The airplane is steadily gaining altitude. Where villages and fields were still visible at the beginning, scenic details are now increasingly interwoven into a single large carpet of color. The first wisps of clouds whiz past the wingtips—the signal to unbuckle sounds. A journey begins.
Our interim manager is on a flight from Zurich to São Paulo. Let's call her Helena. The mid-forties woman has nine months of work abroad ahead of her. She knows Brazil, the cultural customs, and the subtleties in communication that one should pay attention to in the workplace. For her, however, in addition to an exciting and challenging assignment, it will also be a long time without her family and friends, without her familiar surroundings at home, apart from occasional flights home.
How do interim executives spend their time on foreign assignments? How can they efficiently use their time on the ground to deliver top performance? And: What makes interim managers so attractive for companies on foreign assignments?
Cultural differences: Challenge and opportunity The greatest challenge in any foreign assignment is to adapt to the cultural differences and the differences of the respective region. Recognizing differences in mentality and acting accordingly is enormously important, especially regarding management tasks. This is where experience is needed. Successful project management abroad is only possible through the right communication with the team. That’s because employees need to feel optimally addressed and "welcomed" to achieve the best possible results in the team. The right words, the right signs, and the right actions at the right time - all this is also necessary, all this is part of a perfectly executed mandate, even when working abroad. Especially in negotiations, intercultural experience in dealing with people from the respective country is enormously important. After all, a Chinese partner will have completely different behavioral patterns and strategies than a South American counterpart at the negotiating table. All these aspects speak for the use of a suitable interim manager who already has experience in the country in question and is proficient in intercultural management. Moreover, interim managers are already skilled at quickly familiarizing themselves with new corporate structures and cultures. These skills are particularly valuable in foreign assignments. After all, it is not uncommon for an urgent problem to need to be solved quickly. Change of perspective A change of perspective brought about by intercultural exchange can help to find completely new approaches to solve existing problems. By being outside his or her usual environment and interacting with other industry experts, an interim manager can additionally generate innovative ideas. After all, experiencing new environments and situations stimulates creativity. A clear focus on the task It is also profitable for companies that the scope of an interim manager's tasks is always clearly defined. This is no different from an assignment abroad. The interim manager is informed in detail about the purpose of his assignment and can share his knowledge and experience on-site with his new colleagues. What's more, they are not involved in the company's political processes. Many interim executives also rarely have evening commitments during an assignment abroad. Since the assignment is limited in time anyway, he or she does not have any false expectations about a possible promotion after returning. The framework conditions are therefore clearly defined in advance. This creates room for full concentration on the task on site. Deep Work Competitive athletes know: Top performance is only possible when we can fully focus on a goal. It's no different in the business world. Although our brain is designed for complex and creative tasks, we get often disturbed at work. Meetings, emails, etc. - the net time for the core business often remains amazingly low. We are just back in a task - bang, the next interruption. The focus is gone for the time being. It takes 15 minutes on average until we have reached the post-concentration level again. Interim managers must master the art of focused concentration. They should be able to bundle and evaluate information in the shortest possible time and then make decisive decisions. They can block out unimportant information and concentrate on the essentials. The clear objectives and time limits of a mandate alone require this approach. Top performers know what it feels like to devote their entire attention to one task for a while. Putting everything else aside, making full use of one's experience and mental capacities - can be very inspiring. Interim managers usually use an assignment abroad to devote themselves even more intensively to their tasks. Family and friends are far away. That leaves a lot of time that can be used efficiently. The situation is similar for interim managers who live in Zurich, for example and are on assignment for their clients in Geneva. The difference is that they can see their loved ones at least every weekend. In addition, there is often enough space between two mandates for family, friends, and relaxation. Our interim manager Helena is also doing some self-care in Brazil. After her intensive assignment in São Paulo, she will spend a week concentrating only on herself at a yoga retreat. She really deserves the time out. Balance and inspiration Interim managers must adapt to new circumstances at lightning speed. This requires a certain basic openness. Getting into a conversation with people you would never have met otherwise. A new route for the morning "run" through a perhaps still completely unknown part of town. Or a new workout program at the hotel. It always pays to try something new. Many interim managers deliberately take advantage of these opportunities to challenge themselves on assignments abroad. And who knows - maybe a conversation during the morning workout will turn into an interesting business meeting and you will not only have used the time entertainingly but also made an important contact. Some interim managers also use their time on assignments abroad for additional personal or professional development. Podcasts, trade journals, or whitepapers are the ideal companions for the time away.
What do you do when you're on a business trip? Would you like to tell us about it? We're eager to hear about your experiences and tips! Feel free to leave us a comment or write us a message.