article’s purpose is aimed at outlining best practices for ensuring seamless transitions when an interim executive joins or leaves a rural hospital. The strategies presented provide actionable guidance on preparing for an interim executive’s arrival, building effective working relationships, and managing their eventual departure. While leadership transitions inevitably bring some disruption, the resilience and adaptability required in these moments of change lay at the foundation of maintaining exceptional healthcare service quality for rural communities. Let’s explore practical strategies for navigating these transitional periods smoothly and successfully.

Understanding Interim Executives

Before delving into transition best practices, it is useful to develop a foundational understanding of interim executives and how they can benefit rural hospitals.

Interim executives are temporary leaders brought into an organization to fill an executive-level role for a defined period, usually lasting from a few months to a couple of years. They provide leadership and guidance during transitional phases prompted by events such as the departure of a previous executive, organizational restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, or performance issues requiring turnaround leadership.

Interim executives offer several unique benefits that make them well-suited for rural hospitals navigating change:

  • Diverse Experience: Interim executives bring experience from various industries and organizations. This equips them with a wider perspective and ability to identify innovative solutions.
  • Adaptability: Their temporary role requires interim executives to adapt to new organizational contexts and priorities quickly. This allows them to provide effective leadership amidst changing circumstances rapidly.
  • Outside Perspective: As outsiders, interim executives provide an objective perspective that can generate fresh ideas for addressing stubborn challenges.
  • Stability: During turbulent transitions, interim executives provide stability and continuity in operations and vision. This steadies the organization until permanent leadership is established.
  • Turnaround Capabilities: Some interim executives specialize in turnarounds and can rapidly implement changes to improve declining performance.

While interim leadership has substantial advantages, it can be quite disruptive if transitions are not adequately managed. The strategies outlined in this article aim to maximize the benefits of interim executives while minimizing disruptiveness to hospital operations and staff.

Preparing for the Arrival of an Interim Executive

Ensuring a smooth transition begins long before the interim executive steps through the doors on their first day. Thoughtful preparation lays a strong foundation for their success. Here are key areas to focus on when preparing for an interim executive’s arrival:

Establishing Clear Goals and Expectations

Having clear goals and expectations provides focus and direction right from the start. Take time to define thoroughly:

  • The specific issues and challenges the interim executive should prioritize addressing. Be as detailed as possible.
  • Metrics for evaluating performance and success in the role.
  • The expected timeline and milestones for the interim executive’s tenure.

The board of directors should work closely with hospital leadership to establish these goals and measures of success. Defining the desired qualifications and leadership style for the role can further clarify expectations and inform the selection process.

Sharing this clearly articulated role definition with the incoming interim executive aligns expectations and sets them up for success. It also facilitates a smooth handover process.

Communicating with Staff and Stakeholders

A leadership transition can breed anxiety, uncertainty, and speculation among hospital staff and stakeholders. Proactive communication is essential to provide reassurance and manage expectations during this sensitive time.

Once an interim executive has been selected, promptly announce the change to all internal staff and relevant external stakeholders, such as board members, local government agencies, partner healthcare organizations, and community groups.

Communication should cover:

  • The reason for the interim appointment, explained clearly and transparently.
  • A high-level overview of the interim executive’s background and experience.
  • The defined duration and objectives for the interim executive’s tenure.
  • Reassurance of continuity in the hospital’s vision and commitment to the community.

This demonstrates the hospital is managing the transition strategically, instilling confidence. Continue providing regular progress updates throughout the interim executive’s tenure.

Providing Necessary Resources and Support

To maximize effectiveness from day one, ensure the incoming interim executive is equipped with everything they need to get up to speed quickly. This includes:

  • Access to all pertinent information regarding the hospital’s finances, operations, staff, challenges, and strategic plans. Set up meetings with department heads to provide briefings.
  • Connections to key internal personnel and departments the interim executive will need to collaborate closely with.
  • Clear procedures for procuring any additional resources or support requested by the interim executive.
  • References to help quickly understand the hospital’s culture and community dynamics.
  • Introductions to board members the interim executive should develop strong working relationships with.

Laying this supportive groundwork empowers the interim executive to hit the ground running.

Best Practices for Working with Interim Executives

Once the interim executive joins the organization, thoughtful strategies are required to leverage their presence effectively. Here are some best practices for enabling interim executives to maximize their contribution:

Building a Positive Working Relationship

As with anyone new coming into an established team, take time to build rapport and a constructive working relationship with the interim executive. Prioritizing this will pay dividends. Critical elements include:

  • Mutual Respect: Mutual respect establishes a solid foundation. Respect their experience and outside perspective. In turn, be open to respectfully questioning their ideas or proposals.
  • Openness: Candidly share all relevant information with the interim executive, even sensitive matters. Also, be open to feedback from them. This enables an honest, productive working dynamic.
  • Trust: Demonstrating trust in the interim executive’s competencies and intentions helps establish effective empowerment and delegation. But verify that trust is warranted.
  • Camaraderie: While maintaining professionalism, cultivate a degree of friendliness with the interim executive. This positivity permeates the rest of the organization.

Establishing Open Communication and Feedback Channels

Open communication ensures the interim executive has the insights needed to make informed decisions and recommendations. It also provides you with valuable feedback. Establish and use clear channels for ongoing communication, such as:

  • Standing weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings to discuss progress, challenges, and strategies.
  • Standing weekly meetings between the interim executive and leadership from departments they are working closely with.
  • Leadership team meetings, including the interim executive, to align entire leadership team.
  • Soliciting feedback from the interim executive on their assessment of challenges, company culture and morale, concerns, and suggestions. Be receptive to feedback, even critical.
  • Providing regular informal opportunities for staff to interact directly with interim executive.

Frequent, multidirectional communication facilitates an agile, collaborative working relationship with the interim executive. This expands their effectiveness.

Encouraging Collaboration and Teamwork

While the interim executive serves in a position of authority, encourage collaborative teamwork between them and other organizational leaders and staff. This fosters a unified front to tackle challenges. Ways to promote collaboration include:

  • Establishing project teams combining the interim executive’s outside expertise with insider perspectives from staff.
  • Leveraging the interim executive’s experience to mentor other leaders.
  • Demonstrating your own teamwork with the interim executive as an example for the broader organization.
  • Publicly crediting team members who contribute to successes led by the interim executive.
  • Conveying that the interim executive has authority alongside other leaders, not over them.

A spirit of collaborative teamwork will amplify the interim executive’s impact and unify the organization behind shared goals.

Managing the Departure of an Interim Executive

While the focus is rightly on making the most of the interim executive’s tenure, their inevitable departure must also be strategically managed to sustain continuity.

Planning for a Smooth and Successful Transition

Proactively planning for the interim executive’s departure well in advance ensures continuity rather than disruption when the time comes. Key elements in transition planning include:

  • Timeline: Establish a detailed timeline for the leadership handover, allowing enough time for recruitment of the permanent executive and the interim executive to adequately brief them.
  • Communication Plan: Devise a clear communication plan to inform staff and stakeholders about the transition. This provides reassurance about the hospital’s continuity.
  • Permanent Recruitment: Allow sufficient time to thoughtfully recruit optimal permanent leadership. Involve the interim executive in providing recommendations based on their insights.
  • Briefing Materials: Have the interim executive prepare comprehensive briefing documents for the incoming permanent executive detailing organizational status, recent actions, ongoing initiatives, recommendations, and other critical information for continuity.

With thorough planning and preparation, the transition can be seamless despite the change in leadership.

Evaluating the Interim Executive’s Performance

While many interim executives have a short tenure, take time to evaluate their performance and effectiveness before departure. This should cover:

  • Their success delivering on defined objectives and expectations for the role
  • Feedback from staff on the interim executive’s leadership.
  • Areas where they added value as well as any shortcomings.
  • Recommendations provided by the interim executive.

Capturing these valuable insights informs future improvement efforts and interim executive selection.

Preparing for the Arrival of a Permanent Executive

When welcoming a new permanent executive, laying the groundwork ensures they can quickly assume leadership:

  • Provide detailed briefings on the hospital’s current status, priorities, and initiatives. The former interim executive’s briefing documents will be invaluable.
  • Establish clear 90-day and 1-year goals so the executive can launch their tenure with focus and direction.
  • Introduce the permanent executive to key staff and board members they will need to develop strong working relationships with.
  • Offer encouragement and availability to answer questions as the new permanent executive transitions in.

Investing in onboarding the new executive helps the organization progress smoothly after the interim period.


Transitioning interim executives in and out of the rural hospital setting can certainly be challenging if not managed strategically. But embracing the opportunities these transitional phases present allows rural hospitals to maximize results. The outlined strategies offer actionable best practices for all stages of an interim executive’s tenure – from thoughtful selection and preparation, to empowering their work, to concluding their role on a high note. Keeping the hospital’s mission to deliver exceptional community healthcare at the center grounds the organization amidst the inevitably swirling changes. By anchoring to core purpose and proactively navigating the tides of transition, rural hospitals can steadily progress, regardless of who is at the helm.

Gregory Brickner

Results Fanatic®


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