Interim management missions are always uplifting and sometimes overwhelming experiences. Depending on the objectives to be achieved, the issues or the possible risks, each mission can be experienced as a life changing moment.
These feelings are increased when interim managers are on missions abroad.
Because of cultural shocks, the language barrier or the lack of points of reference, these missions can be very difficult at times.
- What are the main challenges?
- What joys can Interim managers draw from it?
- Are all Interim managers capable of being on a mission abroad?
Jean Lucien Cousquer, interim manager, agreed to answer our questions:
RE: What are the challenges of a mission abroad?
JLC: “I had the pleasure of going on a 9 month mission to Bombay, India. For this mission, the extraordinary challenge that I met was the difference in culture. When we are on a mission in another European country, we don’t even realize that we share the same culture, the same values: we focus on differences. In India, we realize that these differences are negligible. Dozens of languages, official religions and especially a completely different relationship to time are things that I had to understand and learn. In India, taking your time to talk to someone is a mark of consideration and arriving late for an appointment is not a bad thing if it’s because you had to take time to talk with someone else.”
“My mission was to take over a factory construction project. I built a schedule, set milestones and put in place a tight follow-up of tasks and … it was necessary to explain to my Indian collaborators the importance of this planning to reach the assigned goal.Their way of dealing with time is different. For them, the steps were sequenced successively, and the length of time spent on each was not important. But meanwhile, the client expected me to start the plant at a fixed date, to begin to generate revenue and profitability.”
“My way of doing things, my requirements and their way of managing me created a culture shock on both sides. This was also the case for the suppliers. I imposed daily and weekly meetings, as well as dashboards and schedules, which they were not used to. I had to give a particular rhythm to the project to meet the expectations of my client and I had to make sure that my employees adapted to the method.”
“The remoteness of ones family can be a difficulty. I am lucky that this was not the case for me: I am a former commercial sailor, and separation is part of my wife’s and I life as a couple. My visa required that I leave the country at least once a month. So I went back to France every 3 weeks. It was agreed upon with the client. It made things easier.”
“I have a colleague who made a mission to Calcutta and he returned to France every 15 days, thanks to that everything went well.”
RE: What are the benefits?
JLC: “You always learn from a foreign culture, I was able to learn the Hindi language, it was really nice. I’m always interested in talking to people in their mother tongue. I’ve learned that speaking to people in their language, always makes them friendlier and ready to help you.”
“Working alongside foreign cultures also teaches us to consider men with a different view than the automatisms that European education and experience gives us through the years. I was able to implement lean management thanks to, I believe, the efforts of adaptation I was making. I still had to adapt my management method to their time management, finding the way to impose things while making it like they themselves imposed this rhythm in the end. I did it with the tools of lean management, including a visual management that confronts people to the difficulties, the deadlines and the expected results.”
“Lean management applies in all cultures, with different efficiencies depending on the ability of the manager to impose things. But my collaborators realized that this gave a good rhythm and that the project was well implemented and advanced, they saw the construction of the factory whereas for 6 months they had not seen anything happen.”
“Finally, I discovered the world of PCI banking certifications.”
“From the moment you bring the first results, or the first indications that things are happening because the pace is different, suppliers and employees behave differently … etc. It’s thereafter easier to get people to accept your management methods.”
RE: How long of an adaptation period is required for an interim manager on missions abroad?
JLC: “The quality of an interim manager is to be extremely adaptive, he is an iron fist in a velvet glove. The length of adaptation must not exceed more than 15 days. The rule for all interim managers is that in the first two weeks, we must explain what we will do, why we will do it, and what results are expected.”
“If you are here to incite change, you have to initiate it. If change does not happen quickly, people tend to forget you.”
RE: Can any interim manager go on missions abroad?
JLC: “I think that if you have the qualities of an interim manager, that is to say the adaptability, the sense of observation, the obstinacy to implement transformation plans, yes it is possible.”
“You just have to treat people, whether at home or abroad, with consideration. Personally, and I think that it is part of the qualities of the interim manager, I treat people with trust. If you can do that, then yes it’s not difficult.”
“All the interim managers I know trust their collaborators, usually saying,” If you’re in this position, it’s probably because you know your job, so I trust you.” But if you come like an Elephant in a bowling game … it will be a lot harder for you. ”
“When I was in India people thought I was English, it took me 10 days to realize that I had to say that I am French and therefore not a descendant of the colonizers. When I understood that, the people in the street, the administrations and the congress party treated me differently, but I could only understand that by talking to people. So we have to understand people, to listen to them and understand their thoughts, to treat them with consideration. Every man I think, deserves consideration.”
RE: Does this echo ethical management?
JLC: “I do not know what ethical management is … I worked for companies with codes of ethics, and I saw things very u moral. Ethics is often a “screen of respectability” for these companies. For my part, I try to behave like an honest man.”
RE: If you had to do it again?
JLC: “I will be happy to do other missions abroad, but it depends on countries. I will never go to a country where I cannot travel freely, for example.”
We want to warmly thank Jean-Lucien Cousquer for having transmitted a small part of his experience through this interview.