Digital Leadership-in-Action Conversation : Leading Organisations Out of a Pandemic

Date: 27 May 2021, Thursday

True leadership can arise out of any crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic was a level playing field for leaders, owing to the lack of a common playbook for boards and management teams to navigate it. Research has also shown that organizations that emerge more quickly from crises tend to take a disproportionate share of the opportunities presented.

Distinguished speakers

  • Mrs Tan Ching Yee (Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance and Prime Minister’s Office (Special Duties) and Chair, Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority and Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore),
  • Ms Diaan-Yi Lin (Senior Partner and Asia Co-leader for the Social, Healthcare and Public Entities, McKinsey & Company and Board Member, Viva Foundation), and
  • Mr Jonathan Ng (Executive Director, Far East Organisation and Non-Executive Director of Yeo Hiap Seng Ltd)

shared their reflections in leading organisations out of a pandemic.

The discussion was led by Ms Janet Ang, Independent Director of Singapore Press Holdings Limited and Chairman of NUS Institute of Systems Science.

Participants of the Digital Leadership-in-Action Conversation with Mrs Tan Ching Yee, Ms Diaan-Yi Lin, and Mr Jonathan Ng. Photo by Council for Board Diversity

Our key takeaways on leading organisations out of a pandemic:

  1. Over-communication is better than under-communication. Frequent updates to provide clarity on the situation – both good news and bad news (e.g. via emails, live broadcasts, podcasts etc) – helps to manage staff’s emotions and expectations. Leaders’ sharing of their personal vulnerabilities during difficult periods helps employees feel connected with them.
  1. During the pandemic, the biggest challenge for leaders is dealing with dilemmas:
    1. In pre-Covid times, Singapore runs a market-based economy. But overnight, the public service had to get into details of what were the essential services that had to remain open and which ones had the highest health risks that had to be closed, thus becoming a “semi-centrally planned economy” during Covid-19 in order to protect lives and livelihoods
    2. Being able to handle duality becomes an essential competency for leaders.
      1. Balancing both microscopic (short-term, operational implications) and telescopic perspectives (looking out for future opportunities).
      2. Managing challenges and risks and turning them into positives for the employees and the organisation (eg pivot to new segments leveraging core competencies).
      3. Balancing profits for shareholders with a broader purpose and stewardship to stakeholders (employees, partners, society, environment).
    3. Unity in diversity: The unprecedented pandemic, without a clear playbook for leaders, necessitated an inclusive approach where individuals from different backgrounds and expertise need to come together to share their diverse perspectives and collectively come up with solutions that are most optimal. Decisive leadership at the top to harness diversity proved to be the best approach for both the public service as well as the private sector.
  1. Some structural changes arising from the pandemic are expected to stay:
    1.  The acceleration of digitalization in organisations and the community during the pandemic was remarkable (eg the “Hawkers Go Digital” programme) and is set to continue. In fact, for Singapore to emerge stronger, transformation with digitalization and global connectivity is an imperative.
    2. The Future of Work will drive the skills of the workforce, how and where work is done, how talent is managed and the future of office spaces.
    3. The geopolitical environment, the US-China relationship and its disproportionate impact on Southeast Asia presents a factor of uncertainty.
    4. Trust is a key currency in all relationships – between employer and employees, government and businesses, government and society, businesses and society.
  1. Values that prior generations have built allows current leaders to have the wherewithal to sustain and grow through the crisis. For example, prudent measures by previous leaders allowed the government to have past reserves to draw upon to ensure lives and livelihoods are protected, and organisations to retain their staff despite steep financial losses caused by the pandemic.
  1. In order to stay ahead, organisations have to pivot their business models / products / services, anticipate risks, and seek to turn negative situations into positive ones by rapidly mobilising to capture the opportunities at hand. Seeking out new areas of growth, including within adjacent industries, may be necessary.
  1. The pandemic has highlighted the degree of interdependence, be it in terms of supply chain, vaccines or jobs. The Covid-19 pandemic is unique because no one is spared. However, countries and societies will emerge better if we can foster greater solidarity and unity.
  1. The pandemic has also resurfaced the importance of self-care and mental wellness for leaders. Leaders can also overcome isolation intensified by Covid-19 through conversations with other leaders to discuss common experiences and challenges.

Speaker

Mrs Tan Ching Yee is the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Singapore. She also holds the appointment of Permanent Secretary (Special Duties), Prime Minister’s Office. She assumed these posts on 1 May 2016. She is Chairman of the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore and the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, and a board member of the National Research Foundation and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Mrs Tan is also a Non-Executive Director of Changi Airport Group.

Mrs Tan was previously Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. Before that, she was the Chief Executive of the then Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, and also Deputy Secretary (Infocomm and Media Development) at the former Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. Prior to these roles, she had worked at the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Mrs Tan read Economics at Cambridge University and obtained her Master’s of Science in Management from the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University.

Ms Diaan-Yi Lin coleads McKinsey’s Public & Social Sector and Healthcare Systems & Services Practices in Asia. She also helps direct our work with sovereign-wealth funds in the region.

Formerly the managing partner of McKinsey in Singapore, Diaan-Yi has worked extensively with government entities and government-linked companies in Singapore and across Asia.

Examples of her recent client work include the following:

  • designing and helping implement large-scale programs to drive performance transformation, accelerated digitization, and improved productivity across the public sector
  • working with sovereign-wealth funds and government entities to maximize value and transform performance across their portfolio companies
  • diagnosing critical gaps in infrastructure and setting up efficient, effective public–private partnerships to close those gaps and support economic development
  • advising an Asian government on detailed implementation plans to transform its pre-primary school system
  • supporting a public-sector institution on a major portfolio-management effort
  • helping develop a public–private partnership to increase employability among students and graduates

Diaan-Yi is passionate about working with governments to drive workforce transitions in a new era of work. She has published research on this topic and has spoken extensively on automation, jobs, and the future of work at global and regional gatherings, such as the Asia–Pacific regional meeting of the Trilateral Commission and the Asian Human Capital & Leadership Symposium. Diaan-Yi is also a keen observer of China’s role in globalization and infrastructure development around the world.

In addition to her public-sector work, Diaan-Yi has served clients in many industries—including financial services, telecommunications, logistics, energy, and retail—on a range of issues, such as strategy, corporate governance, and corporate finance.

Before joining McKinsey, Diaan-Yi worked as an investment banker at Credit Suisse First Boston in New York and London. She was a core member of the equity private-placements group and responsible for securing mandates, marketing transactions to potential investors, and structuring and pricing equity transactions for companies that required growth capital.

Mr Jonathan Ng is an Executive Director of Far East Organization, Singapore’s largest private property developer, with a presence in Singapore, Australia, Japan and USA. Jonathan provides strategic leadership in the functions of Sales and Leasing Business Group, Customer Service, Corporate Affairs, as well as Far East International, which aims to create a viable market presence in different key locations around the world.

He plays a critical role in the design and execution of the Organization’s transformative business and corporate goals, working closely with the various business functions to deliver improved integration, innovative and sustainable practices, as well as meaningful growth.

Jonathan is a Non-Executive Director of Yeo Hiap Seng Ltd, and a Director of Precious Treasure Pte Ltd & Precious Quay Pte Ltd, which own the Fullerton Hotel & Fullerton Bay Hotel in Singapore. Jonathan is also a Director of Far East Ventures Pte Ltd, the Venture Capital arm of FEO.

Moderator

Janet Ang is a retired IBM Vice President and former Managing Director of IBM Singapore. She is a veteran in the tech industry and has lived and worked in Japan and China for over a decade. Janet has a diverse background having managed IBM Services in Greater China, IBM Industry Solutions across Asia Pacific and Lenovo Desktop Operations globally.

She is an Independent Director at SPH Limited and the Bank of the Philippines Islands. She also the boards of SISTIC.com, NUS Institute of Systems Science and Caritas Singapore Agape Fund. She also serves as deputy chair of the SBF Foundation and sits on the boards of Esplanade, HTX and Singapore Polytechnic.

Janet was awarded the NUS Business School Eminent Alumni Award in 2014, the NUS Distinguished Alumni Service Award in 2015 and the Singapore Computer Society – Hall of Fame Award in 2018. In 2019, Janet was awarded the Public Service Medal (PBM) by the Singapore Government.

Organisers

The Council for Board Diversity (CBD) is a 21-member Council comprising corporate leaders and professionals from the business, people and public sectors, formed to promote a sustained increase in the number of women on boards of listed companies, statutory boards, and Institutions of a Public Character in Singapore. Mr Loh Boon Chye, CEO of SGX, and Mrs Mildred Tan, Chairman of Tote Board Singapore, are the current Co-Chairs.

For more information about CBD, visit www.councilforboarddiversity.sg.