Precious time back through very human agile thinking

My name is Đỗ Cẩm Lai (Lucy Do), and I am CEO and owner of LINHPOHS, specializing in all kinds of shirts and home wear.

(Cam Lai in yellow)

Time is my life and it is my most precious thing.
So to me, efficient use of time and agile management have helped me achieve success. Previously, I worked up to 12 hours / day, but in recent months, I only work 1-2 hours / day. Sometimes I have to remember to call and ask the staff if they need any assistance. “Look, no sister !!!” but the efficiency is still increasing. I’m incredibly happy because the staff took my job away. Ooh …
I’m not an expert, but I have the pleasure of sharing because maybe what I write can touch someone, helping them get out of a deadlock like I used to be in.

Here is a video interview in Vietnamese another of our students, Trần Thủy Tiên, did with Cam Lai {8 minutes}

(You can read more of Teal Unicorn’s client stories in English here)

A while ago, my best friend Hang [another of our clients] shared that every time Vinh Duc Real Estate has a successful transaction, the whole company will gather to celebrate in the real sense. I thought to myself: “My God, what company congratulates each other on their success so much. People from human resources, accounting, and all sales members, they are all happy together when a deal is closed. What do we do? But does that way of working really exist in the world? ”

Today is our turn to be happy together. Often, from one employee to the other, employees call out “oaaaa, first order 20 items” / “ha ha … 50 items” / “OMG, 100 items …” Just cheering voices all over. A young staffer was busy packing the orders while exclaiming gleefully, “My hands are so happy packing” … You may be surprised that my staff do not even get commission from the sales because I pay a big salary instead. I motivate them by giving things which have more value than money such as:

  1. Giving them parenting training courses online.
  2. Giving English courses to part-time staff who are going to be preschool teachers.
  3. Paying club memberships for women to be more beautiful and happier.
  4. Supporting the tuition fees for the children of staff who are enrolling in better schools.
  5. Sending staff to sales training courses.
  6. Subsidising staff to buy iPhones so they can enjoy and work more effectively.
  7. Funding travelling.
  8. Accepting children and grandchildren of the staff to join our team.
  9. Giving gifts to employees’ children occasionally.
  10. Facilitate selling their yogurt.
  11. Scheduling first aid training courses on common accidents in the family with Survival Skills Vietnam.

In general, I am quite altruistic. The reason I have a lot of time is thanks to employee management according to agile thinking and methods. I just put in requirements only, the employees manage themselves in their own way, and I welcome failure and always work with them on what we learn from that, what we can do and build a procedure for better execution in future. And my staff work even better than me, so don’t think about using your own experience to teach the staff everything. That’s wrong!

My staff go to work with HAPPINESS every day, so I am successful. Money is not a successful destination for me.

The secret lies in the “agile Management” course from Cherry Vu and Rob England.

I would like to share a few points:

  1. Agile management thinking: why it resonates for me.

Previously, I always looked for solutions to “handle” unmotivated employees, employees who did not have the spirit of learning, employees who made excuses when doing wrong … all objectives were aimed at correcting employees. Hearing and witnessing how a good case looks after my best friend Hang applied Agile Management inspired me to go find out. The happiness of each employee at Vinh Duc Real Estate spreads to its founder and has spread to me. I wanted to bring that happiness back to my employees.

  1. What changes have I made to my organization after seeing Cherry’s Agile Thinking? And does it work?

– The first and biggest change is to change the manager’s way of thinking. Now that I look back, I can imagine what Cherry was thinking when listening to my purpose for the course [when we first introduced ourselves]. “My organisation has a problem that is all due to the staff”. Later I realised that I wasn’t thinking scientifically, I did not understand the cause of the problem, that the error lies in the system, the procedures.

– The way I interact with employees has changed from orders to dialogue. Our response to mistakes starts from: Why is it going wrong? Where is the missing process? or we look at the communication: the employees have not understood? [In the past], not only did I identify the wrong person, but I told them off and punished them. [Now], it helps employees feel safe to talk about all the problems to you, because they know you will help them instead of punishing them. There is always a so-called cost of mistakes, which also comes from your system, exposing you to where to fix it.

– Managers are not above looking: I go to where they work and look at their work – go to gemba. There are problems that cannot be solved over the phone, no matter how many times I call, but when meeting them, listening to them speak, asking questions to understand the nature, I have a deeper insight and knowledge of the issue. Problems and solutions appear right after that.

– Pursuing quality to have agility: instead of ending up having to cut costs and make layoffs, I resisted hiring more people so we wouldn’t have that risk when the market is slow. I had a shortage of people, so my organization was always in a state of overload. After understanding that I was thinking wrongly, I listed out the overloaded jobs and priorities to do in the coming time in order to set direction in recruiting people. With the ability to do each other’s work, they create more value, productivity increases dramatically, and the risks and costs go down as a result.

– When studying [the Teal Unicorn training and coaching], I realized that the staff are the ones directly creating value. Because of urgency or lack of someone available, I [used to] agree to let the garment staff deliver when needed, resulting in their work being interrupted. After the class, I informed the workshop to stop the waste, and found a delivery man to take over.

– To flexibly handle jobs and not lose any, I created small groups such as: closing orders, dividing rows, composing orders, orders urgently needed by customers, adjustments at work …  Each time if problems arise, employees self-classify and send requests / pictures to the appropriate group so that those involved will take the job and handle it. Whoever handles what will drop a heart/like on the message/image assigned to that task. After this, we can check who has done it to verify and sit back and find solutions.

– Flow of work: When Cherry taught us about value stream mapping, I applied it immediately, and now I always use this method since I understand its value. When I see the flow from planning -> cutting -> printing -> sewing, I can see the wastes through each step, grasp the waiting time, understand where the work is stuck … That provides a general picture for me so I can adjust it and prioritise work better at the right time. However, it is necessary for many parts to work together, so some parties are not consistent when implementing. It is necessary to introduce better policies and call for commitments to implement.

– With [Teal Unicorn’s] agile Sales [training], I like the idea that customers who complain can mean they care. They can be potential customers, they want to buy so they complain about this and that. Before then, I considered them to be annoying and mercilessly overlooked them, but when studying Agile Sales I changed my mind. I patiently answered customer inquiries, and went back to where I lacked a response as soon as possible. Since then, I do not mind how difficult it is to handle such cases and thereby increase a lot of loyal customers – which is also a point that customers appreciate about us. The staff too are welcoming complaints with great politeness and patience.

– Authority And Trust: In the past, I used to work with detailed requirements and use my own experience to force employees to follow my way of doing it. Later, I realised that if I do that, the employee road is very narrow, their creativity is limited. I did it a lot, so I knew a lot was completely wrong. Employees are people who are deeply involved in their work, they are my work improvers. I assign them to organize their own storage, as long as they explain why they did – I nod if I feel it is reasonable. Photographers are the same, they always have novel ideas, shooting angles and set ups that I have difficulty keeping up with. Employees plan the sales setups and explain the reasons for them to make such a decision, if something is not right, then work with them …  You will learn a lot from employees if you accept it’s ok for them to get it wrong, to mature employees together with you, and then trust and learn from them.

– Multi-functions for each employee: in the past I thought specialisation was professional, but later realised multi-ability is even more advanced. I allocate a short time during the day for employees to guide each other’s work, get acquainted and share how. The effect is that when an employee realises that someone is sick, someone can jump over to support without stopping the flow, and when you need to focus on which stage you can switch jobs by yourself. A supporting culture was born from there, but people still needed a bond with a common goal and Lam Luy, another practitioner in the Agile Management community, helped me realise that. [It makes us very happy that the tribe of students are helping each other].

  1. How effective is agile management in my organisation? I would like to demonstrate by numbers.

I was “enlightened” in May 2020 by agile thinking. Looking at the statistics you will see that sales from May increased steadily towards the end of the year.

After applying agile thinking, the highest revenue month (October 2020) is 4.5 times higher than the low revenue month (March 2020).

In 9 years of operation, the market was the most turbulent in 2020. It was a difficult time, everyone cut down on spending, especially the needs like clothing. A lot of stores have evaporated. But we got the highest revenue ever, at a time of COVID – I look back and think wow!

In the last 4 consecutive months (from October 2020 to January 2021), revenue has been higher than previous months.

  1. How has my organization’s emotions, behavior, and culture changed since I caught this new wave of thinking?

Life is a series of choices. If I had continued following the mindset of being the boss, only interested in numbers, exhausting people to achieve goals, and indifferent to the spiritual life of subordinates, or in other words motivating them with my own pressure, I believe I wouldn’t have been able to last until today. My mindset is not making money at all costs, so my biggest success is HAPPINESS of my employees. Everyone comes here as a family where they feel belonging, trusted, respected, loved, and sharing. Always filled with laughter at work, at least they are happy 8 hours / day. When I fell into such a happy paradise, I was dosed with dopamine every day – a formidable contagious hormone of happiness. In my organisation there was an employee who had a negative view of everything, she always wanted more money because she was poor. She has transformed into a sharing, caring person now. I was deeply moved when she used her own salary to buy diapers, toys, and food for other employees. Ms. Cherry is right, when staff are happy, productivity naturally increases: productivity in work and productivity in “giving”. 

[Cam Lai is a lovely person. She was managing in the way she thought managers were supposed to manage, but it wasn’t her real self.  The strain of the cognitive dissonance was breaking her. Cherry set her free.]

Happy staff, happy owner. I have more time to make customers happier with my new policies and ideas. “Free”, I think of ways to bring so much value to my teammates and thank them very much for giving me a lot of time to live with my passion – Education. [Cam Lai now has time to start a whole new education business, but that’s another story]

It’s wonderful – very human agile thinking, Cherry and Rob !!!


(You can read more of Teal Unicorn’s client stories here)