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Working with a fractional leader for the first time can be daunting. Although fractional leaders often have the same objectives as a full-time hire, the flexible nature of the model can pose some tricky questions for CEO-Founders. How do you manage the relationship? What support do you need to give? What does best practice look like?
We spoke to fractional leaders placed through Scalewise to get their five top tips for a successful partnership.
1. Brief effectively
Start as you mean to go on. After agreeing top-line goals, KPIs and working processes during the matching process, you then need to flesh out the deliverables in detail with timings and responsibilities – fractional leaders work best when they have a clear idea of their remit.
In addition, you should outline the current gaps (fractionals are part of the team, so explain issues honestly), provide the essential ‘background reading’ (prepare this in advance to help get them up to speed quickly) and lay out the core priorities for the business. These priorities will serve as a North Star for the fractional leader when devising their execution strategy and act as guardrails during implementation.
2. Make key introductions
Introduce the fractional leader to a primary point of contact in all key divisions within the business. To fulfil their remit successfully, fractional leaders need to collaborate with other teams – such as engineering or customer success – and introducing them at the start makes it easier for the leader to access crucial information (especially as these team members are more likely to respond to information requests than busy C-suite executives). Early intros from the CEO-Founder also reinforces the fractional leader’s authority in the eyes of the wider team.
What’s more, introductions don’t have to remain internal. Depending on the remit of the fractional leader, it can be a good idea to introduce them to your network. If the fractional leader has responsibility for hiring a sales team, for example, you may want to introduce them to a recruiter/headhunter you know with a great black book of AEs.
3. Establish mutual trust
To embed mutual trust from the outset, spend some time understanding each other on a personal level and discuss working style, expectations and boundaries. A successful partnership requires a collaborative, ego-less approach, so you should also clarify each other’s strengths and weaknesses and identify where additional skills will be required.
Moreover, if you outline the importance of your company’s unique culture – what your cultural priorities are, why you use certain practices, what you ultimately want to achieve beyond just business growth – it will be easier for the fractional leader to subscribe to your vision and align their approach to your core values.
4. Catch-up regularly
Regular communication is essential. At the start of the partnership, you should co-create a comms plan, which outlines what information to share and how regularly to share it. In particular, you should set aside time for frequent catch-ups to give you both a chance to monitor progress, provide honest feedback, discuss support needs and re-evaluate priorities (if required).
Some founders are tempted to sit back and let the fractional leader ‘do their thing’, but a scheduled touchpoint is what makes an engagement really successful. For example, you should aim for a minimum of one hour per week to compare notes and make suggestions, as this will enable swift reactions to threats and opportunities.
5. Be willing to make changes
It might seem obvious, but trusting in the fractional leader’s ability, taking on board their findings and actually implementing the proposed changes is what a fractional model is all about. As a CEO-Founder, you need to be open-minded to suggestions and willing to drive change, especially if the fractional leader uncovers roadblocks to success that aren’t obvious or written down.
For example, a fractional leader might find that deep-rooted company processes are no longer fit for purpose and are acting as a significant handbrake to growth. Being willing to make tough, objective decisions based on your fractional leader’s advice will help you get back on track.
“The more enjoyable and fulfilling the engagement feels, the more the fractional leader will put in over and above.” As Scalewise fractional leader Peter Rankin notes, the best partnerships hit the sweet spot between enjoyment and tangible action. By providing the conditions for the fractional leader to flourish, you can set the partnership up for success.