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Interim Manager: Key to Success in Dynamic Business Environments

Today's business world is characterized by rapid change and a constant need for adaptation. This presents a challenge for companies to select and deploy personnel so that management and teams can meet these dynamic demands. In this interview, Jürgen Kramer provides insights into the profession of interim management.  Swiss Interim Management: How do the projects you take on as an interim manager differ from those you handle as a permanent employee?


Jürgen Kramer:  Interim managers are often engaged in specific project-based tasks requiring an external perspective and specialized expertise. These tasks usually demand independent decision-making and swift implementation. Good interim managers bring fresh ideas and new approaches because they know their engagement is temporary and their solutions must be effective. Additionally, they can operate largely without bias, free from the long-standing relationships within the company.


I like to use the analogy of a catalyst in chemistry to illustrate the role of an interim manager. A catalyst facilitates a reaction by lowering the activation energy and accelerating the process. Similarly, an interim manager initiates and implements changes and improvements for the company. They work smartly and with experience, staying as uninvolved as possible in internal political structures and long-term commitments. This neutral, catalytic position allows them to act efficiently and purposefully, essential for quickly completing projects successfully.


 Swiss Interim Management: Can you give a specific example of a successful project where your role as an interim manager was crucial?


Jürgen Kramer:  One company was in a tense financial situation, but within a year, we brought it back into profitability. We optimized the product range, conducted a detailed analysis of portfolio profitability, and adjusted the pricing strategy. A SWOT analysis helped us identify new business opportunities. Another critical step was focusing on valuable customer relationships, as the company had previously tried to please too many customers, leading to suboptimal results. Communicating with customers as an interim manager was a great advantage because I wasn’t personally biased.


Another example is an IT company with a complex and difficult-to-understand product. We trained the sales team to clearly communicate the product's value and ROI to leads. This not only boosted sales but also established a sustainable culture of collaboration within the team, especially between marketing, engineering, and sales. A good interim manager should leave behind a functioning structure. Like a catalyst, they accelerate necessary changes and processes without becoming a long-term part of the organization. After their assignment, teams have clear goals and know how to achieve them. The interim manager brings fresh perspectives and leaves behind lasting improvements that continue to have an impact after their departure.

 Additionally, a good interim manager fosters cultural and methodological development. It's about breaking down knowledge silos and promoting a willingness to collaborate.


 Swiss Interim Management: What specific challenges have you encountered as an interim manager in mid-sized companies, and how did you overcome them?


Jürgen Kramer:  A common challenge is the initial concerns or reluctance from the existing leadership. These concerns are understandable since change can bring uncertainty. It's crucial to gain the trust of the employees while also involving and securing explicit support from the leadership team. An interim manager often brings a broader perspective and innovative, yet proven approaches, leading to the desired changes.

 In return, an interim manager often receives much recognition and support, especially when a company’s critical condition is widely acknowledged. For instance, a client employee once told me that he would have left the company long ago if it weren’t for my presence. Such feedback shows that the role of an interim manager brings not only changes but also long-term positive impacts, particularly regarding motivation and perseverance.


 Swiss Interim Management : How do you gain trust and acceptance in a new company?


Jürgen Kramer: Through openness and impartiality. It's not about knowing everything better but about listening first and taking employees seriously. One should see oneself as a blank slate, without presumptuous solutions or finger-pointing. It's important to ask questions to understand why things are done in a certain way. A valuable method is to ask employees what they would like to change if they had free rein. This provides valuable insights into bottlenecks and helps gain the trust of employees.

 Additionally, it’s essential to convey that confidentiality is maintained, but the facts must be presented to the management – as they are ultimately the client. Balancing this is a tightrope walk and an art because an interim manager often doesn’t carry an “interim” label but operates within the organization. The goal is a win-win situation for all involved, without being burdened by past entanglements.


 Swiss Interim Management: That sounds like a good strategy. How do you stay up-to-date in your field, and how important is continuous education for an interim manager?


Jürgen Kramer: A broad skill set is crucial. Staying up-to-date, especially with disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, is important. Continuous learning and education are indispensable, including keeping abreast of relevant laws and regulations, such as the Supply Chain Due Diligence Act or the digital product passport. Equally important is the ability to communicate appreciatively, ensuring that the knowledge and resulting demands are communicated digestibly to help companies best.


 Swiss Interim Management: Which areas do you see as particularly suitable for interim managers?


 Jürgen Kramer:  Sales is a particularly suitable area. Often, teams don't know how to effectively approach leads. Many “experts” in the company understand their products and the technology behind them but struggle to convey the benefits of these products and their market advantages. Here, interim managers can be crucial in optimizing sales strategies and strengthening market position because they see the portfolio from an external perspective – that of the leads.

 Another critical area is IT. According to a study by Roland Berger, many companies face a misalignment between their IT and business strategies. About 60% of CIOs and CTOs struggle to understand their system landscape, and 75% report that their IT systems are out of control. Interim managers can help address these challenges by implementing digital strategies and optimizing processes, especially in times when disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence are gaining importance as a significant and difficult-to-assess variable.

 Interim managers are also highly useful in change management and process optimization. These areas often form the basis for successful digitalization and help companies become more agile and resilient.


 Swiss Interim Management: What are the most common misconceptions or prejudices against interim managers?


Jürgen Kramer:  A common misconception is that interim managers only come in short-term, earn a lot of money, and don't care about the outcome. This is not true. Good interim managers often stay in contact with the companies and employees and provide sustainable support, even in follow-up projects.


Another prejudice is that interims act as “spies” for the management or that executives feel they must prove their worth to the interim manager. On the contrary, interims are brought on board by the management for their specific expertise – they do not aim to replace the leadership but to strengthen it.


Interim managers bring fresh perspectives and ideally have no preconceived opinions. They offer an objective viewpoint and work in the best interest of the company. The biggest misconception is that they are only there short-term and then don't care anymore. In reality, they often see themselves as regular team members during their assignments and implement sustainable solutions, differentiating them from purely external management consultants.



Interim Manager: Key to Success in Dynamic Business Environments

Jürgen Kramer has a comprehensive education as a chemist, and sales engineer, and holds an MBA in International Management Consulting from the University of Hull and Humberside. Throughout his career, Jürgen has developed deep expertise in business development, including over a decade in various assignments as an interim manager. His previous professional experience includes senior positions in multinational mid-sized companies and numerous projects that he advanced through his sales methodology and digitalization affinity. Originally from the life sciences and chemistry sectors, he has also helped clients in logistics and (HR)-IT achieve sustainable growth. Jürgen spent six years in Shanghai, where he redefined the concept of "speed" and brought it back to Europe. He is now based in Zurich.


Swiss Interim Management: What does a typical day in the life of an interim manager look like?


Jürgen Kramer:  It closely resembles that of a permanent employee. You must quickly familiarize yourself and work efficiently to achieve the set goals. Interim managers often go through more intensive onboarding, as the management supports this personally, and they must understand the company and gather information quickly to later optimize processes efficiently. Therefore, the daily routine is not much different from that of an internal employee. Due to the limited lifecycle, they focus on achieving the most important things, defining priorities, and implementing sustainable improvements. The Pareto principle is a key concept here.


 Swiss Interim Management: How long do your projects usually last?


Jürgen Kramer: Between one and three years. It depends on the project. Sometimes you work only one or two days a week for a client, but then again for longer periods at a stretch.


 Swiss Interim Management: What qualities are particularly important for a successful interim manager?


Jürgen Kramer: Speed, broad experience, humanity, and authenticity. You must be able to act quickly and effectively without generating too much resistance.


 Swiss Interim Management: How have the demands on interim managers changed in recent years?


Jürgen Kramer: The speed of economic change has increased the importance of interim managers. Companies need to respond faster to changes, and interim managers can help with that. Developments like artificial intelligence, the pandemic, supply chain challenges, and the pursuit of carbon neutrality force companies to adapt ever more quickly. Interim managers provide the necessary expertise and agility to support companies effectively in these dynamic times.


Swiss Interim Management: Do you have any tips for companies considering an interim manager for the first time?


Jürgen Kramer:  Pay attention to professional qualifications, but ultimately let your gut feeling decide. The chemistry must be right, and you need to imagine working constructively with this person for the defined period.


Conversely, if you find a personality during the recruitment process, whether for employees or interim managers, who fits perfectly with your company and with whom communication runs smoothly, retain this person and create a suitable position for them. They then truly become “human capital.” The ever-faster spinning personnel carousel harms every company; trustworthiness and integrity for your key personnel are crucial. It's important to find people you can communicate with on the same level and who share your vision because they share the same values. Good collaboration is based on empathy and trust.

 Swiss Interim Management: That’s a great tip. Thank you for the interview, Jürgen. It was very insightful.

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