Why a transition manager for a start-up ?
Meeting: Executive Interim Manager in a startup, Michel Rouilleault shares his experience
An executive interim manager for 15 years, this engineer with an X – ENST and MIT diploma has carried out several missions for innovative companies for which he has enabled the creation or maintenance of functions such as General Manager, Technical Director or Operations Director. To bring his vision of the subject, he revisits these missions which he has appreciated as much for their human as technological and operational dimension.
1- When can or should a startup call on an interim manager?
For a young company, the need for support can arise at different stages of its development, for example :
- during the initial market introduction phase to ensure that the product/service meets a given need, and to work on the way it is presented to target customers;
- during the “ramp-up” or take-off phase, i.e. the transition from a successful but small-scale start-up to a more industrial stage, for the success of which it is necessary to work on methods, product industrialization, the supply chain, etc., and for which the capacity for innovation is no longer sufficient and must be supplemented by rigorous management skills.
2- In which areas can Interim Management help a startup progress ?
There is no field in which an interim manager cannot intervene. He can be assigned :
- in the Technical department to guarantee execution and implementation;
- à la direction commerciale, particulièrement au démarrage avec la construction d’offres complexes ;
- in the Sales department, particularly at the start-up stage with the construction of complex offers;
- in Operations management, during the “ramp-up” phase when the supply chain is key and must therefore be given special attention.
In all these cases, the implementation of an oversized executive is a good investment.
3- What are the specificities of an assignment in a startup for an interim manager ?
In this type of company, the Interim Manager brings an expertise that the startup lacks. The difficulty may be to make the founders aware of their shortcomings (this is normally the role of the Board of Directors, but when the latter remains silent on this point, the Interim Manager will help to make them aware) or of the need to strengthen some of their teams.
Of course, as in all companies, one of the major challenges for the interim manager is the human relationship, the acceptability by the teams, the founders, and the management committee is imperative.
4- What lessons have you learned from your experiences in startups ?
I have seen how a charismatic boss can avoid criticism from a Board of Directors composed of personalities or investors. To avoid this pitfall, it is essential that more operational profiles sit on the Board.
On the other hand, with an “interventionist” board of directors, it can happen that the founder has not commissioned the mission. This situation makes the execution of the mission delicate and requires finding a way to work together with the founder.
In all cases, these assignments require a very significant investment over the first few weeks, and a very strong human investment by the interim manager is the key to success, as the teams and managers feel it.
In these startups, probably more than in large companies, seniority is an advantage: it gives confidence to young teams that are looking for guidance. The interim manager is not there to prove himself, nor to shine, he can say what the client does not want to hear.
An essential point is that at a certain stage of development, startups must evolve their governance and structure. We often associate this stage with the transition from development to industrialization: the number of decisions to be made on a day-to-day basis increases exponentially with the number of problems to be solved and the number of people involved in each of these problems (development teams, operational teams, suppliers, etc.) and clear delegations must be defined.
An interim manager with experience in more structured organizations can help the startup get through this phase.
5- The final word ?
For the interim manager, these missions in a startup are both real challenges and great sources of motivation, whether for the relationships and the pleasure of working with other generations, for the innovation dimension that makes you want to learn and understand, and finally the transmission and training dimension of young managers!
This is obviously a senior consultant saying this 😉, but this is my real motivation !