Temporary Management Success Factors

Introduction

In a previous article we discussed 6 factors that influenced the success or in-success of a temporary management project, these were:

  1. clear objectives, responsibilities and empowerment of the temporary manager

  2. stakeholder support, most importantly the owners

  3. resources, quality and quantity

  4. openness to change within the company

  5. changing objectives  during the course of the project

  6. communication of the  the project within the company

The next natural step was to get  some practical feedback that confirmed or contradicted these observations and deepened our knowledge even further. For example we wanted answers to following questions:

  • Which of these 6  factors were  the most important?

  • What did a successful  project look like when a “ factor snapshot” was taken?

  • What were  the priorities to get the  most impact?

In an attempt to answer these questions we surveyed 50 temporary management projects, completed mainly by  members  of Leading Network (the largest  association of temporary managers  in Italy).

The Projects in the Survey

The majority of the projects were in  companies  with sales between 2 Million and  50 Million euro and   65%  family owned.  Most of the contracts were directly between the temporary manager and the company  with  only 16% of  contracts between the TM and specialized providers (such as EIM, STM, TIM, Contract Manager, TMC). The majority of the projects had a duration between 6 and 18 months.

Company Sales

Project Duration

Overall Performance

Most of the projects where judged by the temporary manager as a partial success or a  success and  a  relatively small percentage of temporary managers considered their project as an in-success.  

The success rate was 40% in our survey but projects in larger independent companies (greater than 50M€) had a 100%  success rate. These projects  were a  collaboration  between a company  manager and the temporary manager and  did  not  have the complications of the limited resources of smaller companies,  weaker organization or the influence of  family relationships.

Overall Performance

Factors for Success

Definition of project objectives

 The majority of the project definitions where deemed  clear or sufficiently clear and only 16% were considered unclear.    

All projects that finished  with  in-success started with unclear objectives. And projects that started with unclear objectives finished  at most as a partial success (but  never a success). Most importantly a  strong statistical correlation was found between the clarity of the project definition and the success rate.

The survey also showed that if the objectives of a project were clearly defined than so too were  the roles of the temporary managers.

Support

Almost half of the temporary managers said that they had insufficient support from the owners.  So why did  owners start temporary management projects in the first place?

This could be explained if the objectives  had not  included the support the owners should have given  in the various phases of the project. For example changes in governance or delegation within the company/ family, and all the personal relationships issues generated during the change.  Or it may have been the first time that an owner had  collaborated with a manager, let alone a temporary manager.

However,  when the owner support  was good it had a significant impact as it doubled the success rate. This was also shown by the strong correlation between owner  support and the project success rate. It was also noted that  the level of owner support was the factor that varied most from project to project   and had the largest standard deviation of all the factors. 

Resources

The success rate was closely correlated to the quality of resources but a large number of projects suffered from insufficient talent. The  quality of resources refered to the skill level available for the project and not to be confused with  the level of skill in the quality department!

 A  significant percentage  of  projects also lacked quantity of human resources and had problems balancing the operational activity with the project. The situation was similar for  financial funding.

Changing Objectives

It is interesting to note that in other industrial sectors the change of objectives during the project is a major cause of in-success. For example,  if during the construction of a house the client decided to remake the foundations  or add another story then the project manager would rightfully panic. On the other hand continuous changes  in temporary management  were in the majority.

Openness to Change

Our survey showed that  1 in 5 companies resisted change and the resistance  came mainly  from the family members ,  owners  and the board. As would be expected the success rate of these projects was lower at  13% in respect to the 40% average. Clearly there were issues in human relationships which influenced the resistance to change.

It is normal for a people to resist change if it effects they way they have been working for a considerable time, so attention must be paid  to those who are for or  against change.  From our survey the sponsors and resistors  were of similar proportion and the majority of the projects  sat on  the fence.

Conclusion

Our survey showed that the strongest factors for project success were clear objectives, company resources and owner support.  

Clear Objectives

The temporary manager must have the technical competencies to define the objectives and the transitional documents (such as  the company check-up, business plan and/or the project plan). These are the basic project management tools that create clarity and a point of reference but they alone are not enough.   

Leading Network  develops concepts,  consolidated working practices and a common  language for temporary managers to use on projects. These standards cover not only the” hard” aspects (e.g.  the Business Plan)  but also the “soft” issues such as the relationships within the family and the company. For example a new approach called 4P is being applied to help the transition of the family during a generational transfer. This is an area where many temporary managers are working and the opportunities to make a positive impact in the future are considerable.   Another tool being applied is the SAB Business Canvass which enriches traditional planning based on KPIs with issues of psychological relationships and professional roles.

The professional  temporary manager  should have soft skills  (such as intelligent listening, mirroring, coaching,  conflict management, team building) to understand/ facilitate  the  human issues of the stakeholders.  Right from the project start this is needed to  explore  the deeper consequences of change that go beyond the bottom line results.

Company resources

As expected all the resource factors (quantity, quality, financial backing) had significant importance for  project success rate  but the  resource quality was marginally more important. So for new projects an evaluation of resource saturation should be backed by an evaluation of  resource quality against project needs.  In projects where  talent is not  available internally then it should be specified,  planned, searched and recruited. Many smaller companies  do not have these skills so it is suggested that  the temporary manager grows  a network of  recruiters for  middle management/technical specialists. Indeed, in some cases the problem of quality resources could be solved by temporary managers with other functional competences (such as HR) collaborating on the same project for a limited period.

Support of the Owner

The support that owners gave to temporary management varied greatly from company to company.  When a temporary manager enters a company for the first time he should try to sense what level of support will be given, this is not easy. How can you measure the support ? Transparency of information?  Punctuality at meetings? The survey gave us answers but it also found difficult questions to think about !

Openness to Change

It is common practice to identify sponsors for change and those strongly against it early in the project. The sponsors are actively involved in the project and used as role models to convert the undecided. However, different policy is often used for the resistors. In a temporary management project there is often  insufficient time to convert the non-believers so it is  more practical to exclude them from the project and  order them to be neutral. Clearly this is a delicate situation when we are involved with family members!  Another difficult question.

To summarize, the strongest factors for project success were clear objectives, company resources and owner support.  Figuratively speaking they were the wheel that the  temporary manager had to push up the hill towards project success. The slope of the hill changed with the difficulty  of the project or from company to company but the virtuous cycle of  gaining  support, getting resources and continuously re-confirming objectives remained the same. The openness to change and the communication  reduced friction and helped keep the wheel rolling.

  The Virtuous Circle of Temporary Management

The Virtuous Circle of Temporary Management

Final Considerations

The family presence and the smaller company size changed the game for  Italian temporary managers, the survey showed this numerically. This distinguishes the Italian market  from northern Europe in regards to the competences of the temporary manager and soft skills needed to manage the more complex human relationships.  In retrospect is not surprising that the Italian market has developed less than its European counterparts and there has been a limited penetration of foreign agencies in Italy.

[Jonathan Selby]