A company has asked me to work part-time for ten weeks, when the intention is to convert me into the full-time head of marketing. They also disclosed that it’s also an opportunity for both sides to assess fit.”

This temp-to-perm probationary hire has advantages and disadvantages for both sides. The advice to anyone getting an offer like this is to write your own story.

The advantages for the organization are immediate help and a low-risk way to assess strengths, motivation and fit. The disadvantages are in starting a relationship with less-than-full commitment, communicating some doubt on the organization’s side and leaving the door open for the probationary employee to use the time to find a better job with a different organization.

The advantages for you as the new executive are a foot in the door and chance to prove yourself, while giving you the chance to assess the organization and keep exploring other options. The disadvantages all flow from the organization’s less-than-full commitment to you which means people up, down and across may be more focused on testing and evaluating you than in investing in your future success together.

Hero on a quest

As Robert McKee and Joseph Campbell taught us, a great story is about a hero on a quest.

Start by clarifying your quest. Do you seek to:

  • Make this a full-time role?
  • Build a portfolio of part-time, consulting, or fractional roles?
  • Use this as a stepping stone to a better full-time role somewhere else?

That choice determines how you’re going to approach the role.

Path to full-time role

The seven stages of executive onboarding always apply from before the first contact through offer, acceptance, converging through the Fuzzy Front End and early days on the way to pivoting to evolving the team. While it’s always best to converge into the team before trying to evolve it, the key questions here are around the timing of your Fuzzy Front End and pivot from converging to evolving.

If, like Ajay Banga at MasterCard, you’re coming into one role on the way to a different role, you should treat the whole first role as the Fuzzy Front End of the second. Banga came in as President on the way to CEO. Others might come in as Deputy X on the way to X or working on a special project on the way to taking over a different role.

If, like the rising head of marketing who sent me the opening quote, you’re going into the role you want, but on a part-time or interim basis, you should act as though you’re in the permanent role from day one. The art will be in timing your pivot from converging to evolving.

The base case would be to converge for about a month and then pivot with some sort of imperative workshop for you and your team to co-create the way forward: mission, vision, approach, action plans, ways of working.

You’ll want to move faster or slower than that if the need for change is more or less urgent.

In any case, don’t wait for anyone to give you permission or anoint you as the permanent leader. Instead, just start doing the permanent job. Do it so well that there’s never a question on anyone’s part about whether or not to give it to you.

Portfolio approach

Other times, you may not want a full-time, permanent position. You may want the part-time arrangement, consulting gig, or fractional role to continue indefinitely.

Leadership is always about inspiring, enabling and empowering others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. A main difference between the path to permanent and portfolio approach is that at some point on the path to permanent you want them to say you are indispensable and they need you full-time. With the portfolio approach you want them to say you make everyone else better and having part of you is enough.

Stepping stone

While you always want to do your best and always want to create real value, if the role is merely a stepping stone on the way to something else, don’t let it distract you from your quest. Make sure you’re blocking out the time you need for your job search and preventing scope creep in the stepping stone role.

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