Table of Contents


The nine-step approach to problem-solving  -p21-

Step 1 · What is the problem? -p25-

  • Understanding and defining the current situation -p25-

Step 2 · How did the business get to where it is today? -p35-

  • Looking at the past to understand the current situation  -p35-

Step 3 · Cash, culture and competence -p43-

  • Examining your client’s foundations -p43-
  • Financial position and degree of independence -p43-
  • Assessing your human resources -p46-
  • Why we miss the obvious -p51-
  • Repeated failure and a lack of resources -p53-
  • Considering culture and its influence on change -p57-

Step 4 · What are the aspirations of the business and its managers? -p61-

  • Understanding the long term objectives of the business,to ensure the compatability of proposed solutions -p61-

Step 5 · Decision time -p71-

  • Deciding what issues should be tackled first
  • and is the business fully committed? -p71-
  • Finding the decision-makers hidden agenda -p72-
  • Decision-making meetings-p79-
  • Conference calls -p84-

Step 6 · Structuring the solution -p87-

  • Building a solution plan and creating the project -p87-
  • Getting it down on paper: the Project Charter -p88-
  • The Project Charter introduction -p90-
  • Summary -p94-
  • Confusing milestones and goals -p94-
  • Building a detailed project plan -p98-
  • The concept of a team -p99-

Step 7 · Resourcefulness, recruitment and commitment -p107-

  • Ensuring you have the right people, resources and commitment -p107-
  • Resourcefulness or ‘how to make the most of what we are’ -p107-
  • Resourcefulness with cash and clear thinking –p109-
  • Ensuring commitmeent -p118-
  • Removing blockers -p121-

Step 8 · Implementing the solution -p131-

  • Staying on track and keeping focused on the objectives -p131-
  • The triple constraint -p132-
  • Avoiding scope creep -p135-
  • Solving ‘insurmountable’ problems -p136-
  • Long-term projects -p143-

Step 9 · Assessing the results -p147-

  • Measuring success by comparing results with our client’s aspirations -p147-
  • Keeping focus on the things that matter -p150-

People, skills and Guidelines -p157-

1. Personal Development -p161-

  • Who are you – and why are you the way you are? -p161-
  • Is your life in balance? -p163-
  • Are you successful? -p165-
  • Where are you going? Planning your future  -p171-

2. Interim Management -p175-

  • The strategic role of an interim manager and why they are needed -p175-
  • The ten attributes of a good interim manager -p180-
  • Why is there always work for a good interim manager? -p182-
  • The difference between consultants and interim managers -p185-
  • Crisis managers and interim managers -p187-
  • The first 48 hours of an interim management assignment -p188-
  • Identifying repetitive problems -p191-

3. Managing People -p197-

  • Considering turnover (the loss of team members and staff) -p197-
  • Managing difficult people -p199-
  • Firing people -p200-
  • Nice manager or tough manager? -p204-
  • People who do not want solutions -p207-

4. Pragmatic management tools and guidelines -p209-

  • Building and nurturing a social network -p209-
  • Coping with cultural differences -p212-
  • Working with entrepreneurs -p215-
  • Handling boredom -p217-
  • Working hours and efficiency -p219-
  • A final tip to solving problems -p221-

Glossary -p225-

Content from the Foreword:

In life we are faced with all kinds of problems and challenges.  Most mature businesses adopt a project methodology or culture for tackling them.  The problem is that even with a sophisticated project structure, the final deliverables (assuming that we genuinely achieve them) are so often disappointing.

Some wise people say that there is no such thing as a problem, there are only opportunities.  I personally think that is glib nonsense!  Of course some problems, concerns or worries (whatever you want to call them) are more challenging than others and their solution may provide new opportunities.  But a problem is a problem and it needs to be solved in a serious and non-flippant manner.

Typically interim managers are brought into companies to solve three main kinds of problems:

Recurring problems: problems that for some reason keep coming back, despite efforts to resolve them.  (Common examples of these include quality, customer satisfaction, personnel issues, disappointing sales or financial results and cash flow difficulties).

Opportunistic problems: problems that require taking hard decisions: crossroad decisions where often there are only two or three options, each with its own complex or even undesired consequences.  These are often ‘one time, no return’ decisions linked to a problem that can sometimes be considered as a genuine opportunity.

Change problems: problems linked to the need for a business to change.  These may be triggered by the emergence of new competition or by the introduction of new technologies in order to remain competitive, etc… Change problems are usually handled in the form of projects.

In this book I will show you how to step back and observe a business and its issues from a distance.  I will offer techniques to help you become more objective in your decision making, and to create a structure that will allow you and those around you to solve problems in a structured and efficient way.  The simple hands-on method that I put forward works in practice.  It does not require a drastic and implausible personality change.  Your colleagues, staff and family may indeed see a change in your approach and also maybe in your behavior, but they will be motivated by what they see and be more willing to become part of the solution.  They will most likely adapt to the new structure you propose, possibly even claiming it as their own.

To support the arguments and theories posed, especially my own, I will often give examples both on a business and personal level, in order to clarify a point I am making.  These personal stories and recollections are printed in italics so the reader can skip them if desired.

In my experience, those who go furthest in life are those who are open to learning from others.  Learning from gurus is ok but I prefer learning from successful predecessors, peers and colleagues, observing their successes and just as important their failures.

Winners in business are those who genuinely put their stakeholders or customers first and who provide real solutions that not only work, but also deliver the results they need rather than what one merely thinks they want.  These are the people who can really make a difference, so long as they have the skills to influence their environment enough to make and maintain the necessary changes.  Good interim managers who are able to shape their environment are the people who enhance a company’s performance and thus the shareholders’ net worth.  As such, they are able to negotiate very attractive remuneration packages or daily fees. back to top

The First 48 Hours of an Assignment:

The following extract is taken as an example text from the middle of the First 48 hours section:

Matching the ‘explained situation’ from the client to the reality

Early on in assignments I look for obvious signs of possible mismatches and hidden truths in the statements contained in the departure point.  Often mismatches are blatantly obvious; in the case of Datatronics the CEO told me that he didn’t really need a COO because his secretary was running a ‘very tight ship’ and that in fact it was only a suggestion of the Shareholder Board of Directors that he should bring in a COO.  When in reality what I noticed by simply walking around the offices was that there were often empty boxes lying around, In trays were overflowing, the average number of unread email per person was rather high, the toilets were not cleaned properly and that extra toilet rolls were simply lying in a box on the toilet room floor.  When you phoned the company it took a long time for it to answer, and when it was, it was often by someone unqualified to do so.

Once a pattern of over optimistic truth is discovered at high level, everyone in the business will know that this is a trait of the CEO; it then becomes realistic to assume that this optimism might well travel right through the business.  In urgent situations, most employees will be nervous about their future, and will be keen to show you that the current troubles are ‘not their fault’.  But none the less a quick look at the reporting procedures can give an indication of how accurate the information flow is through and around the company.  A lack of formal reporting with feedback and responses, can mean that nothing is reliable and that the situation is the result of the fact that the company is generically mismanaged (often as a result from growing very quickly, via investment, rather than financial success).

A strange and yet worrying factor I have often noticed in small fast growth companies is that few people are really ‘managed’ and this means that almost certainly all the information you receive will be completely the experience of the giver rather than the truth.  In this situation there are no truths, only opinions.

Other interesting matches and mismatches can be:

1. Organization Charts:  Ask the CEO to sketch one for you. Does it match the one on the website and/or in the company manual? But more importantly, as you speak to people, you need to ask them who they report to and who reports to them.  More often than not the ‘imagined’ Organization Chart of the CEO is quite different from the reality.
 2. Sales Figures. Try matching the CEO’s given figures to the actual sales invoices; even if the numbers match, what percentage of the invoices are ‘real’ sales as defined in the sales strategy?  In Datatronics, as much as 30 percent of the sales were ‘peripherals’ (such as hardware or training) and not actual software licenses.
3. Customer satisfaction. Try matching the information given to the actual sales invoices. Do you see credit notes, and non payments in the crucial area of software sales?  –  What percentage of customers sign up to software support contracts after the first year, and at what price? Is it in line with the percentage given in the sales model?
4. Costs.  The CEO’s in unsuccessful companies often seriously underestimate their real costs.  See if you can match his verbal figure to reality.  A glance at the bank balances, in combination with the sales invoices and the payments outstanding, will begin to show you the real picture.

If you are lucky, the explained and the reality will match, but experience shows me that this is often not the case.  No one likes to be told they are lying, or doing a bad job, so the Interim Manager needs to absorb and not comment at this very early stage. back to top

The Difference Between a CEO, COO and an Interim Manager:

Some interim managers are brilliant at identifying the weaknesses of an entrepreneurial idea and working them through until the idea becomes strong enough to launch.  But most are simply people who pick up on a good idea and get a kick out of making it happen.  I see interim managers as temporary COOs (Chief Operations Officers), logical organisers who use their blend of operational skills and emotional intelligence to roll a plan into action.  An interim manager can also step in as CEO for a while, especially if there is something that needs fixing from the top down.  But once that is fixed, he or she will more than likely get bored and eventually become less effective as they find themselves slipping more and more into routine activities.

30 second Theatre :

Let’s have a party (The difference between a CEO and COO)

CEO: ‘Let’s have a party’!
COO : ‘Great idea, when?’
CEO: ‘Tomorrow’
COO:  ‘Tomorrow?! No, no, that’s far too soon’
CEO: (irritated) ‘Why’?
COO: ‘because, we’re broke, we’re going to need a sponsor, a theme, a venue and a reason’!
CEO: ‘you’re so negative, why can’t we just do it’?
COO: ‘We can, but not tomorrow.  In June when the weather’s fine, everyone’s getting into holiday mood, the market will be ready and we can do it outdoors and save the cost of hiring an hotel – who likes stuffy hotels anyway?’
CEO: (dejected) ‘Oh God, you’re right as always.  Just make sure you remember the party was my idea’!

An interim manager should be able to easily take the role of COO in this play, but will never be able to play the CEO, because an interim manager gets far too big a kick out of getting things done, whereas the CEO hates anything logistical and ‘boring’.  On the day of the party the CEO will be out front welcoming everyone, and if the COO is lucky he might get some kind of acknowledgement afterwards, on the lines of:

CEO: (still fired up)  ‘That was a great party! we should have one every month’!
COO: (exhausted) ‘Right, I don’t think so! back to top