Have leadership, will travel

When faced with a leadership void, local companies can turn to Madison-based Contracted Leadership for experts who will embed themselves in the organization and temporarily lend their skills to help right the ship.

If this were a pulp detective novel, we might expect a well-worn office in a dimly lit building located on a dodgy side of town. No doubt the peeling paint on the office window would say, “Leader for Hire.”

This being the 21st century, however, a more practical approach to problem solving for businesses is required. It’s the approach practiced by Contracted Leadership, a five-year-old company that’s the brainchild of Bruce Holoubek and Coreyne Woodman-Holoubek.

The problem in need of solving in this case is attracting, developing, and keeping expert talent at Wisconsin businesses at a time when the unemployment rate is at a historic low. In many cases, companies are struggling with a lack of leadership or expertise in certain areas as the operation grows, and what’s needed is a guiding hand to help steer the organization through a challenging period.

Contracted Leadership was born from The Apu Group, which was formally created in 2012, notes Holoubek. However, the concept of Contracted Leadership had been evolving since the mid-1990s when he first worked with an organization to address cost savings in the company, specifically in workers’ compensation losses.

Coreyne Woodman-Holoubek and Bruce Holoubek, the masterminds behind Contracted Leadership.

“When I spoke with the executive of the company, we agreed that I would get paid a certain amount if I could save the company at least three times that amount each year,” Holoubek explains. “Word got out how I hit the mark ahead of schedule, and soon I had other organizations requesting the same for their organizations.”

Holoubek says his parents grew up in a generation where you got a job and worked at it for the next 30-plus years of your life, usually hating it. “I knew that wasn’t the path for me because I’m most fulfilled by doing different things, at different places, with different people. Since I’m also passionate about helping people understand and develop their innate strengths, working inside an organization to transform it was exciting to me.

“I was absolutely frustrated when I saw organizations not understanding, or underestimating, the innate strengths of their people and thus not developing them properly,” Holoubek continues. “At the same time, I noticed that many employees did not understand their own innate strengths and, thus, were often misguided. I believed the issue was a lack of knowing how to do something about it and stemmed from not having an advocate or leader to address both sides in a constructive and sustainable manner. As a third party, I was in a unique position to be help these organizations and employees work together more effectively, creating mutually meaningful work engagements.”

“Though Bruce had been working with organizations as a contracted leader for some time, it wasn’t until sometime after we met that we discussed scaling the idea and turning it into a full-blown business,” notes Woodman-Holoubek. “Like Bruce, I’m also passionate about bringing change to organizations and creating mutually meaningful work engagements. My experience in human resources and talent acquisition really complemented his background.”

“But most of all, I could see the drive was coming from the right place, and she saw the same in me,” adds Holoubek. “It just made damn good sense to unite.”

Turning outsiders into insiders

The first thing you need to know about Contracted Leadership is that its experts are not consultants.

Instead, the company embeds its own team members for variable length engagements inside other companies. Together with the organization’s top key decision makers, the expert leadership team members assess the needs of the client company and then work side-by-side in various leadership positions and across various departments with employees to reach those needs, with the ultimate goal of internally aligning the organization to its desired market direction.

In one case, “one of our pharmaceutical clients was looking to get operations up to demand and, in their words, ‘build a culture of success,’” explains Woodman-Holoubek. “The business had some departments that were not functioning as well as they could have been, given the market direction of the organization. The company’s managing director needed to know what business systems they could modify to be more efficient. Because they needed assistance in several areas, they also just needed us to come in, assess their situation, provide recommendations, and execute them as part of the team.

“Once these issues were corrected, the organization grew very rapidly and we found ourselves facilitating the company into a 24/7 operation to meet demand that exceeded its original expectations,” she continues. “As we worked with this client, the needs of the organization changed, and we modified our roles to match those needs. In that case, we worked with the client for a few years.”

Holoubek says the first challenge contracted leaders face when stepping into a new organization is developing trust. However, because of how the contracted leaders operate and because there is a genuine commitment to creating mutually meaningful work relationships, trust is often built quickly.

“The next challenge our leaders face, interestingly enough, is being seen as an employee of the organization,” Holoubek continues. “Contracted leaders really do work ‘within’ the organization. They are there on a daily basis, so employees tend to view a contracted leader as just another employee. We fill a gap between the need for hiring an employee and engaging with a consultant, but because we are so visible and we support the company culture, we are seen as an employee. Because our leaders do support the organization in such a visible way and are not there to take a job away from anyone else, they rarely encounter resentment from the organization’s employees.”

Contracted Leadership contracts with clients for varying lengths of time. Some engagements have been as short as a few months, others several years. It all depends on what the client wants done and by when.

“Clients primarily drive the process and that is clearly communicated within the contract,” says Holoubek. “The transition process in its simplest form is this: We do not leave until any needed backfilling is complete and those people are effective and efficient in their roles. Even if all other aspects of the contract have been executed, we provide our services so the client is not left in a vulnerable state. Many times, however, the positions the company has in place when we leave are different than the ones they had when we first began working with them. As the organization evolves so does its infrastructure and framework.”



Ordering from the expertise menu

Obviously, not all job functions are the same, and leaders are required for a variety of areas within a company.

According to Woodman-Holoubek, Contracted Leadership provides contract leaders for all internal areas of a business, including manufacturing, operations, finance, human resources, supply chain, logistics, and IT/IS. “While we do not specifically provide contracted leaders in sales and marketing, we do offer support in innovation. Contracted leaders are expected to be experienced in a variety of functions and have a very solid background in leadership to be positioned to better help clients as needs arise.”

She says the company has a main group of five to six leaders and that number is growing as Contracted Leadership branches into other geographic areas, markets, and industries.

“Our leaders come from diverse backgrounds, but many come from highly regulated industries,” Woodman-Holoubek explains. “They choose to work with us instead of pursuing a permanent position with another company because they sincerely appreciate what we are doing. They feel that what we are doing is innovative and provides them flexibility in their personal and professional lives. Some of our contracted leaders go from one project to another while others take time off to work on passion projects, take a sabbatical, focus on family, or to care for an elderly parent. If they step away from working with us for some time, we always encourage them to contact us when they are ready to get involved again.”

Frequently a client wants a contracted leader to stay permanently. “While it is ultimately a decision between the client and contracted leader, it rarely comes to fruition,” says Holoubek. “That is because the contracted leader is wired differently. Their motivations and characteristics are more in line with creating change, reaching target metrics, establishing processes and systems to sustain those improvements, and then moving on to something different. They love the thrill of stepping into something new and making the most of it.

“I would also add that no positions are truly permanent in today’s labor landscape,” Holoubek says. “The US Department of Labor recently stated the average time in a job is now 4.4 years, which is shorter than some of our guaranteed contracts. The DOL also hinted at an emerging trend of employees being in a job just 2.2 years. We recognize that trend, and we give our contracted leaders flexibility and the opportunity to use their skills and expertise to transform organizations and develop people. All our leaders have said that it’s much more rewarding than working a more traditional job.”

But how does Contracted Leadership match its clients with experts that provide the best fit?

“We have various frameworks, methodologies, and a process that matches businesses with a contracted leader or a collaborative of contracted leaders,” notes Holoubek. “Our leaders are also chameleons in the sense that they can work at any place and with most any key decision-maker. Included in our signature process is a combination of strength assessments, metric goal achievement, experience-based assessments, leadership style, and culture fit coordination.”

“We also use personality assessments to help determine what people’s strengths are and how they’ll best be able to serve our client’s organization,” Woodman-Holoubek adds. “Some of these assessments, like Ideation, Xyte, and Myers-Briggs, all help us identify which of our team members will work with the organization. We assess our contracted leaders in group interviews to ensure they have a high level of accountability and self-awareness. Regardless of the organization’s needs, we’ve found that both qualities are critical in these kinds of roles.”

Filling the leadership void

There are numerous warning signs that a business needs some help, Holoubek says. Some of these include high labor turnover, diminishing or stagnating efficiencies, increasing absenteeism and tardiness, chronically missing deadlines or going over budget, poor conflict resolution, micromanaging … the list goes on.

“What all these warning signs have in common is that the organization is not in alignment,” Holoubek explains. “Its vision, mission, and values do not permeate every aspect of the business, or the way the mission and the values are executed does not resonate with the organization’s employees.

“One traditional solution that businesses might have tried is bringing in a consultant to identify what the problem areas are and to lay out a plan. However, because consultants are not fully integrated into the organization, the company may find it challenging to implement all aspects of the consultant’s plan without additional assistance. In the past, we have partnered with business consultants to help organizations integrate the consultant’s plan and make the programming stick. Our contracted leaders come to understand the needs of the organization as an employee would while still having a fresh, outside perspective. Because they truly have a foot in each world, they can transform aspects of the organization that a consultant alone wouldn’t be able to identify or change.”

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