What to do when you are stuck in survival zone

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What to do when you are stuck in survival zone

Author: Le Ngoc Quoc Khanh – Manager of Digital Transformation

October 19, 2022

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I marked my 4 years at Mekong Capital with my new title and commitment as Digital Transformation manager. I finally reached where I wanted to be: upbeat, engaged, challenged, and optimistic – working toward a clear goal.  

But you can bet it was not always the case.  

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At the beginning of this year, I felt like my past 2 years being the Digital Workplace manager leading the installment of a cloud system for Mekong Capital were yielding great success. The migration was completed, and everyone built their habit of using the new system from centralized SharePoint. The team enjoyed the flexibility of working and having meetings anywhere at any time. I just onboarded a new team member who had effectively taken over the IT support and maintained this system reliably. Maybe I should retire now?

Just kidding… 

In fact, I was in a mist looking into the future: “What’s next? How can I take Mekong Capital’s Digital Workplace to the next level?”.

So, I sat my team down with Max, my mentor and Mekong Capital’s Partner in Digital Transformation, to define what the ‘next level’ would look like. An optimal pathway would be to elevate the digital workplace experience, bringing WOW to our ‘customers’. Hence, our team selected some key users from across departments and set meetings to seek their opinions on what their vision of ‘the next-level-digital workplace’ would look like. 

Khanh presented about digital workplace at Mekong Capital

Khanh presented about digital workplace at Mekong Capital

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Through multiple listening sessions with the key users, I built a long list of user needs, their pain points, and their definition of what it will look like when we’re at the next level for Digital Workplace. The more inputs I got, the less clarity I achieved. Users’ needs varied too widely. Not to mention, some were about Business Intelligence, not even Digital Transformation, and some were strange requests, like one recommended that we should purchase better (yet expensive) mouses! What?!

I had a hopeless and irritable feeling: “Digital Workplace team will never be good enough for all of our users. This goal is unrealistic, and I feel defeated. I am stuck in this trap.”

I still had one last key user to meet with. It was Ms. Le, our Partner of Operation – and she might be my one last hope. She was my first mentor when I joined Mekong Capital. With her attention to overseeing cross-department functions to achieving the breakthrough future for Mekong Capital, I knew that she could help to give me a clue about what it takes to get to the end of the tunnel. 

I was eager to learn about Ms. Le’s view of what’s ‘next level’ means to her and how does that picture look like. Taking it away from customer experience, her insight was profound: It is about high impact!

In this conversation, she also shared that Mekong Capital’s priorities were around the effectiveness and optimization of Vision Driven Investing (‘VDI’) implementation to deliver the success of our portfolio companies. It helped me to see the whole picture and how Digital Transformation can accelerate the pace of achieving this goal. Then a question from Le stood out to me: “What are the best Digital Transformation platforms/projects that will have the highest impact?”

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I realized that I’ve been operating in a fixed mindset, treating all users’ requests the same and of equal priority and importance.  I had been treating those requests as a checklist, feeling I had to deliver them all to be considered finished. I overwhelmed myself with unrealistic goals.

Le helped me to see a direct connection between digital optimization and our organizational KPIs. It became instantly clear to me — like putting on a new pair of corrective glasses — that what I do must have a high impact, and that impact must contribute to Mekong Capital’s highest priority and KPIs.

It was as if Le was an eye doctor who inspected my vision and gave me new corrective glasses saying, “Here, Khanh. Put these on.” They were the right glasses for my shortsighted eyes. I could see clearly what she saw: Le didn’t see Digital Transformation as a supporting team. Instead, she saw our work as the engine that drives performance by saving time and effort with technology. We can work on 20% of critical areas contributing to 80% of the impact. 

Now I could see the pathway to the next level. My goal is now achievable and genuinely inspiring.

After meeting with her, I gathered our big Growth team as a unified force and identified the key projects that will drive VDI implementation’s effectiveness. Seeing how interconnected all departments were in lifting the performance of VDI implementation, our team also took part in an Agile project with Talent & Culture and Investment team to meet on a weekly basis. This consistent and coherent communication helped my team identify digital systems to support the investment team to best track activities and performance. I no longer limited myself in the space of Digital Workplace. I committed for the success of our Vision as the Digital Transformation Manager.

Growth team (Khanh on the far left)

Growth team (Khanh on the far left)

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When Mekong Capital introduced a new Growthset core value: Starting from a commitment to deliver growth and breakthroughs, when we are not on track for a result to which we are committed, we pull for it as an opportunity for breakthroughs in performance; it struck me this is precisely what I was being. Being Growthset started with each person fearlessly looking into the areas where they are stuck or unclear and recognizing them as an opportunity for growth. 

After 6 months, I am still in my marathon run to reach the ‘next level’ for Digital Transformation. But the end goal was clear, thanks to my Growthset glasses. 

All of us may experience moments of unclarity or being ‘short-sighted.’ We might not even notice it if we were so used to seeing with our current level of vision. It will get worse if we try to postpone our doctor check-ups or even hide our Vision problem. 

Thus, instead of being reactive to the syndrome, I invite you all to venture into having better Vision by regularly seeing an eye doctor to inspect our eyes, and, from time to time, put on newly improved, clearer glasses. You’ll be amazed at how improved clarity of vision can reveal the path to breakthrough and progress. 

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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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