Interim Management – Life at the Sharp End of the Business
Today, one of our certified iCEOs, interim manager Peter Wolf shares his experiences as interim manager. This insight view gives you interesting and helpfull tipps as to the expectations of the client company and how to prepare an interim assignment.
Not for the fainthearted
For the past thirteen years I had been working as a management consultant and interim manager in Switzerland, France, Germany and the UK. Therefore, this is a practitioner’s view about change management under aggravated conditions typical in interim management situations.
When you work as an interim manager you inevitably end up working for companies which have a problem or two, either their profit and liquidity had gone south – sometimes over years, sometimes quite rapidly – they have a blatant leadership problem or in the best case scenario, there is a vacancy due to illness or accident which has to be filled immediately for a limited pe-riod of time. In any case, it is bit like parachuting into the jungle, not knowing wich of the swamps and wild beasts you read about will expect you. A union lady once asked me: “Now that you have been flown in here, what are you going to do about it?” and a manufacturing di-rector in France, with French eloquence: “Eh bien, monsieur, est-ce que les choses vont changer du brut au brutal?” In both instances a mixture of fear and reservation was tangible.
With ample experience in the health care sector and pharmaceutical industry I compare the company’s situation with a patient sitting in a consultant’s hospital surgery, waiting to be diagnosed and treated. The difference of course is that the company speaks with many voices and what’s more, most of those voices have their own hidden agenda. A patient has usually seen a GP before being referred to the specialised doctor for his disease. Hence, there is already a diagnosis albeit sometimes the wrong one. The company has its bunch of GPs, too, namely the auditors, the banks and sometimes a strategy consultant who needs a guy implementing the strategy change by applying some surgery. And, the quality of the initial diagnosis differs widely. Whichever metaphor you use to describe the situation, you need to be a quick adapter and to have a keen survival instinct.
Before the First Day
Preparation is paramount. Apart from information gathering about the situation there are a number of issues which have to be clarified:
1. Set-up of the assignment. This is important not only because it defines how the employees view you and the clout you will have but also because of your legal exposure. Not surprising, the higher up the hierarchy, the riskier the situation for the interim manager. You will need to build in some safeguards in your contract (financial authority and type of decisions which need board approval) and the company needs to cover you in their D&O insurance policy. To your dismay you will sometimes discover they do not have one, but that is another story.
2. Know the expectations of the stakeholders. Banks, shareholders and management can have quite different views about what should be done depending on their particular stake in the company.
3. You need to get a picture of the situation as detailed as possible. So, speak to as many parties beforehand as possible to know the expectations and more important, the motives behind them.
4. Layoffs: Careful about employment law regulations and procedures. Your case has to be watertight.
5. Communication! I cannot stress enough the fact of a communication strategy with clear statements and an unambiguous language about the situation of the company, the objectives to be achieved with the interim manager. Part of this strategy is a script which details at length the actions of the days immediately before and after your start in the company. If the funds of the company permit it, the help of a communication consultant is recommended.
6. As everybody can imagine, time is of the essence. It’s always critical, but never more so than if a company is in financial distress or utter disarray. So you have to get your facts together real quick and the pace has to be fast all the way through.
About the author: Peter is an interim manager, management consultant and entrepreneur. After an international career in life sciences industry working for Swiss and US multinational groups he started his own company, Management Support, in 1996 in Basel/Switzerland. Since then he had consulted with numerous clients in industry, the health care sector and services. As an interim manager he helped change organisations in difficult circumstances, optimised business processes as a project manager and consultant and co-founded companies in the biotech and service sector, with successful trade exits and an IPO. He holds a PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Berne and an MSc in Business Studies from Warwick University. This blog on Interim Management has first been published on www.managementsushi.com