How Interim Management Imitates Baseball's Relief Pitcher
Writing as an unrepentant baseball fan, I was watching that glorious Game 6 World series game and Tony LaRussa’s Merlin-like mastery of his relief pitchers’ for specific challenges in order to gain the pivotal win. As a reminder, LaRussa designed and used the entire bullpen with speed and aplomb to meet specific challenges, where the relief pitchers were used for particular needs (i.e. using a left hander to get a left handing hitter or bringing in a sinker ball pitcher to get a double play). It struck me that the relief pitcher was in effect a forerunner of the use of interim management. The use of the relief pitcher to the degree LaRussa did in a key situational role in this World Series has rarely been seen, but will be in the future. Thus we saw in baseball a major paradigm shift of game management strategy that will be adopted in order for the team to “seal the win”, which is the objective in both baseball and business.
Business leadership has traditionally looked to interim management when faced with unexpected business situations, much like a baseball manager uses relief pitchers to deal with an immediate issue. The model for interim executive management is to fill short term vacancies, take on projects or mentor staff. This should now be looked at in a much broader and strategic way in that the interim managers can be used to aid the company in delivering situational skills and experience by upgrading the executive team on a short term basis without having a short term event trigger the hire of an interim executive. This role can be titled Executive Advisor and can be aligned where the work is focused.
In looking at interim executive management as a strategic, situational tactic, Human Resource management becomes more critical to business success in the implementation of knowing in detail the skills of the management team as well as the employees. This can be done by regular reviews and systemically by insuring a current HRIS system that documents skills and capabilities is in place. Workforce planning using HR systems will assist in knowing and preparing for expected challenges like a large capital project or industry worker shortages. Recent studies by management firms have found that the greatest challenge for companies, in addition to trades, technical and engineering, is the shortage of experienced executives. Thus, the wise CEO will know where the gaps in the management team could occur at certain time points. Here is where the analogy to the baseball relief pitcher comes in; if the CEO knows this, then a having a “bullpen” of experienced executives to call on for situational challenges is both a timely and cost effective solution to the challenge. In my experience working internationally for many years, interim executives are viewed as an essential piece of meeting the business challenge and interim management is now a well accepted profession on other continents.
One solution is to look at interim management firms and enter into a partnership so that in their planning of experience or skill sets, they can ensure they have the right people who can meet their clients’ needs. It is the same principal when they partner with a law, accounting or search firm. To end this thought, a quote from that sage old philosopher and pretty good catcher Yogi Berra comes to mind: “If you come to a fork in the road, you take it!”