Without knowing what to do or how to run the company, you can become a recognized leader just by doing "normal" things.
In those days, I was an IT project manager focusing on small IT projects but always with a strong organizational impact. It allowed me to manage a very wide range of IT projects for accounting, finance, supply chain, help desk, field services, marketing…
So this time, I was hired to carry out a small 6 weeks mission for an outsourcing company to manage, as presented by the shareholders, a "small" restructuring of a subsidiary of 20 people providing IT facility services to a 4000 seat network. Main mission… putting in place the right procedures and I had full authority to make the necessary changes. The thing I liked was that the team was located in a building next to the clients' buildings so there was a lot of direct client facing for me.
And this is what happened on my first day …
- act first, think later
- Can you hear me, see me, feel me ?
9:30 am:First emergency: three people in the hallway informed me that there was no longer toilet paper on the premises and this for already more than 2 weeks. I wondered if this was a joke to test new managers but after a quick verification, I found out it wasn't a joke so I walked to accounting who told me there was nobody anymore in the company to sign so I asked them to give me a bank check that I signed instantly. I knew it was illegal as I had no signature on the bank account, but the supplier wasn't aware of that so he would deliver while we could put the things in place with the bank. A union guy asked me if I was aware I was taking decisions beyond my authority but I replied I would be honored to be the first manager in history arriving in jail for buying toilet paper for his team.
9:40 am:The whole IT network felt down… very embarrassing as more than 4000 people stopped working. First emergency to handle.
10 am:I called the bank to send me the documents to get the signature on our bank account. The bank employee announced me they refused everything as the bank account was closed since several days as we had too huge losses. I took an emergency appointment with the bank manager at 2 pm… meaning I had only 4 hours to present a rescue plan a little scary as I never created one before - and I was an IT guy not a finance guy. I tried to contact the group CFO.
10:30 am:I wanted to make my first photocopy, and I discovered that there was no more paper. I asked around and received a cynical reply "How do you think we survived 2 weeks without toilet paper?" Indeed, I had noticed some empty reams in the toilet room. One minute later, I signed a second "illegal" bank check to buy paper for the photocopier.
11 am:I now discovered that the wages of the previous month hadn't been paid. As we are already the 6th of the month, I had to move extremely fast to keep my staff on board.
11:30 am :I noticed that people were betting on how long I would stay in this position. I knew I was the 6th one on the premises in the last 4 months. I discovered several weeks later that the average time they expected me to stay was … 48 hours. The maximum was 10 days.
0:30 pm:I got the Chief Financial Officer of the group on the line who told me he was not available. I asked him why I was told that the subsidiary had 20 people as I counted a lot more in my office space. His answer was clear: you are supposed to reduce the staff number from 55 to 20 … and at the same time, improve performance as you need to deliver 20% more work (and this all expected in 6 weeks time).
2:00 pm:I arrived at the bank - without anything prepared. I presented myself as a heavy change manager and I managed to negotiate a period of 7 days to present him a complete rescue plan. The bank validated my proposition and decided to unlock our accounts so I was saved for the day as I could pay last month wages (and not to forget … the toilet paper).
3:30 pm:I arrived in the office and … second crash of the whole computer network. Within the same minute, a fire alert meaning we had to evacuate the building. So my whole IT staff was standing in front of our building… unable to touch the network backbone and the file servers while all the users of my client in the buildings next door didn't had any network access anymore. Some of the client-employees got outside and were very agitated. They screamed the fire alert was caused through our lack of IT skills. Not easy to be in the middle of 80 screaming people but I managed to calm things down. I then noticed my team was not longer present… to scared by the crowd and I found them inside the building (still having the fire alarm sound on).
4:00 pm :The IT network was up again and I called accounting to sign the necessary invoices I had to pay so the company could operate again. I received on my desk a stack of 30 centimeters of pending invoices… I understood I wasn't taking the wrong way to solve our problems and I dedicated 3 people on the recovery of our unpaid invoices as we needed urgently a lot of cash.
5:00 pm:I heard people shouting of joy… the toilet paper arrived and they congratulated me as if I was a hero. I thought this was the weirdest IT company I ever saw.
6:10 pm:I closed my laptop, that was enough for my first day on the job so I went to see the people on the help desk - just to know if things were OK.
6:15 pm :Arrival of a truck full of desktop computers that had to be installed for the next morning as our client was giving a major conference. The team was panicked as they had completely forgotten this job and they all wanted to go home. But the job had to be done as we needed to keep our client under control so I decided to help the team. I withdrew my jacket, tie, shirt - applause of the women of the help desk to see a man stripping in front of them - and I put on my T-shirt and I shouted "lets all go together do the job" It worked as 10 people followed me to install and configure the 24 desktop booths.
10:45 pm :End of the day. Everything was installed, connected and working.
Leaving the building, I met a nice blond woman who congratulated me for my hard work and she asked me if I wanted a little drink in her apartment as I seemed to need one. I refused gently (my day was OVER) and I walked to my car - a 10 minute's walk as I didn't find a nearby parking lot in the morning (grrr).
11:25 pm:I arrived at home (70km in 25 minutes - always close to the maximum speed of the car). Exhausted, I felt on my bed with all my clothes on. I didn't even removed my shoes and I felt asleep in less than a second. My first day on the job was over and I did not even had time to start the work I was expected to do. The next day, I arrived in the office and people called me "boss".
Take the decisions myself as the company had to move foreward. I purchased even the most stupid things as nobody wanted to take the decision.
2) Create respect
The team knew several interim managers in a short timespot and they did not care about them. My acting proved them things started moving. The fact I helped them in the evening with an emergency (moving desktops) just proved I was with the team if necessary.
3) Exceed your responsabilities
On my first day, I took a lot of decisions that were far above the rights I received from the shareholders. But someone had to do it ... so I did it.
4) Listen to the people that don't speak
People worked under difficult conditions and were stretched to the max so they did not speak. By watching their reactions, their eyeglimps... I noticed if they agreed with my actions... or at least, it made them thinking.
5) Be consistent and inconsistent
I always made things move on... but at the same time, I took particular attention to do things differently. For instance, every day, I had another suit/tie... so people could not put me easily inside a box.
The only thing I noticed what that the next morning, people called me "boss".
It is important to "manage by walking around" but every move needs to make sense - and people have to see that sense.
I did not spoke to my team, I did not wrote to my team..... I didn't even communicate with them but in their eyes, I was the guy able to get them out of trouble - a natural leader.