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What I’ve Learned in 30 Days as a Fractional CEO

Published August 6, 2018

The last several years fractional executives have become a real thing in the world of business. I’ve seen it mainly in the Marketing discipline, but it happens in IT and Operations as well. Over the last 30 days I have been in a fractional CEO role with a small restaurant franchisee looking to scale growth in Austin, Texas.

It’s been an interesting position to be in, and I’ve learned a great deal as well as been able to validate what I teach in a real-world environment. There have been a few things that I’ve learned that I want to share that someone looking at a role like this might find helpful, and also some things to watch out for.

What’s Working:

  • I have spent almost my entire career in the restaurant business and I love it. Early on in my development my McDonald’s franchisee Art Philips invested in me. He saw something in me that I did not see in myself, and is still a huge source of encouragement to me 34 years later. While I’ve done this over the years many, many times for others, it’s been quite some time since I’ve been this hands on in a restaurant getting to invest in the front line employees. And it’s been awesome. When you help someone elevate themselves it is magic.
  • Those of you who follow me, or have read 1% of what I write, know that I talk about culture extensively. As a high-level executive, I’ve built my career around creating a culture that supports high levels of people development and great financial results. Early in my career I was hands on doing this and then over time I began to work through my team and while I was still a part of it, I was casting the vision and not doing the heavy lifting. In this role I am in the trenches building culture alongside a new team trying to find their way. Culture matters more than ever, and it’s been a beautiful thing.
  • It has been great validation to see that all I’ve been teaching over the last 15 years still works in a real-time restaurant environment. Establishing clear roles and responsibilities (Who Does What When?), building great training programs, creating performance management systems, and teaching that running a great operation is your best form of marketing still matter more than ever. While I never doubted it, being right there alongside the team to show them how to do it has been powerful. Sort of a not-so-undercover boss!

What To Watch Out For:

  • The fractional executive movement is going continue gaining momentum, and there are many talented people out there that will be asked to fill in for important leadership roles. Before you dive in get clear on the exact expectations; what you’re going to be doing, what time commitment is, and what success looks like. When you have clearly defined expectations of what you’re being asked to do it will give you extreme clarity, and that’s a powerful thing.
  • Set boundaries for yourself. As a high performing executive you are going to want to do more and you won’t be able to stop yourself from overdoing, but you have to. This isn’t your full-time gig, and you may be consulting or doing something else for another organization. So have some guardrails to protect you from doing more than you should be. This is hard for me to even put in writing, but it’s essential to your leadership, your health, and your career.
  • Get what you’re worth. There’s a line in Rocky Balboa (2006) that I just love. “Now if you know what youre worth, then go out and get what youre worth, but you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody.” You’ve got skills. You wouldn’t have been asked to come on in a fractional C-level role if you didn’t. Get what you’re worth.

The fractional executive experience has been satisfying and challenging. I believe there is huge value to a fractional executive role, but it will take setting clear expectations on both sides of the conversation before deciding to take on the role.

The fractional executive role could be a nice bridge to your next role and it keeps you relevant and it keeps you sharp. It allows you to share your experience and learnings, which is what you’re getting paid to do, but it also allows you to stay knowledgeable about the latest happenings and trends in your industry.

Executed well, the fractional executive role can pay huge dividends to both the organization and the individual, but it will take transparency, great communication, and clear expectations to make it happen.