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ASK THE CAPITALIST: Are "Acting" or "Interim" Titles Ever A Good Idea?

A reader asks...

Hi Kris -

Do you have an opinion on the use of “acting” in title?  A situation has come up where two ppl in an org would be made “acting”…one person – we’ll call her Abby - would be moving into here boss's role and the boss (Maggie) would be moving to a higher level position.  Maggie didn’t seek out the new role, it was offered to her when the position opened up.  It’s fair to say that Maggie has already been somewhat serving in the higher level position, but without the title or pay, which is why she is the CEO’s pick to fill the role.  As part of succession planning, Abby has been groomed for Maggie’s role for years.  The rub is that the CEO isn’t sure whether she’s the right person to take over for Maggie so he wants to make Abby “acting” and feels it would be cleaner if Maggie is “acting” too.  FWIW, the CEO asked Maggie to commit two years to the role and Maggie has agreed to one year and reevaluating at that time.  Any strong opinions on this?

--Sarah from Syracuse


Hey Sarah - 

Well, you've got a lot going on, don't you?

Here’s my take on the use of acting in this situation. Lucy

1. “Acting” in any role is a crutch when you either aren't sure someone can do the job, or 100% know that it won’t work out, but you need the butt in the seat.

2.  In the scenario you’ve laid out, your CEO’s use of acting for Abby seems appropriate, but if the CEO is sure that Maggie is a fit, he should place her in the role without the interim tag.  She’s already got a commitment issue to the role you want her to move into, and the “acting” tag is going to allow her to bail mentally if times get tough.

3.  I’d put Abby into the “acting” role for a quarter and make definitive call at that time.  If you drag it out past that, odds are you’ll end up with commitment and employee relations issues from Abby as well.

4.  What happens at the end of the one year period for Maggie if she doesn't want to stay in the job? I’d avoid talking about periods of commitment for specific jobs, it just leads to the aforementioned commitment issues once that period is up.

5. Will you take care of Maggie if she’s key and it doesn’t work out?  Sure. I’m just not convinced that talking about a one or two year commitment is the right way to go.  Stalin had a 5-year plan – that didn’t work out well for him.

Bottom line – put Abby in the “acting” tag and make your call in 3 months, at the same time put Maggie in the higher role with no “acting” tag and stop acting like she has the ability to come back down the org, even if she secretly does.

It’s all Jedi-mind tricks and Doug Henning-like illusions in the show.




Kimberlee, no longer Esq.

This is an interesting situation! But I sort of disagree. I think "interim" or "acting" titles should ONLY be used when you are explicitly interviewing and hiring other people for the job. If they're not 100% sold on Abby, but willing to give her a chance, then she should get the full title, because they're willing to give her a chance. Sure, you'll need to keep an eye on progress for a few months, but, like, you were gonna do that anyway, right? With whoever you hired into the new role?

If you need a butt in the chair but you don't want to hire the person into the role, then you can call them Acting or Interim. If they knock it out of the park and, after interviewing some other people, you think the Acting person would be a great fit after all, you can still hire them! Or at least try to! Chances are, if that person was interested 3 months ago, got rejected, but has been doing the job really well for 3 months, they'll be thrilled at the opportunity, not miffed that you interviewed others and gave them a chance to shine in the meantime.

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