In the Mind of an Interim Manager

So you feel like being an interim manager? How brave are you? Do you fancy putting on a fire suit and parachuting into an organisation to sell an asset, buy an asset, take cost out of the business or execute on a previously defined strategy; a strategy that perhaps is going wrong?

So you’re talking with the board, and they’ve given you the problem to resolve. The Board in effect have also said to the management team that they might not have the capability (i.e. skill set) or perhaps the capacity (time) to deliver on a critical issue within their business. In today’s market, those things are critical. And they need delivery not just now – but yesterday.

Your first task is to speak to the board, and define some clear and unmistakeable outcomes in a timeframe that’s agreeable to yourself and the board. Don’t leave grey areas; be succinct and robust. Define the objectives and ensure everyone understands them.

Next critical issue – you walk into that organisation and be laser-like in your focus. You know what you have to do and you know there’ll be obstacles. In short, you have to get beyond the politics. People will be protective of their area; even if they are not under threat, they’ll be looking to reassure you, the interim executive, that their role is under control (because they know you are in a position of power).

Avoid the politics; don’t allow for false friends or the bureaucracy to get in your way. Above all – do not allow for personal distractions. You’re there for a short term to deliver and you’re there at the request of the board. Everyone on the inside will be watching you.

The top issues that nearly all boards are looking to accomplish in the present economic environment are an improvement in cash flow, improvement in enterprise value and improvement in transparency of the business’ present performance.

There might be an implication that they’re not satisfied with the present organisation and perhaps not satisfied with some of the management team who are involved. So you have to deliver. You have to keep the board informed of your progress. Do this on a regular basis and ensure you manage stakeholders.

Second, be time conscious. You’re an expensive, important investment in this business’ future. Don’t mess around; give your complete 100% attention to the matter and ensure you’re in early and finish late.

One of the obstacles you’re going to run up against is people who are blockers (i.e. protective of their roles). You’ve been given authority either by the executive team or the board to deliver a change. Ensure you do. You have authority – use it.

Establish measuring systems that allow all parties to transparently understand how you’re moving from one position to another. You’re basically producing a window to their future and you need to take people on a journey. Ensure they’re fully informed and you overcome the obstacles. The old line that you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelette is never truer in the interim management space, so you have to be strong in character in order to deliver.

Finally, always remember that you’re building a sustainable change, not a one-off change. You have to have the people, processes and measurement tools in place. You also need buy-in from key stakeholders; particularly employees who are going to maintain ‘the change’, in order for your objective to be maintained long after you are gone.

As a measure of success, you want to be able to stand behind something and believe in 18 months’ time that the change is going to be permanent.

In interim management above all remember this: no guts, no glory.

Steve Hogan was a former Director at Vantage Performance – an award winning, national business transformation and turnaround firm with proven success in solving complex financial, operational and people performance issues. 

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