Transition management, when applied to an operational finance department
“LIVING SEVERAL LIVES WITHIN ONE LIFETIME…”
What will you be doing during the next 10 years?
Transition management emerged some twenty years ago in Anglo-Saxon countries and a dozen years ago in France. With the proliferation of corporate mergers, the establishment of shared service centres, etc., the number of finance director positions has been on the decline. It is indeed true that after a merger or acquisition, one cannot keep two finance directors. There will be one too many. However, when you have twenty years experience – or more – working in such a financial role, how do you continue to perform this sort of role in such a context? How do you ensure that your career keeps evolving in the right direction? Transition management allows one to maintain one’s role, but with a twist. After reaching the age of forty, many managers become interested in transition management. Prior to getting started, one should be aware of clients’ expectations as well as the obstacles that are involved in this activity. This is the subject of this article: to illustrate prospects (they are genuine), but also to specify the obstacles one can run into.
1/ Definition of transition management
Transition management (often mistakenly assimilated with interim management) consists of temporarily entrusting the reins of a company or of one of its departments to an experienced manager, typically to initiate or accompany a phase of change.
2/ Situations in which a transition manager intervenes
Because corporate life is not linear…
The world is changing. In order to remain competitive, companies have to constantly adapt, and they must manage daily operations (with fewer resources) while launching and carrying out innovative projects.
The following are situations in which clients will ask a transition manager to intervene:
– changes in shareholders, management changes,
– IT systems changes,
– preparation for an acquisition or sale of a business or branch, a spin-off,
– the integration of an acquisition, the creation or launch of a subsidiary,
– newfound control of subsidiaries in France and abroad,
– the turnaround of a plant, site or subsidiary’s profitability,
– uncontrolled international growth,
– cash flow crises, the search for new financing,
– restructuring efforts,
– confidence crises (due to fraud, for example),
– the establishment of a shared service centre,
– the rescue of a project that is off course (ex: the deployment of an ERP system),
* All of these situations create a temporary workload excess for the current management team.
* If they are poorly managed, all of these situations can lead to a crisis and jeopardise the company, its shareholders or its directors.
A transition doesn’t necessarily occur during a crisis. Nevertheless, a poorly managed transition in one of the company’s areas or departments can affect other areas or departments and lead to a “domino effect”.
Unlike interim management, the idea is not to replace people (job by job) but to take over a company’s function during a difficult time. This involves performing the daily tasks of a function as well as overseeing the management of an exceptional event or project.
3/ Typical transition manager profiles
* Personal capital
– Has carried out operational management tasks for over 10 years in various companies (no single experience),
– Has experienced and managed one or more rupture situations during his career (ex: cash flow crisis or downsizing plan),
– Has conducted transversal projects (ex: implementation of an ERP system or successful compliance with the Sarbanes Oxley law),
– Has dual experience: Major groups and small & medium sized businesses and industries,
– Has managed multicultural teams and/or multidisciplinary projects.
* Desire and behaviour
– Is motivated and willing to get personally involved with companies that are experiencing complex or exceptional growth situations (changes, ruptures…), regardless of the time it takes,
– Understands the obstacles associated with these types of situations as he has already experienced them and accepts them,
– Wants to get involved on the front lines – with no preconceptions – and wants to roll up his sleeves,
– Is discreet and follows very strict confidentiality rules, which are required in complex or exceptional corporate life situations.
4/ The key skills valued by clients
Clients are very demanding. Experience demonstrates that they are especially appreciative of the following 3 skills/qualities:
– effectiveness in the field,
4.1/ Effectiveness in the field
In principle, effectiveness is measured using objective criteria:
– intellectual and geographic mobility / ability to move quickly in the field and take action,
– the ability to adapt / the ability to quickly master a situation,
– proficiency in Excel, Word and PowerPoint,
– the ability to write in French, and even in English: can write short sentences with a subject, a verb and a complement; the purpose of the transition manager is not to prepare lengthy reports but to act. However, he prepares briefing notes (progress reports) for management or shareholders or even his successor (end of mission report) which must be understandable when taken out of the mission’s context (in other words, people who are not 100% involved in the company’s everyday business or who do not have financial training should be able to understand it).
– independence, demonstrates initiative.
Figure 1 (above): During his mission, the transition manager interacts with many people who often have their own viewpoints or interests.
(*) In large groups, the shareholder’s role is usually played by the Group’s finance director or a member of his team
Effectiveness is also measured, and more importantly, it is measured using more subjective criteria. Every manager – even an experienced one – is effective in a given environment, in a defined context or in a specific situation.
During these missions, the performance of operational finance director and transition managers is observed, measured and assessed from different points of view:
– that of the head of the company,
– that of the shareholder,
– that of the team which he is in charge of,
– that of his coach or potential partner (if he works for a firm).
Each point of view is important. None should be overlooked.
* Effectiveness as seen by the head of the company
Company directors appreciate an operational finance director and transition manager’s ability to demonstrate genuine initiative as well as take over a certain number of their tasks or problems. They are especially appreciative of their ability to get projects moving.
Company directors also appreciate the “focus” on immediate results and the quality of the relationships that operational finance directors and transition managers develop and maintain with a company’s various departments such as the IT department, production department, sales and marketing department, purchasing, sales administration, human resources, etc.
* Effectiveness as seen by shareholders
Shareholders, who often take a back seat to company directors, are especially fond of:
– an understanding of strategic issues,
– the quality of the diagnosis at the beginning of the mission: knowing where to begin, what is the company’s genuine situation?
– the quality and level of detail of the action plan (knowing where we’re going),
– schedules (knowing where we’re going and how fast),
– monthly reports, progress reports (monitoring of actions and results),
– comments relating to the analysis of sales figures and performance indicators.
In other words, shareholders like to be reassured and they especially dislike surprises that relate to:
– the company’s genuine situation or its cash holdings,
– the progress of current projects,
– future prospects (will tomorrow be more prosperous?).
As they are less in tune with the company’s everyday affairs, shareholders often want to verify on their own that the company is moving from phase 1 (getting things/projects in motion) to phase 2 (getting things/projects in motion in a sustainable manner). Transition managers always have to meet short-term targets. They are also concerned about ensuring that medium-term results remain sustainable.
- Effectiveness as seen by the team that the transition manager is in charge of leading and advancing
Alone, an operational finance director and transition manager can accomplish nothing. The team that he was put in charge of may have been neglected or unmotivated during the prior weeks or months. It has specific expectations:
– to be heard (really),
– involvement in the definition of action plans,
– to be given ambitious but realistic targets,
– respect (no baloney!) and rewards (no baloney here either!).
The operational finance director and transition manager must “make do” with his team. He won’t have the time to change it and he can forget about building a “dream team”.
“Making do” means finding the right balance between doing things by yourself (50% of the time) and delegating to others (50% of the time).
Doing everything by yourself 100% of the time is nothing more than interim work.
Delegating 100% of the time is nothing more than consulting or coaching.
If the operational finance director / transition manager wants to involve his team in complex or exceptional corporate life situations, he needs to lead by example and not hesitate to do things by himself. In fact, it is strongly advised.
* Effectiveness as seen by the firm that employs the transition manager (this is the case 50% of the time)
The transition manager’s coach or partner – who is in permanent contact with the client company’s director and shareholders, and is also present on the front lines – regularly provides a summary of the operational finance director and transition manager’s performance, as seen by the above 3 viewpoints.
The expectations of the firm that employs the transition manager go far beyond this summary.
Firms especially appreciate and value:
– the spirit in which the mission is carried out (sharing / discussion / team spirit and support),
– compliance with internal procedures (the contents and the formalisation of reports, in particular) and administrative procedures (especially those pertaining to expense reports),
– careful consideration of the client company’s needs and a service-oriented spirit.
Integrity involves both the quality of the technical production:
– verifying the data that is used or produced twice rather than once before drawing conclusions, proposing solutions, making decisions and taking action,
– meeting commitments and deadlines.
As well as (and especially) the behaviour demonstrated every day in the field:
– realising when one is unable to do something or when something cannot be done (nevertheless, do not do this or say this too often!),
– accepting the idea that no single person can solve all of a company’s problems on his or her own,
– always keeping the client company’s interests in mind / not initiating work whose benefits seems doubtful or for the sole benefit of the company’s director or one or more shareholders,
– always remaining discreet, while observing strict rules of confidentiality,
– knowing when to express frustration and the need to take a break or be covered by others,
– and finally, in relation to the firm that employs him or her, remaining loyal / not eating all of the cake. It is often a very big mistake to think that one single person can solve all of a company’s problems. Solutions are usually found collectively, not individually.
4-3/ Independence (in terms of viewpoint and action)
Discretion and confidentiality are key prerequisites to establishing credibility and maintaining independence in terms of one’s viewpoint and action within the client company. Talking too much creates an excessively close relationship.
The operational finance director and transition manager will sometimes encounter conflicting situations where the company director or management team, shareholders and team cannot agree among themselves regarding objectives, nor the means to achieve these objectives. They sometimes have hidden agendas.
The client company’s interests take precedence. Since the notion of a company’s best interests can be very subjective, the only possible way for an operational finance director and transition manager to avoid any “blunder” in this area is to foster teamwork, sharing and discussion with his coach or partner (if he works for a firm). If he is on his own, he needs to double-check the numbers that he produces or the conclusions that he draws.
A good policy is to stand firm regarding certain principles (ethics / moral code / honesty / compliance with the law / respect of others), even if this means making the personal decision to end the mission. Sometimes it’s better to have a frank explanation than a weak consensus. Sometimes it’s better to put a halt to a mission than to work with a client company without a clear roadmap, or with a client company whose management has no real intention to act in the manner that was agreed upon at the beginning of the mission.
Independence (in terms of viewpoint and action) is an inherent part of a transition manager’s job. It is for this reason that this profession is often incompatible with the status of employee or temporary worker which by definition always retains a hierarchical relationship with company leaders.
5/ Time management – Complying with deadlines – The rapid pace of missions – The geographical distance of missions
The duration of missions is highly variable. The average duration is 5 to 6 months.
This is a statistical average. When a mission begins, the length is always indicative (we assume it will last 3 to 4 months). The duration of the mission never depends on the operational finance director & transition manager. It usually depends on events that go beyond his mission and which he cannot control.
– the recruitment of his successor,
– changes in the managerial direction,
– the sale of the company,
A transition manager organises his work accordingly. As he never knows in advance whether a mission will last 1 or 6 months, he avoids getting involved in too many missions at the same time.
The effectiveness of his mission involves splitting it up into 6 to 8-week phases. Each phase will consist of one or two clearly identified priorities (transformation projects) in addition to the handling of daily tasks.
It would indeed be a great disservice to his successor, and therefore the company, to embark on 10 missions at the same time and to leave them to this successor upon his departure. The successor would find himself under a lot of pressure and therefore in a dangerous situation upon his arrival.
It is in this sort of context that some projects (which are not considered a priority) are rescheduled to a later date.
Part of the added value that a transition manager provides to a client company consists of the action plans which he develops – which are clear, understandable by all, sometimes ambitious but always realistic in terms of the resources and the time that are required. The experience he has acquired from dealing with complex and exceptional corporate life situations allows him to quickly assess whether the transformation projects that he has to carry out are compatible (in terms of time and resources) with the daily management of the client company, its complexity and its volumes:
– amount of annual turnover,
– complexity of operations (often linked to the industry or international growth),
– number of transactions (number of invoices issued or received),
– number of products and services in the catalogue,
– number of clients,
– number of retail outlets, subsidiaries,
– number of people to supervise within the department, skill level of these individuals (permanent or temporary staff?),
– number of stakeholders that need to be coordinated within the project,
– level of detail required by management and shareholders in terms of operational and financial reports,
– level of accumulated backlog in terms of daily operations,
– number of internal meetings in which he will need to participate (which implies that he will not be able to “produce” anything during this time),
Due to these reasons, it is crucial that an operational diagnosis be performed before any mission is to begin.
- The rapid pace of missions
A new director of finance and administration is typically given 6 to 8 months (when recruited for a permanent contract) to settle in and impose his authority.
The operational finance director & transition manager will generally be granted 3 weeks to prove himself and start “producing”.
During the first 3 weeks of his mission, he will have to:
– understand the company’s business and its challenges,
– make the rounds among the key stakeholders,
– “take the reins” over his teams,
– develop a first draft of his operational diagnosis and plan of action,
– start “producing”.
- The geographical distance of missions
The distribution of tasks is intangible: 1/3 of all missions are carried out in Paris or its surrounding areas, 1/3 in the rest of France, and 1/3 abroad. Those who are not mobile are missing out on a very significant part of the market.
6/ Cash flow: the no. 1 priority of missions carried out by operational finance directors and transition managers
“There’s no point in dreaming of a new ERP system if the client company is unable to pay next month’s salaries”.
A good understanding of how the client company spends its cash – and at what pace it spends it – should be the operational finance director & transition manager’s first priority. If need be, the second priority is to alert management and shareholders.
The company’s cash flow determines the operational finance director & transition manager’s priorities. It also often determines his “game time” within the client company and determines the time it has to improve its organisation, obtain financing or restructure.
If cash is tight (or if it will soon be due to the seasonal nature of the business, for example), cash flow needs to become the priority in terms of action. All other issues need to be moved to a later time in the schedule.
Examples of topics that are a lower priority than cash flow when cash is tight:
– IT systems,
– organisation or reorganisation,
– expansion abroad,
– recruitments, an increased labour equilibrium level,
– preparation of a procedures manual,
– records of internal audits,
The transition manager’s no. 1 priority is to clear up the company’s future cash flow situation.
When the company’s future situation clears up, there will still be time to get back to the other priorities. In particular, the updating of accounting and management audits (the “sickly children” of the finance department!).
The cash flow situation is the only area within a company where tangible results can be achieved within a very short time (two weeks maximum).
Cash flow is also the only area within a company in which the finance department is not dependent on any one person (at least as far as short term actions are concerned). The traditional “excuses” expressed by finance departments that don’t want to take action:
– a lack of resources,
– other departments’ lack of cooperation or availability, especially the sales department,
– faulty IT systems,
are neither relevant nor acceptable in terms of short-term cash flow solutions.
Cash flow can be described as 90% common sense and 10% skill. Expressed otherwise, cash flow is 1% theory and 99% “elbow grease”.
Cash flow is also and above all a matter of will and character.
The operational finance director & transition manager will need to demonstrate these qualities in certain situations.
In most situations, there is no reason not to take action within the first two weeks.
Experience from the field has shown that cash flow issues rarely resolve themselves on their own. If ever.
This is why it is crucial that the operational finance director stands firm regarding this priority and doesn’t back down…
7/ A word about female transition managers
The transition manager role is still very recent. It has been around for a decade in France. There are still few women who perform this role (primarily due to travel constraint issues).
Experience from the field has shown that women are very successful in this role. They are often more receptive tofeedback from their teams, work in a less hierarchical manner than men, and are more patient when transmitting knowledge to others. Pedagogy represents 50% of a mission’s content.
Finally, without wanting to generalise, a person’s character will reveal itself as a mission progresses. The ability to lead a team by example, which is especially noticeable in some women, will strengthen one’s ability to lead during a transition situation.
Depending on the individuals, transition management is:
– a temporary activity (pending a permanent employment contract),
– an opportunity to bounce back,
– a real job,
– a passion.
For those who have chosen to make it their profession, it’s a job where you can:
– discover lots of new situations (while discovering things about yourself),
– provide the client companies with practical and constructive solutions (while experiencing personal growth through newfound independence),
– transmit knowledge and know-how to the client company’s teams. Pedagogy is the key word. One can always progress in this area,
– fulfil yourself: it has been demonstrated that after a few missions the techniques, the work methods and reflexes become second nature. The transition manager often runs into the same situations. Richness and diversity therefore come from all of the individuals that one will meet during the missions. It’s a job where you must not only be passionate about companies, you also need to be passionate about the people that work there.
Good luck to all of you during your next missions!
Do you need more information on transition management?
Visit the www.objectif-managementdetransition.com website, which is dedicated to transition management.
If you want to participate in the next Transition Management Universities, visit the www.citizen-cash.com website or contact Olivia Sieber by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at +33 (0)1 56 59 09 40.
If you would like more information on transition management missions, contact David Brault by email email@example.com or by phone at +33 (0)6 07 78 70 87.