Changing a Dysfunctional Sales Company

Swedish sales are faltering in an international European sales and production company. Established over one hundred years ago, the illustrious European company with a degree of technical specialisation has subsidiaries in many cities across several countries and is planning a reorganisation. An interim is given a six-month assignment to prepare for the transformation and to increase sales. However, it turned out that there were other problems at hand too.

Change which I should implement myself, I have to be in charge of and execute properly. In order to succeed it is important to formulate one’s own opinion, to understand the connection between people, and to comprehend what the challenges actually are. Following lengthy discussions with the best part of fifty staff members, the conclusion drawn by the interim regarding what actually needs to be tackled, was in part contrary to the opinion of group management. If management doesn’t know what ought to be done, I can help in explaining this. But it requires that I also question and coach the client.


In addition to a poorly focused and communicated production strategy, the problem turned out to be one of cultural nature, even if the client refused to view it in that light. There was a big gap between the views at the head office, and the state of practical reality. The previous manager had fallen victim to the situation, and the employees at one office were unhappy and not doing great. As a manager, you have to like the people you work with, regardless of origin and custom. If you don’t, you must learn how to – in order to gain meaningful insight into how things actually work. It doesn’t have a lot to do with technology, leadership is rather about people, relationships and respect.

The previous manager opposed the institution of ‘Swedish Fika’, and had implemented a dress code and a set of values which were inappropriate. Even if excellent routines were in place, the bad atmosphere was demotivating, resulting in poor co-operation and deteriorating sales. The service organisation was dysfunctional, and customers were left with substandard contracts and unfulfilled promises. A turn-around did not take long to achieve. My starting point was that “no staff member constitutes a problem, if merely given a chance.” I accompanied the service manager to call on customers, apologised, redrafted the contracts and put my foot down for the future.


The assignment entailed creating a Nordic organisation and to merge the subsidiaries. Furthermore, during the autumn the group also published poor results which required cuts also across other parts of the group. Together with a contracted HR-manager – with extensive experience from negotiations with labour unions – the interim had resolved several difficult issues. Already after a mere four months everything was negotiated and settled. My task was to empower people for the new organisation. The already existing excellent reporting structure required no change. Being an interim made things easier – and being clear about it – not fighting to maintain the job. Thus, the others did not perceive me as a threat, but co-operated in order to identify suitable solutions. People who previously had been identified as problems were now motivated to identify appropriate solutions. They were assigned new tasks and some of them were promoted to managers.]


No one can make a mark financially in six months. For an interim in a short project the bottom line doesn’t have to be priority number one. Focus is rather on implementation of change making the organisation better in the long run. After more than six months the reorganisation was completed, one seventh of the staff terminated, and a couple of country managers reassigned new tasks. The platform in Sweden was due to become part of a Nordic one. Being an interim suits me better, as I am focused on operations and wish to take on overall responsibility, be in “the thick of things”, and take action to accomplish results.