The life of an Interim Manager abroad
Publié le 03 Nov 2017

The life of an Interim Manager abroad

Interim Management assignments are always edifying 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 lesson.
These feelings are increased tenfold when the Interim Managers are on mission abroad.
Cultural shocks, language barrier or lack of landmarks, these missions can be difficult.

  • What are the big obstacles?
  • What joys can we derive from it?
  • Are we all capable of being an Interim Manager abroad?

Jean Lucien Cousquer , Transition Manager, agreed to answer our questions:

RE: What are the challenges of a mission abroad?

JLC: “ I had the pleasure of doing a 9 month mission in India, in Bombay. For this mission, the extraordinary challenge to take up was the difference in culture. When we are on mission in another European country, we are not aware that we share the same culture, the same values: we focus on the differences. In India, we realize that these differences are negligible. Dozens of languages, official religions and above all a completely different relationship to time are things that I had to understand and learn. In India, taking your time to speak with someone is a mark of consideration and arriving late for an appointment is not a big deal if it is because you had to take time with someone else. »

My mission was to take over a factory construction project. I built a schedule, imposed milestones and set up a tight follow-up of the tasks and it was necessary to explain to my Indian collaborators the importance of this planning to achieve the assigned goal. Their way of apprehending time is different. For them, the steps were linked successively, without the time being important while the customer expected me to start the factory on a fixed date, to generate turnover and the associated profitability. »

My way of doing, my requirement and their way of managing me created a culture shock on both sides. This was also the case for suppliers. I imposed daily and weekly meetings, dashboards and schedules, which they weren’t used to. I was obliged to give a particular rhythm to the project to meet the expectations of my client and I had to ensure that my collaborators appropriated the method. »

Being away from family can be a challenge for some. Luckily, this was not my case: I am a former commercial sailor, and the separation is part of our life as a couple with my wife. I had a visa that required me to leave the country at least once a month. So I went back to France every three weeks, it was agreed with the client. It made things easier. »

I have a colleague who did a mission in Calcutta and he returned to France every fortnight, 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 did me good. I’m always interested in speaking to people in their language. I learned a long time ago that by talking to people in their language, they are always more friendly and ready to help you. »

Rubbing shoulders with foreign cultures also teaches us to consider people with another perspective than the automatisms given to us by education and years of European experience.
I was able to implement Lean Management thanks, I think, to the adaptation efforts I was making. But I had to adapt my management method to their time management, finding a way to impose things while ensuring that it was they themselves who imposed this rhythm.

I did it with the tools of Lean Management, and in particular a visual Management which confronts people with the difficulties, the deadlines and the expected results.
Lean Management applies in all cultures, with various efficiencies depending on the Manager’s ability to impose . But my collaborators realized that it gave a rhythm and that the project was being implemented and progressing. They saw the construction of the factory, whereas for six months, they had seen nothing 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 rhythm is different, the suppliers and the collaborators behave differently. It’s easy afterwards to bring people to your management methods.

RE: How much adaptation time is necessary for an Interim Manager on a mission abroad?

JLC: “ The quality of an Interim Manager is to be extremely adaptive, it’s an iron fist in a velvet glove. The adaptation period should not exceed more than fifteen days. This is the rule for all Interim Managers, the first two weeks, you must explain what you are going to do, why you are going to do it, and what results you expect. »

If you manage change, you have to initiate it. You are hired for change, if change doesn’t happen soon people will forget about you. »

RE: Can any Interim Manager embark on missions abroad?

JLC: “I think that if you have the qualities of an Interim Manager, that is to say adaptability, a sense of observation, stubbornness in implementing transformation plans, yes ‘is possible. »

You just have to treat people at home and abroad, with consideration. Me personally, and I think this is part of the qualities of the Interim Manager, I treat people by trusting them, a priori. If you are capable of that, then yes it is not difficult. »

All the Interim Managers I know trust their interlocutor by saying: “If you are in this position, it is no doubt because you know your job, so I trust you”. But if you arrive like an elephant in a bowling game, it will be much harder for you. »

When I was in India, people thought I was English. It took me ten days to realize that I absolutely had to say that I was French and therefore not a descendant of the colonizers. From the moment I understood this, people on the streets, administrations and the Congress party treated me differently. But I could only understand this by talking to people. So you have to understand people, listen to them and measure all their words, treat them with consideration. Every Man, I think, deserves consideration.

RE: Does this echo ethical management?

JLC: “ I don’t know what Ethical Management is… I’ve worked for companies with codes of ethics, and I’ve seen very amoral things. Ethics is often a screen of respectability for these companies. For my part, I try to behave like an honest man.

RE: Would you do missions abroad?

JLC: “ Yes, I will gladly go. It still depends on the country. I will never go to a country where I cannot move freely, for example. »

We warmly thank Jean-Lucien Cousquer for having transmitted to us a small part of his experience through these lines.

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