Why Understanding Domain Expertise Is the Secret to Hiring Fractionally (MIchelle Albon)

In Academia, it's easy to pin down experts by their title (Professor, Lecturer, Chief Scientist...) and there are specific milestones (undergraduate, masters, doctorate degree...) which define an individual's level of expertise within their field. 

But in Business, things aren't nearly as clear-cut. 

It's easy to say that we're usually operating more on art than science—but when you look a little deeper, the truth is that all Founders and CEOs rely deeply on measurable, tested theory from a small group of experts in their inner circle whose experience can guide a company to grow and thrive—or if poorly executed, can cause it to go under. 

Whether these experts sit directly on their Board, in their Executive Team, or adjunct as Advisors or Fractional Leaders, business owners have always known that when they bring in someone they trust to steer, it's important to know exactly which kind of business "potholes" that person has seen before, to ensure they are skilled enough to help them navigate.

Picking the Right Category to Hire For

How do you know when you're hiring a Fractional Leader in business, that you're getting a "Professor" instead of a Teacher's Assistant—or someone with the equivalent PHD in the problems you're looking to solve?

It all comes down to vetting their Domain Expertise, and being clear on which categories you need support in the most.

In Business fundamentals, the macro categories of Domain Expertise are always the same: executive (CEO), finance, sales, marketing, operations, legal, product, HR/people, and engineering/technology.

Within each of those Domains, there are endless levels of specialization by industry - and especially in the technology field, there are many cross-functional roles that will report into one domain, but serve multiple. A few examples of that might be “growth,” “enablement”, “transformation,” “design,” “community” or “creative.”

These may appear to be standalone functions, but just as a specialized academic degree will still fall under a single or dual-major department, each business function ultimately bubbles up into a major “Line of Business” domain. 

Correctly scoping out your need and placing the right domain expertise into your business by category is critical for the success of a Fractional engagement. It helps differentiate a Fractional Leader as the owner of a line of business' strategy and operational teams (where applicable), and draws a clear contrast to the more cross-functional role of a Consultant, where “staying in your lane” and directly leading teams isn’t as important to achieving the required business outcomes.

Titling & Strategically Positioning a Fractional Role

Identifying the domain areas in a business that are your biggest "gaps," and where you need to bring in extra reinforcement is great a first step. But then the challenge becomes figuring out what title to use and how to position a Fractional Leader into your org chart. 

This is where the art comes back in, since what you choose to title a Fractional Leader will look different depending on the size, stage, maturity, and global region of the business you're leading.

As a rule of thumb, if you are a Founder or CEO there are 3 broad strategic areas to consider when positioning a Fractional Leader into your company:

Do you need the individual to support:

  • Growth / Revenue
  • Reduction of Risk
  • Operational Efficiency / Innovation 

Within each of these strategic areas, there are both generalist and specialist roles that align to the macro categories of Domain Expertise. A Fractional Executive is a generalist - holding a title equivalent to "Head of Department" in academic terms, overseeing the entire domain at an executive level. 

Here is an example of some Fractional Executive titles that fit into each category:

  • Growth/Revenue: fCRO, fCMO, fCCO
  • Reduction of Risk: fCHRO (or Head of People), fGeneral Counsel, fCFO 
  • Operational Efficiency / Innovation: fCOO, fCTO, fCAIO, fCPO

A Fractional Leader still operates as an expert, but will "specialize" within a domain. Often, they directly report to a Founder or CEO, or support the generalist department where there is already an executive in place.

Here are some examples of Fractional Leader titles:

  • Growth/Revenue: fMarketing Leader, fProduct Marketing Leader, fGrowth Leader, fSales Leader
  • Reduction of Risk: fSecurity Officer, fPeople Leader, fLearning & Development
  • Operational Efficiency / Innovation: fEngineering Leader, fDesign Leader, fCreative Leader, fProduct Manager

As the field of Business evolves, we'll likely to continue to see more and more specializations and titles for people who are domain experts within their individual industries. However, one thing that isn't going to change anytime soon is the top end categories ("departments") these skills bubble up into—which is why it's important as a CEO or Founder to both correctly identify which domain you're hiring for, and determine what degree of specialization and expertise you need in your Fractional hire.

By Definition: Fractionals are Domain Experts

Regardless of their specific title, by definition Fractional Leaders serve as trusted Domain Experts in their area of business.

They also understand that in modern business context, they don't need to be committed to a company full-time to effectively lead in their domain and be trusted to steer. 

That’s why working with a Fractional Leader can be a paradigm shifting experience, as we've never before had such an agile model to integrate domain experts into how we lead companies. With thousands of top experts around the globe now choosing to operate with this title, it's a no-brainer why so many Executives and their Boards are now looking to better understand Fractional as part of their hiring strategy.   


  1. I agree that the fractional concept is certainly gaining momentum. I do think a fractional role that should be added to the discussion in the Growth/Revenue category is the fractional partnerships or business development officer. For many companies, ecosystem-led growth is just as important as product-led growth. While the partnerships leader has traditionally been under the CRO function, there is an emerging trend of having the partner leader at the "officer" level.


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