Report of experiences with a remote assignment in Cambodia

Expert Testimony: «Actually, impossible via Zoom …. But still I tried!»
Report of SEC expert Johan Bartelse, December 2021

Construction expert Han Bartelse details in his personal testimony his ups and downs consulting remotely an installation company in Cambodia.

“12 years ago in Cambodia, Mister Hong Leang Y made his dream come true by starting his own installation company under the name Lotus Green Team. The 4-people strong company guaranteed Mister Hong Leang Y an annual income. But the team had no idea how successful they would become.

The company’s growth process ran so smoothly and (too) explosively that in 2016 Lotus Green Team decided to enlist the help of SEC to streamline the organization for building up the corporate culture. Further growth could hardly be stopped: the company had more than 700 employees before the outbreak of Corona.

Growing fast does not have to be a problem. Managing Director Hong Leang Y realized only too well that the growth had actually outgrown the company. The structure had to be adapted. Not only on the already existing size, but also on the expected further growth of the company.

The Corona pandemic slowed down many organizations, but not Lotus Green Team. Leang Y mentioned that it was a very good time to build up the internal team. Some processes, such as a well-functioning stock system, HR system and even a Young Leader Program have been successfully completed and implemented. However, the overall process did not progress as smoothly as planned.

They could not come to an agreement on how to structure their organization and again a request was made to SEC for support. When SEC approached me about this, it was not so much about whether I would like to do this, but mainly about whether this would be possible via Zoom. And how you should approach such a thing. After all, Corona made it impossible to visit the company. Therefore, it was also impossible to get a complete picture of what is going on by listening to and looking at the situation on-site. Realizing that their issue was urgent and after having read the company’s request carefully once more, I decided to agree to my cooperation. A SEC-organized conversation with Leang Y only reinforced my view of what could be going on.

Introducing a new approach – and facing a lot of resistance
In my opinion, the “cheese slicer method” of improving a few processes would not be sufficient. A completely different approach would be needed to prepare the company for the future, with further growth. But the ultimate question remained, how to tackle this with only Zoom available.

I decided to reverse the process by starting with possible process improvements. Before that, a lot of preparation had to be done in order to set up the outline of the structure that I believe was necessary. Then I determined for myself an order in which I wanted to discuss the various matters. In order to make my ideas clear to the Lotus Green Team, I made a number of sheets with examples of key issues. Leang Y supported me in my approach and gave me complete freedom.

Any change in an organization generally starts with a lot of resistance. “Why do you have to do all this?” and “Am I doing my job not properly?” are well-known counter-arguments. That will undoubtedly be the case here as well.

We decided to hold weekly Zoom meetings with the Management Team. By starting with my vision step-by-step and then looking at how they did it, we could identify the differences and discuss the pros and cons substantively. In the beginning, however, it became more of a monologue with silence on the other side. Later I heard that members of the Management Team were wondering what to do with that strange fellow. Mister Hong Leang Y stifled the “rebellion” and supported my approach by stating that my story should first be listened to.

I started with the cash flows. How the available data could be used much more effectively and in a much more forward-looking manner. Each subsequent meeting, I repeated my previous story and added an element over and over again. What the organization needs to do to achieve this goal. There was almost no response.

Until I indicated that it would now be really desirable, parallel to their own system, to work out a first draft of my vision based on the model I supplied. This was picked up. After a good week, I received a request for a bilateral meeting. Whoever worked this out wanted my opinion on its effect. He appeared to have understood it well and concluded that it provided much more insight and, moreover, it would mean much less work for the organization.

Our turning point
The „famous“ turning point in the process! Everything came together at once. Everyone saw the benefits for their own part of the work. With as a result, more and more questions and fruitful discussions came up.

Based on a summary drawn up by me of all proposed process changes, it was decided after 10 weeks to implement the entire package. Finally, we had a very lively meeting with many questions about all possible details. The management team is enthusiastic about the package that has been agreed upon together. The shareholders have now also given their approval and to have its implementation supervised by an external person.

This enables Lotus Green Team to create further growth and expansion in a responsible manner. With the opportunity for many Cambodians to build an existence in their own country.

Isn’t that what we as experts and SEC want to achieve together?»