The Power of Daring: A Q&A with Olivier Maitre, Founder and CEO of Thymus

7 Minutes

Phillip Welburn, Managing Director of Elliott Scott HR Asia Pacific recently sat down with O...

Phillip Welburn, Managing Director of Elliott Scott HR Asia Pacific recently sat down with Olivier Maitre, Founder and CEO of Thymus Consulting to discuss the health of businesses during Covid-19 and beyond and how companies of all sizes should seek to re-invent themselves in one way or another. Olivier, you mentioned to me that throughout your discussions with partners and clients during the pandemic you found the common denominator to be people.

Can you tell us more about that market sentiment? Business priorities have changed during Covid-19 and there has been a shift from focusing on business growth at the beginning of the year to survival mode. We all have in mind what happened to the hospitality, airlines, and retail industries: revenues have fallen by more than 70% in most cases. Others have had to adjust their operations to reduce their costs and few, like the insurance sector, have been much less affected than the rest. Throughout the pandemic Thymus met with close to 50 companies across industries and we found that all companies have moved their top priority to the same area: their people. Companies have acted quickly to protect their employees’ health and safety while ensuring business continuity. They had no choice but to do that. The ones who have done it very well will benefit from their caring behaviour for years to come. They will be able to attract and retain talent better than their competitors. The others won’t.

So the great news is that people are currently the top priority but it may not last long as economic reality is impacting the survival and performance of companies. The next few months will be tough. From your experience dealing with extreme business cycles and considering the climate we find ourselves in, which characteristics would you say an optimal organization should have? I would say 4: Adaptability, Flexibility, Simplicity, and Borderless. The last few months have demonstrated that adaptability and flexibility are the key enablers for survival and success. A lot of attention has been given to the “work from home” concept but it goes far beyond this. Apart from moving work locations, companies have started to reorganize their teams based on end-to-end processes or specific projects. Others spent time deeply understanding the skills and motivation of their employees and discovered they could give them other roles, closer to their passions and still aligned with the company needs.

As companies need to carefully look at how they operate, they must consider moving from a traditional structure to a more agile concept to bring higher levels of efficiencies. They can start with small entities to prove it can work before moving to a large scale transformation. The concept of teams, squads, or communities of practice is going to make even more sense now than in the past and will resonate with many employees who have appreciated their recent new ways of working. Simplicity relates to easier ways of working. We will not talk here about the obvious methods like process improvement or technology implementation but will focus on the organisation structure. Many organizations, especially in Asia, have seen double digits’ growth in the last 10 to 20 years and kept increasing headcount based on continuous growth. There was no “burning platform” to optimize the organization and simplify its structure. As a result, companies have added management layers, often with a small span of control (the number of direct reports per manager).

This has typically added unnecessary complexities within organizations and has slowed down decision making. Time is now to rethink if all levels of management are needed and if the number of direct reports per manager should increase. And finally, borderless. While companies quickly put together efficient systems to allow their teams to work from home, they also understood that this concept has opened the door to a much larger possibility: moving roles in expensive countries to more affordable ones. Obviously, if organizations have managed to get their teams working efficiently on a remote basis, it may be time to reconsider the need to have large amount of staff in high cost locations: “If my employee can do this work from home in London, why not have someone with the same qualifications in Malaysia do it for 25% of the cost?”. While offshoring is not new, many companies have been shy to move to this model but may reconsider their stance now due to the last few months.

Given what you just shared, what do you see coming now? 

Two different trends.

  1. The first one relates to how companies have to deal with their workforce. Employers need to look through a new pair of lenses or adjust their current ones to understand that their employees have changed. People have woken up to what really matters in life and this may have changed their expectations in the last few months. It would be safer for employers to take this into consideration now, listen to their employees, understand better than before who they are, ALL skills they have, what motivates them, and build agile structures taking all the above into consideration. 
  2. The other trend is, unfortunately, forced restructuring. The majority of industries forecast a serious drop in revenue and need to adjust their operating costs. They have tried hard so far to avoid reducing their headcount and have been creative and successful in doing so. But new ways of working, new expectations from employees, pressure on costs, and further business difficulties till end of this year should push companies to reorganize themselves now. They should not wait for the tsunami to arrive and should dare to change.

The problem in Asia is that many industries have never had to deal with such a situation and don’t know how to prepare for it. Reorganizations or workforce reduction takes serious planning to keep the best talent and the brand intact to attract future talent. To close, what would be your recommendation to organizations now? 

There is an urgency for companies to look at their organization and their employees in a smarter way. As many companies have focused on being customer-centric, they should also move to people-centricity to outperform. Try a different pair of lenses, test new approaches, do a pilot for an agile structure in a small part of your company, or get people in a room to find solutions to problems together. It's only about daring… Thymus helps companies think people first. As leaders in human-centered solutions, Thymus changes the way organizations approach the importance of people through innovative and impactful programs and mindset transformation.

To learn more get in touch with Olivier Maitre at and visit their website here.