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As I work with people building a Portfolio Executive workstyle, one of the biggest challenges I come across is “how do you maintain a role part-time?”.  In this article I explore what is different from full-time and what stays the same.  This requires both a mindset shift and a challenging balancing act.

The challenge of being absent

If you have had a full-time corporate role then you are used to holding full responsibility, being able to dive down into the detail and sorting out whatever arises. You are used to having a team at your beck and call to assist you.  Now you are stepping in to a part-time executive role where you are responsible for a significant function in the business.  How do you avoid being caught up in the detail?  How do you avoid becoming too operational in an organisation that has a relatively small team? I suggest that there are three strands and that a three stranded cord holds strong.

Strand 1 –  trusted advisor to the CEO

The most important, crucial, strand, (which I explore in more detail elsewhere) is being a trusted advisor to the CEO.  The CEO is bringing you in because they need deep knowledge in your area of expertise.  For example, they may know something about sales, but they have never run a sales function, know something about marketing but never run a marketing function or know something about HR, but never run a HR function.  You are the trusted advisor to the CEO ensuring your function is fit for purpose for the current business and ready to grow in capability ready for the next stage of the business.  You need to invest time in building that trusted advisor relationship with the CEO.

Strand 2 – capability maturity projects

The second strand is executing a series of projects to improve the capability maturity of your function within the business.  I use the term capability maturity advisedly and I will discuss in more detail what capability maturity means for the role of portfolio executives.  Suffice to say, this is a series of short projects that are going to improve the ability of your function to perform over time. For example, as the part-time sales director your first project could be to ensure that there is a proper lead generation process.  Lead generation will not be your responsibility as sales director.  However, you work with the head of marketing to ensure that there is strong collaboration between the marketing activity and the leads that it generates into your sales function.  You will run a project, part-time, over a series of weeks or months, to ensure that there is a ‘best in class’ lead generation capability within the business, tightly integrated to the sales processes of lead qualification and opportunity development.  Once this capability is in place, you step back to monitoring and managing. The marketing team and your sales team should be taking operational responsibility.

Strand 3 – operational management

The third strand is ongoing operational management.  You should set up effective exception reporting that enables you to manage the people in your team.  You can then ensure that, month in month out, they are delivering to the plans that you have developed with them. Often when you start in a new role, the existing reporting will be extremely limited.  You may also find that the goals of your team members are poorly developed.  Your focus will be to ensure they are doing the right things and doing them right.  You will ensure that their activities are properly aligned to the wider goals of the business (doing the right things) and that they are done effectively and efficiently (doing them right).

Bring the three strands together

These three strands enable you to sustain a part-time role.  If you get caught up with execution and delivery, then you will never be able to sustain a part-time role.  If as sales director, you are going out on lots of sales calls, you will never be able to sustain a part-time role. If as marketing director you are writing lots of content, you will never be able to sustain a part-time role.  If as a finance director you are putting together the reconciliations for the month end accounts, you will never be able to sustain a part-time role.

From time to time, you might have to dig deep down into the detail or build new processes or fire fight, but you must work hard to avoid being sucked into a full-time operational role.   Your responsibility is for building the capability maturity of your function and ensuring that, through your trusted advice to the CEO, they know what that function should deliver over time.

That is how you develop the mindset you need and respond to the balancing act of being part-time.


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.