Interim Management – Life at the Sharp End (Part 2)
The First Week
Never is the saying more true to the letter “There is no second chance for a first impression” than when you first enter your new company as an interim general manager. You prepared yourself well, you have your script and you have the necessary authorisation by the board. So you feel well prepared for the task. At this point, let me say a word about the dress code and I do not mean white tennis socks. You will have to fit in which means that if your client is a manufacturing SME in a more rural area of the country it is a bad idea to show up in Oxford shirt and pin-stripe suit. Do not overdress nor underdress.
The First Week – Day One and beyond
Most importantly, do not enter the company on your own, having to explain to the receiption-ist who you are. The chairperson of the company or his/her deputy is at the reception to meet you and introduce you to whoever they deem necessary on your way to the boardroom. There, the first meeting of the executive committee (on the contitent, the executive management members usually are not members of the board but members of the executive committee or Vorstand as it is called in Germany) will start immediately. The situation is different if mas-sive lay-offs are necessary. These have to be prepared before the first day and the executive meeting serves as a last briefing about the script for the information meeting with the entire staff. So let’s assume that the following is a company without the need for mass-layoffs to balance the situation.
After the introduction round which has to be broad to give you a feeling about the character of every person present in the room you start with the first meeting, after having explained a few ground rules some of which may seem like trivia but you will need to establish yourself as the new boss immediately.
1. All personnel hirings and redundancies go over your desk. Replacements need your au-thorisation.
2. There is an investment moratorium until you have a full grasp of the situation.
3. You want daily sales reports and liquidity statements plus weekly financial key figures until further notice.
4. By the end of day three you want a list of all the products listed in order of their mar-gins and yearly sales (sorely enough, many SMEs do not know on which products they earn money and on which they loose it). If it is such a company, the demand usually sends shock-waves through the finance department.
5. You want resumes of all key employees by the evening of the following day.
6. Each attending executive has to list the three top priorities/problems of his/her depart-ment right in the meeting.
7. Executive meetings have a structured agenda along the functional lines. Quality assur-ance and quality control are standing items on the agenda as are investments.
8. Last but not least, minutes: You let the person write the minutes who usually did so in the past and you decide who will do so in the future after you have seen the draft. The minutes have to give the key arguments in the discussion of every agenda item and the decisions taken, without dwelling on the subject. In my last blog I mentioned the importance of hedging your legal exposure. Minutes are a cornerstone in doing so; consider them to be a legal document.
After the executive meeting it is time to go round the company starting with the shop-floor, then HR, marketing and sales, finance and finally IT. A meeting with your immediate direct reports (e.g. PA, secretary etc.) concludes the day. Not for you; you will have to revise your script, complete action lists and fill your work schedule which will help you for your own re-porting to the board as well as the invoicing.
Numbers, Numbers – People, People
The priorities of the remains of the first week are numbers and people. This is because you will need all possible accounting and statistical information to get the full picture of the situation and to be able to identify the problems. Your foremost priority is to confirm the diagnosis or to modify it. This means a lot of number crunching in cost accounting and balance sheet analysis. Which are the problems? Where are they hidden? Remember, the therapy starts only after the diagnosis has been corroborated. Once you have established the A-list of problems, you will have to think about the next steps. And, in doing so it is helpful if you have a struc-tured approach with check-lists. We will expand on this next time. Whatever structure you choose, always watch out for quick wins.
Why people? Apart from establishing which problem you have to tackle your other uppermost priority is to man the bridge of the ship with the right crew and therefore the call for resumes of key people earlier on. The question here is “skill and will”. This you can only find out in individual discussions. You will have to decide who is not up to the task and who is but has reservations about change. Interim-management jobs after all are invariably about change. You need a crew who want and who can. Don’t take me wrong, I do not advocate hiring and firing but the steering crew has to be top or as we say here, the fish starts to stink at the head. This you want to rectify.
Next time we will talk about the structured approach and company myths.
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