Maurizio Quarta (Temporary Management & Capital Advisors), SMWs Italian partner, examined why it is that Italian SMEs are unable to use available public funds.* Where does it go wrong? What role can Interim Management play in this? And, how does this work in your country and organization?
A survey by Unioncamere, based on the work of the Guglielmo Tagliacarne Study Centre, shows that only one in three companies is willing to turn the opportunities offered by the PNRR (the Italian elaboration of the EU recovery funds) into concrete projects. This means that more than 70% of these companies are not going to use the funds made available. The problem mainly concerns smaller companies: 50% of medium-sized companies, and even 80% of the smallest companies do not plan to use the allocated funds.
Lack of information and awareness among those companies about the issue? Absolutely. But there is also a more structural reason: the lack of management skills and undermanagement of the SMEs.
The topic of strengthening management skills has been raised often in recent years, and emphasized in various forms: encouraging managerial retraining, increasing intellectual capital, updating skills, the ability to do things in new ways and the entrepreneur’s transition from doing to managing. All with a common denominator: high-level skills are needed, but quickly, and above all, able to act quickly and influence the fabric of SMEs.
This is all more true in the post-pandemic era: a recent McKinsey analysis shows that the importance of learning new skills for long-term sustainable growth has increased from 59% before COVID to 78% today. Without forgetting that there are many areas in which SMEs must be able to operate effectively: digitalization, circular economy, optimization of financial management, internationalization and human capital management.
External knowledge and skills
In this context, Interim Management is increasingly appreciated by SMEs as a somewhat optimal means of bringing in-house high-level skills that are immediately operational and, moreover, can function in extraordinary contexts.
The knowledge of Interim Management in SMEs has grown over time and is now at a good level: about 60% of the smallest companies (with a turnover of less than 20 million) are familiar with it, with a utilization of about 10-12%, depending on the turnover class. This is also true for very small companies: in the €2-5 million turnover category, 63% are familiar with the tool, with 8% using it, especially for projects of long duration (e.g. 24 months) but managed on a part-time basis.
In almost all cases, by purchasing Interim Management, SME’s ‘buy’ high-level skills that would otherwise not be available at an affordable price, with the result that the skills of people already working in the company are improved. So, at the end of an intervention/project they will be able to do the same things better than before or do new things.
Regarding the areas of intervention in the company, we note that the entrepreneur tends to look at and prioritize the areas with a more immediate impact on the income statement (e.g. supply chain, production, commercial space, internationalization), neglecting the areas of finance and human resources, where it would be possible, moreover, to generate significant savings and efficiency gains with part-time and targeted interventions on specific objectives and activities.
In these areas, much work remains to be done to encourage the entrepreneur: in the financial field, to make him overcome the obstacle – especially psychological – associated with giving access to his accounts. And let us not touch the delicate key of relations with the other professionals in the company and in the field of human resources, to make him understand the economic value of managing them professionally.
Even very small companies (e.g., with a turnover of less than 5 million) can increasingly use the available management skills through projects managed on a part-time fractional basis. This is a particular deviation from Interim Management that has arisen precisely from the demand of these organizations, for which the classic full-time temporary manager could be redundant, both in terms of time and cost. In this way, it is also possible to deploy teams of Interim Managers and real virtual boards of directors in the field, as has been in use for many years in foreign markets (e.g. in the USA).
There are many managers on the market today, and more are expected in the coming period. So management skills are theoretically available, but there is still a qualitative mismatch between the skills needed to work with SME’s and the skills found in the many managers who come mainly from large groups and international groups. This is accompanied by an ideological misalignment between those who pursue a discourse – perfectly legitimate of outplacement of managers in mobility and managerial status and the companies, especially SMEs, who need managerial skills, flexibility and the ability to work at variable costs.
Role of the CFO
CFOs and HR can give SMEs a big boost. The new CFO mandate: the role of the CFO is changing rapidly, the areas of responsibility are expanding, new skills are required and there is greater interaction with other senior positions. Finance is becoming increasingly digitized, requiring changes in the business models of many companies: the CFO often becomes a leader in this area as well. Similarly, the importance of the ESG model (Environmental, Social and Governance) often requires a less specialized and more interdisciplinary involvement of the CFO.
Today, SMEs face a number of important issues (e.g. new forms of work organization) for which they do not have the appropriate management resources. However, SMEs still struggle to act on human resources, often because they fail to see the economic value of professional human resources management. The institutional objective: to raise awareness among SMEs of the need to acquire the management skills for human resource management and thus to give human capital the proper and important role it deserves.
*Original Italian article available on https://www.economymagazine.it/temporary-manager-la-soluzione-per-cogliere-le-opportunita-del-pnrr/