What a Fractional Leadership Engagement Looks Like – Part 3

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Once you’ve reached this point in considering whether or not to engage a Fractional Leader (FL) (see Part 1 and Part 2), it’s critical to identify the type of approach an FL can take and the type of provider that would work best for your company. Here we discuss a strategic vs. tactical FL as well as the categories of FLs, such as organizational, Independent and Licensee.

Strategic vs. Tactical Leadership

Fractional Leaders become part of your leadership team. They typically participate in leadership team meetings and decisions, create metrics for their direct reports, lead departmental meetings, drive accountability of their team’s achievement of their goals, and coach and mentor team members. The high-level, strategic nature of most FL roles is critical because their primary value to you is their experience, leadership, and ability to drive your team’s achievement of your desired results.

But don’t full-time operations leaders, like COOs, drive day-to-day operations, such as ensuring deliveries or service calls happen on time, product deliveries are correct and timely, or that customers are satisfied at all times? How can someone do that on a fractional basis?

To understand the answer to this question, it’s important to distinguish between someone’s role as COO and another operations hat they might wear.

For instance, full-time COOs in smaller organizations often have two roles. The leadership, management, and accountability aspects of the COO role usually consume about 20 percent of their bandwidth. But they also wear one or more other hats, such as director of operations or high-level project manager. This part of their job takes 80 percent of their time.

Business owners who engage an FCOO or FL, by contrast, split the COO role away from the project manager or head of operations role. They take that 20 percent bandwidth needed for the leadership/management/accountability part of the job and assign that to an FCOO or FI. They give the head of operations or project management responsibilities to someone else or several other people.

I hope in my past blogs I’ve convinced you not to undervalue the deeper and more powerful change an FL can make in your business at the leadership when they are not distracted by also having the role of being a higher-level worker bee.

With that being said, some smaller companies in particular — those with five to 20 employees — sometimes need their FLs to provide both leadership and another set of hands at a higher level than the other team members can provide. Particularly with respect to FCOOs and FIs, there is a subset of companies and FLs who need and want to play a tactical as well as strategic role. I call these Doer Leaders versus Manager Leaders. I explain more about the Doer versus Manager distinction here.

There are two primary categories of FL providers: Organizational and Independent. There are some differences between them, and no one model is right for everyone. Therefore, you must consider which kind you want or whether you’re open to both.

Organizational Fractional Leadership

Organizational Fractional Leadership (OCFL) organizations assign individual FLs to clients. They either hire these individual FLs directly, make them partners, or enter into independent contractor relationships. In this model, you pay the OFL, and the OFL pays the individual FL. This model has several advantages, each of which are discussed below: (1) accountability, (2) standardization, and (3) peer learning.

The OFL takes responsibility for the services provided by the individual FL. If there are any issues, you can approach the company to help resolve the problem or for a replacement. This saves you from the need to start over at square one, searching for someone else. 

Standardization. OFLs usually create a standardized service model, which is some proven process they have found effective. All the FLs on their team use this proven process.

Peer Learning. Finally, FLs serving clients through an OFL are part of a team with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. Some OFLs hold weekly virtual meetings where a group of FLs shares the issues they’re facing with clients. Those who have encountered a similar situation offer guidance. This helps clients by leveraging multiple FLs’ knowledge and perspectives to solve their problems.

Independent Fractional Leadership

Some factors mitigate in favor of working with a solo practitioner independent FL rather than an OFL for some business owners: (1) price, (2) independence, and (3) customization.

Price. The first advantage of working with an independent FL is price. OFLs are typically more expensive than their “single shingle” counterparts, sometimes by as much as double. This factor alone is determinative for many business owners because they cannot afford some OFLs’ rates for the time commitment they believe they need.

Independence. Some business owners prefer working with an independent FL because their personal hardwiring makes them more comfortable with independent operators.   Such people bristle at anything that feels overly corporate, and some OFLs come across that way to them.

Customization. Finally, some business owners look for a customized engagement and see OFLs’ standardization as a bad fit. They want their FL to custom- services and methods to their business’s unique needs. Although most OFLs custom-tailor each engagement to fit precisely what their clients need, some business owners perceive them as too cookie-cutter for their tastes.

Fully Independent vs. Licensee Fractional Leaders

Among independent FLs, there are two subtypes: those who work entirely on their own and licensees or franchisees of a standardized system. Examples of the latter include FCSOs who use the Sales Xceleration or SalesQB frameworks.

Some people prefer fully independent FLs. They see no need for the “unnecessary complication” of an external system if the FL has experience, knowledge, and strong references.

They do not want to spend time, money, or energy on parts of a system that don’t apply to them simply because they are part of “the package.”

On the other hand, licensed systems provide a proven process. Some business owners want their FL to use a system that works for thousands of organizations and has been implemented by dozens or hundreds of FLs. They need and want results as soon as possible. They’re hiring an FL because they know they themselves are not experts in the field and recognize that their perception that part of a system is unnecessary may be unfounded.

Licensed FLs also bring technological tools engineered specifically for their clients’ goals. This saves the need for custom software or web app development and facilitates faster implementation custom-designed for business owners’ needs.

Regardless of whether you decide that an OFL or an independent FL is a better fit for you and your business, you’ll leverage the benefit of someone with years of experience at multiple companies to guide you to accomplish what you could not on your own.

Deciding whether a strategic or tactical approach is best and then determining whether you want to engage an FL through an OFL or as an independent operator are critical steps in finding an FL who would best suit your business and goals. If you haven’t determined already the C-level executive you need, check out my blogs on each of these FLs. And you can find more detailed information in my book, Fractional Leadership: Landing Executive Talent You Thought Was Out of Reach.

Ben Wolf Author
Ben Wolf, founder and CEO of Fractional Leadership, has been on both sides of the Fractional Leader search process.
As a leader in companies where he served as Fractional Integrator (outsourced COO), he has searched for and found multiple Fractional Leaders for clients. And as a Fractional Integrator, he has gone through many cycles looking for new clients at the successful conclusion of each engagement.
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