Dr Lai with Singapore colleagues during Lunar New Year

The Silver Lining: Making the Pandemic a Driver of Positive Change

CEO of Siemens ASEAN, Dr Thai Lai Pham, shares about his journey in the last one year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID has undoubtedly changed the world, and cast a dark cloud over many aspects of our lives in business, private and entire societies. But the silver lining is that many positive changes have emerged as a result.

 

My COVID journey in the last one year has been full of discoveries, fresh perspectives, and positive changes, on both a personal and professional level.

From airport lounges to home office

Before 2020 I was constantly on a plane to somewhere. I had the mindset that you need to be physically present for your customers, business partners and your team. But then COVID struck. At first I felt a bit helpless, but I soon realized that I just had to do things differently. And so began a new way of working for me– one of remote leadership, support and virtual presence.

 

My home office became a command center, and I became my family’s IT support hotline as well – one of the silver linings of the pandemic! For the first time in years I feel present - physically and mentally - with my kids. They really enjoyed the home schooling period. My son recently said that he loves that I'm home and there for him. It can be inconvenient when you’re on a work call and the kids come asking for help, but everybody's in the same boat, so people understand.

 

Team empowerment: A win-win

 

My team works in a distributed region: we have more than 3,000 people across 10 different countries, which means it’s impossible to do and know everything yourself. This is why I see team empowerment as a top priority.

 

Empowerment doesn't mean delegating everything and only showing up for ribbon-cutting ceremonies. It means being there when it matters most, while creating a self-sufficient, accountable team that can handle everything else. You trust the team to do the work, and the team trusts you to be there when they need you.

The last face to face townhall with the Siemens Vietnam team in 2019

The new normal of remote working has only served to increase the levels of trust, empowerment and ownership culture within my team. I’ve seen that people feel more in control of their work than ever, and they are much more motivated because of it. There is a greater sense of ownership for the work that they’re doing. They now test and try ideas and strategies themselves, without constantly seeking advice from their managers.

 

This empowerment has been as beneficial for all. For me I’ve had more time to focus on strategic topics, and to think beyond the ‘now’. I have more time now to focus on my actual role of guiding the future of the team and company. It’s a win-win.

Shifting priorities, sharpening focus

 

The pandemic has certainly helped clarify my priorities. My quality time has gone through the roof, both for myself and with my family. This morning I ran my usual 10km round, and yesterday I prepared dinner for my family – things that rarely happened pre-COVID.

 

I’ve found that when you have more quality time outside of work, you’re more present at work. You can focus, you’re more creative, and your mental health is better. In business terms, you’re more efficient and productive.

 

I’ve also seen the positive effects in my team: even though we’ve all been in lockdown for so long, we’re delivering really great results. It’s been amazing to see how they’ve been able to stay in close contact with our customers, and continually close deals virtually.

 

When international travel finally resumes, I’ll be cutting my pre-COVID travel levels by at least 50%, maybe more. Doing a single day round trip to KL or Bangkok felt normal before, but it seems crazy now. I’ve learnt that things can be handled differently, while still being just as effective.

Moving onward and upward

In many ways, COVID has brought the future forward. No doubt “tomorrow” has become even more unpredictable, and it certainly has forced us to break out of our comfort zone and to think differently. We’ve had to change our mindset – to move from old ways of working and embrace new opportunities, and out of it, find success in the new norm. We must embrace the growth mindset culture.