Regular readers of this blog will know that at THP we live by the maxim that “Nothing is Impossible.” It is one of the company’s seven core values, embodying the spirit of both of my parents who faced one challenge after another establishing a livelihood in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and then setting up THP in the early-to-mid 1990’s.
My mother and father grew up accustomed hardship. It made them resourceful and resilient. But for my generation and younger, Covid-19 presented many of us with the biggest challenge of our lives and careers, as the Delta variant swept across Vietnam during 2021.
But THP was very fortunate. Those core values enabled the company to successfully navigate an extremely difficult year and they have been an ongoing source of comfort and strength to everyone who works for it.
That hasn’t been the case for plenty of others. During the first 11 months of 2021, 106,441 companies in Vietnam shut down. Plenty of others had to drastically reduce their output.
By contrast, at THP over 1,000 staff members spent 125 days working, eating and sleeping at our Bin Duong headquarters over the summer and early fall. We were following the government’s three-on-the-spot policy to contain the virus and keep the nation’s essential production running.
It was psychologically tough being away from friends and family. But we all came out on the other side with an incredible sense of achievement and of having learnt many valuable lessons along the way.
There was also a real sense of camaraderie, which has continued as life progressively gets back to normal and hopefully stays that way. This underpins another one of our core values: cultivate a spirit of business ownership.
Here are a few of my personal favourites (among many other key highlights which I have shared this year):
Adaptability: Over the past year, we’ve all had to adopt new working practices to ensure that processes continued running smoothly in the face of the pandemic.
On a company wide level, we initiated multiple new IT initiatives during 2021, which facilitated a more digitalized working environment. Thanks to a company-wide rollout of Office 365 last spring, for example, authorized personnel can now easily access documents through SharePoint. In September, my father also approved his first document using a digital signature.
Our HR team also had an extremely busy year. The three-on-the spot policy necessitated a number of employees being retrained so that they could operate some of the machinery in the place of absent colleagues while they were living at the factory. During that period, we all helped each other out to make life as easy as possible: whether it was taking part in the cooking, or arranging after-work activities.
Being adaptable in the face of change has many beneficial effects. It can help to reinforce the strength of existing working relationships.
But perhaps more importantly, making changes usually acts as a good prompt to think about doing things differently. It paves the way for new and better ways of operating. In the case of THP’s digitalization, it’s helping to forge better inter-company and interpersonal communications.
Co-operation: This is always a good skill to have, but it’s an absolutely essential one during a crisis. So it wasn’t very surprising that this attribute came out time and time again during the voting process for our annual end-of-year poll to find the company’s top 10 employees.
The most-valued colleagues were those who enjoyed co-operating with others, who looked out for their colleagues, who listened and came up with proactive solutions in taxing situations.
Leadership: During the course of the year, my father frequently used military analogies to describe the challenges we were facing. It helped to frame our evolving strategy in handling such an invisible foe.
One thing, which was absolutely clear, was the need to be disciplined and resourceful if we were to stay on top of the situation – as the best military units always are. As a result, we replaced any areas where there had been de-centralized management with centralized leadership.
We set up a quick response committee comprising the board and divisional heads. This meant that we could make rapid decisions and then cascade them down through the organization. We introduced an online form to reduce the lead-time on senior management decisions.
Armies wear uniforms and at THP, each team has its own coloured T-shirt. Staff members like them because they feel a greater sense of solidarity with other team members. We have our yellow shirts, our orange shirts and so on. As my father says: during the past year they’ve been “warriors, co-existing courageously with Covid-19.”
Our level of military style discipline was such that staff members needed permission from the deputy CEO (or in some cases the CEO) to go out through the main gate at many points throughout the year. There was full compliance because everyone knew that this move helped to keep us safe.
Resilience: Every single one of THP’s key divisions demonstrated this trait, from the purchasing department through to production. Our supply chains didn’t break so we were able to maintain steady output.
One of the main reasons why we didn’t falter is because we always emphasize resilience during our staff training. If defines how we try to respond to any crisis.
For instance, no one wanted Covid-19 to happen, but those who flourish in the face of difficult odds are the ones who try to find something positive to take away from it. They try to make the best of what happens and to learn lessons, which can help them in the future.
I’m very proud of the way that the THP family dealt with the challenges posed by 2021. Those efforts were also recognized by the government after THP was awarded a Certificate of Merit from the Minister of National Defence for our timely contribution to frontline workers.
But biggest acknowledgement of all came from the greater THP family. When we conducted our end-of-year poll, we asked everyone to list the company’s greatest achievements of the year.
The most popular answers did not concern breaking into new export markets (although the company did), or finding new sales leads domestically. They were all about how THP staff felt about the way they’d been treated. The top three answers were: THP kept my family safe, kept me in good health and created favourable conditions for individuals to work together and develop their future skills.