You may expect from an Interim Manager that something changes in a positive sense within your organization quite quickly. After three months, the first differences should be visible, after six months there should be visible results and the organization will be able to manage on its own again. These are, in a nutshell, the goals Interim Manager Arie Versluis sets for himself with every interim assignment. “Based on my experience, I can give that guarantee. The factors and people that make this possible are usually in place already. In many cases, it revolves around changes in decision-making processes and work culture. That’s what I really enjoy working on.”
Versluis has been an Interim Manager for Operations Management positions since 2005. He has a background in mechanical engineering and engineering management. “I have a preference for industrial companies and especially manufacturing companies in the metal and automotive sectors. My engineering and operational knowledge are up to scratch, but I like to look beyond engineering and I am always especially interested in the human side of an organization. When it comes to interim projects, the social side is often dominant. My experience has taught me that this is where the cause and solution to many problems lies.”
From A to B
The role of Interim Manager fits Versluis like a glove. “In my projects, something always needs to be done. An organization wants or needs to get from A to B. This works best if you can operate from an independent position, without any political games or fear. It’s only then that you can hold a mirror up to an organization – employees and management – and quickly achieve results together.”
Arie put his approach into practice in a recent project that came his way via Van de Groep & Olsthoorn. A metal company with its own in-house engineering, came out of the COVID period with poorer results. The director-owner wanted to take a step back and possibly sell the company. “The acquisition specialist who supervised this process screened the organization and then it turned out, among other things, that the returns fell short of expectations.”
This was certainly notable given the current market situation with high demand. Versluis explains further: “It may sound strange, but sales were actually going too well. The internal processes did not grow together enough with the sales activities. As a consequence, honoring delivery agreements with customers posed a real challenge.” This resulted in delayed deliveries, disappointed customers and a lot of pressure on the internal organization and processes. Van de Groep & OIsthoorn was called in to find an Interim Manager who could turn this situation around.
Versluis has known Van de Groep & Olsthoorn for years but had never worked through them before. “I know Van de Groep & Olsthoorn because we are active in the same market. The management and directorship vacancies in industry that they have in their portfolio are often interesting. In this case, it really all came together. I had space in my schedule and there was a good match between the request and my expertise and experience. Gertjan van de Groep was able to update me in a targeted way on the situation, the company culture and nature of the assignment, which only heightened my interest.”
After a quick introduction and an agreement, Versluis set to work with his tried-and-tested approach. The first phase with a new project always involves a quick scan. “I then hold interviews with various people to get to know the company properly and gauge how things are going. This is how I try to get a good picture of the people, processes, activities and automation. I also include suppliers and customers in my quick scan.” Then, drawing on his initial findings, Versluis holds up a mirror to the people and gives them his feedback.
All these observations gave him immediate leads for making concrete improvements. These can be very practical. “I saw, for example, that some work was being outsourced to suppliers. Except that this was done too cautiously. They mostly looked at the shorter term and not enough at the future down the road. Consequently, the procurement of capacity was also rather haphazard. By mapping out their suppliers and their activities clearly and looking further ahead in terms of planning, it became easier to purchase the right amount of additional capacity. This enabled the company to meet customer (delivery) expectations more readily almost immediately.”
According to Versluis, this example underlines the statement that “change is about movement” and that action management is indispensable. A culture of talking and not doing much will not help any organization move forward. The only question is how to give shape to action management in practical terms. “In many cases, this calls for breaking up ingrained patterns. In this organization, for example, the entire operations team sat around the table once a week. I soon noticed that a few people were doing the talking. By the end of the hour, however, no concrete agreements had been made. This is ineffective and leads not enough action being taken.”
More broad support
In an effort to break through this, Versluis introduced short consultation sessions in small teams. “In this kind of setting with just the people from Procurement, Planning or Capacity, for example, you get to the heart of the matter much faster. It’s then much easier to discuss courses of action and actually implement them. An added advantage is that there is more broad support. Initially, I supervised these sessions myself and gave feedback to help improve decision-making skills. Then these teams soon took on responsibility themselves.”
This ostensibly small change in behavior and culture takes people out of their comfort zone, but at the same time gives them a direct say on any improvements. “This is what I mean by the first difference that should be apparent around three months after I start. Once that change is underway, then the improvements naturally follow.” In a later phase, Versluis noticed that quotes were not always made with due care. “That was quite an eye-opener because the focus had mainly been on optimizing the operational processes. It is precisely by offering quotes based on a well-founded estimate that negative results for orders are avoided. This will improve the operating results, and therefore also the returns. And that is precisely what it is all about for the entrepreneur.”
This example of an unexpected insight is precisely the kind of thing that should be the strength of an Interim Manager, Versluis goes on to explain. “We managed to still achieve higher returns with the same people, in the same setting and in a comparable amount of time. In addition to making operational adjustments, it is just as important to instill confidence in people to work and decide more autonomously. It’s my challenge to bring the operational side and the social component together. Then operations will run smoothly, and people are happy. Because no matter how you look at it, a solution is only a structural improvement if people actually accept it. Even if this comes from an Interim Manager.”