That was not the way I envisioned our ‘breakthrough’ year to start
Author: Max-F. Scheichenost – Partner, Mekong Capital
November 24th 2022
A flashback to June 2020, when I arrived at Mekong, my starting point for the Mekong Technology Department: I was introduced to the Mekong Capital Tech Infrastructure of more than 65 different, scattered applications, which took multiple different systems to get to the relevant information I need. Our business intelligence system was printed-excel-files with quarterly reports printed on the wall. My ‘team’ is a 1+1 men’s show, with me supposed to focus on our Investees and my colleague, Khanh, being our IT workplace manager ‘fixing’ our internet connection, zoom rooms, and ensuring our printers are working.
All 3 VDI elements that I have chosen to take over: VDI Digital Transformation, Business Intelligence, and Customer Experience were in the bottom 30%, which means the least performing VDI elements across both Mekong Capital and our Investees.
I decided to focus my time and energy on the investees that have the biggest impact on our MEFIII fund’s performance: Pharmacity and F88.
Six months later, satisfied with my results and encouraged that I could have a direct impact on our investees, I was waiting for the Jan 2021 promotion announcements.
Nothing. No announcement, nor promotion. “I don’t get it”.
During my next Mentor-Mentee meeting with Chris Freund, I confronted him about the situation as I was pretty clear about what I delivered and what I could contribute, but I didn’t see the acknowledgment of my results. Chris – seemingly unimpressed by what I was sharing – said that this was good but not why I have been recruited as a Director. As a Director, one of the responsibilities is to build the in-house capabilities, and he hasn’t seen yet that I was building these capabilities.
Fair point. I was so focused on delivering my own results and being independent that I spent very little time on building these capabilities within Mekong Capital. I accepted the challenge and focused my first quarter of 2021 on recruiting a world-class team.
More than 100 candidates, 30 interviews, 6 cultural assessments, and 3 offers later, I recruited – what I considered the top 1% for the requirements I had for these roles in Vietnam.
BOOM. I made it.
Fast forward, it’s Quarter 4/2021, our team started to be one unity, and all 3 VDI elements had steadily moved up on the performance scale. I was celebrating our achievements with the digital transformation team and headed into my family holiday.
Coming back to the new year of 2022 – and finally getting out of the Covid-19 Work-From-Home mode – I was full of energy and a positive outlook that this is our breakthrough year as a team.
Then… Reality hit back again: One of the team members I wanted to build up as my number 2 shared with me her consideration to resign as she experienced my expectations of her were being too high. Another team member responsible for Business Intelligence was completely overwhelmed with our new BI system. Hence, dozens of integrated dashboards were crashing day by day. And my digital workplace leader did not have a reliable person under him, which led us to agree with his direct report that it was time to move on.
Mhm… That’s not the way I envisioned our ‘breakthrough’ year to start. After a reflective weekend, I did what any leader at Mekong Capital would do: I declared multiple off-tracks and crises regarding my commitment to building a world-class team that delivers its results reliably and ultimately, my off-track in being a leader who causes his team to generate a breakthrough in performance.
This last one was the most challenging to admit as it’s easy to blame others for ‘their’ non-performance, or that they don’t fit, thus, they want to resign. But at this point, I realized that it all started with me, who I was being, and how I was leading my team, which led to the result of the team.
I started a new coaching program with a commitment to be a listener first and effectively causing my team members to deliver the results, instead of me dictating to them what to focus on. I also discovered that it’s time to fully delegate certain activities and give my team the space to struggle through them.
As an impatient, action and results-driven person, this has been quite challenging for me. Luckily, I shared this commitment and challenge with my Coach, who called me out multiple times when I had the urge to move ‘into action’ versus giving my team member the space to develop.
I have been impressed by how each of the team members stood up, taking leadership and responsibility for the scope of work that is beyond their accountabilities.
For example, our BI Officer led key projects and partnerships to drive our Business Intelligence high-impact activities and was not limited by his supposedly limited experience leading such projects.
Other team members declare that they are now my number 2 and leading all digital transformation projects both across Mekong Capital and our investees. They transformed without me giving much guidance. In fact, the more space I gave them to develop, and the less I got involved, the faster they stepped up to the challenge.
At the last team building event, we co-created a new Growth department to be the source of breakthrough, remarkable impact and being “growthset” and full of possibilities for all of our stakeholders.
Now, all 3 VDI elements (Digital Transformation, Business Intelligence, and Customer Experience) are part of our Top 30% best-performing elements across Mekong Capital and investee companies. The Growth team is working as an interdependent team, providing leadership and taking responsibility for a breakthrough future. And best of all, I am enabled to now support more teams in Mekong Capital to generate a breakthrough in performance for their VDI element(s).
And the start of the transformation was me realizing WHO I was being as a leader was not causing our team to generate a breakthrough in performance. We have now created the best digital workplace in Vietnam with a market-leading business intelligence and data analytics system that gives us a competitive advantage in the market.
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Mekong Capital makes investments in consumer-driven businesses and adds substantial value to those companies based on its proven framework called Vision Driven Investing. Our investee companies are typically among the fastest-growing companies in Vietnam’s consumer sectors.
In January 2022, Mekong Capital founder Chris Freund published Crab Hotpot, a story about a bunch of crabs who found themselves stuck in a boiling pot. The colorful cover of “Crab Hot Pot,” complete with expressive cartoon crustaceans, looks like a children’s tale at first glance. But as one continues reading, it becomes clear that the work has an important message about organizational transformation, leadership and focusing on a clear vision for the future.
The book is available on Tiki (Hard copy): bit.ly/38baF8a (Vietnamese) and Amazon: amzn.to/3yWunzG (English)
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