An interim GC must approach the role strategically if s/he wants the highest likelihood of earning the permanent title. This begins with creating a plan to excel and gain executive sponsorship. It also begins with a success mentality. But sometimes…regardless of an interim’s best intent, best attitude and best execution, executives choose to hire a new GC rather than promote from within.
For the passed over interim, this can be a difficult outcome – as feelings of disappointment and anxiety over career and job security escalate. For the incoming GC, reaction to the interim can vary. One reaction is to feel threatened – especially if the interim was considered for the top spot. The new GC might also believe that his/her performance will be compared to the interim GC – a situation s/he wants to avoid. Finally, the new GC may want to build a new department without legacies. Or in other words…clean house.
If any of these reactions are in play, what’s the best way for the interim GC to mitigate the risk of being swept away with the new tide?
My advised approach is to proactively address the issue with the new boss as early as possible. And make your intentions known by communicating your feelings; and career wants and goals. This doesn’t mean blubber or whine about the injustice of it all, or treat the conversation as a therapy session. But be honest, provide clarity and reinforce positive sentiments. Both an interim and his/her new boss are facing some unknowns at this juncture, so communication is critical to preserve employment and start things out on the right foot. Below are two sample messages:
“Emily, congratulations on your new role as GC in the company. I thought it would be great for us to meet and discuss the path forward. As you know, I served as interim GC for a few months after John left and really appreciated the opportunity. I learned a lot during that time and had hoped to be in the role longer, but I understand the decision to bring on a more experienced executive. I wanted to let you know that I greatly enjoyed my position as AGC and would like to return to the role with your support. I’m committed to your and the department’s success and want you to know that I look forward to working with you.”
“Robert, thanks for taking the time to meet with me. First, congratulations on your new position – there is a lot of excitement about your arrival. I also wanted to talk because you may be unsure how I’m feeling and I wanted to establish an open line of communication. I had a great experience as interim GC, but I’m looking forward to supporting you and continuing to add value to the company. I’ve always enjoyed working here and I’d like to continue to do so in my prior position or one that is best for you and the department. Are you open to this option?”
Direct conversations like these may not always influence an incoming GC determined to mix things up. So another prudent course of action is to explore the employment market during the interim period when receiving word directly…or indirectly that a promotion is not in the cards. By being proactive at an earlier stage, an interim GC can take greater control of his/her career, increase options and be better prepared for what may transpire in the future. Options will also help provide leverage in situations where the new GC is anxious about losing a great lawyer (the interim) and wants to work to keep this team member.
A new GC entering the scene will have his/her own plans for getting acclimated and running the department. These plans may include an interim GC…they may not. But in order to best preserve job security in the new department, an interim must take a proactive, direct and honest approach with the new boss – and create employment options when the writing is on the wall. No words or actions can eliminate all risk, but these recommendations can give an interim the best chance at minimizing it.
Best of luck!