Trust in the time of COVID-19: Why a Culture of Trust is crucial to persevere through and emerge from crisis at Takeda Asia Pacific

The COVID-19 pandemic has upturned the lives of communities, businesses and economies around the world. As these unprecedented times persist, business leaders have prioritized employee health and safety while also ensuring business continuity – and for those of us in healthcare – continues to meet the medical needs of the patients we serve.

As I reflect on the past half a year and how we have adapted to what is now the “not-so-new normal”, and also look ahead to how countries, communities and corporations will rebound from this global crisis, I believe that the common thread necessary for success is a Culture of Trust.

At its most fundamental, trust is defined as the “firm belief in the reliability or ability of someone or something”, and to build this into a culture requires a shared commitment and alignment of values across all members of a team or layers of an organization. Building a company culture driven by trust is imperative, especially in times of crisis, to ensure employee safety, provide stability and foster an inclusive, collaborative environment for us to emerge out from these uncertain times – stronger, together.

Implementing a Culture of Trust
While we as leaders need to walk the talk and show consistency in our actions to demonstrate sincerity, a culture of trust does not merely trickle down. It is important that we also take the time to listen and facilitate an environment where our teams feel empowered to speak up – to share their different perspectives and experiences – especially if they’re unlike our own.

In my first six months at Takeda, I took the time to visit our local office teams across the region in a series of “engagement weeks”, which were filled with business reviews, 1:1 meetings, team meals, shadowing field representatives on customer calls, as well as townhalls with the entire office and field force staff. Through these on-the-ground sessions, I was able to communicate our vision, align with the team, understand the local nuances and unique challenges each team was facing, which in turn helped me make better decisions to support them.

Fast forward to the shift that COVID-19 brought about, where the rapid adoption of remote working and virtually connecting with colleagues invited you into each other’s lives like never before, providing an opportunity to further strengthen relationships and enhance trust. It was important for us at Takeda to stay “connected” while not physically together in the office, and a variety of unique digital interventions were introduced. These include “Ask Me Anything” sessions with our global CEO, Christophe Weber; livestreamed town halls; to more intimate fireside chats with my leadership teams in each of our APAC countries or weekly virtual coffee sessions with small groups of employees from every level across our regional business. These sessions help facilitate inclusivity and transparency, providing an opportunity for us to speak candidly about the current situation, our expectations for the business and ideas for how we can do better for the future.

Agility and adaptation
During a crisis, a team needs to be agile in responding to the rapidly evolving environment. Over the last nine months, regular connects with our extended leadership team have enabled us to respond nimbly, ensuring our crisis response is consistent whilst tailored to suit local stipulated health regulations and aligned with our global crisis management guidance. We were able to take stock of the fluid dynamics, adjust promptly to prepare for the elements within our control and implemented channels for dialogue and connection to help everyone adapt. 

These steps serve to protect our employees and the broader community while ensuring business continuity. Trust is a necessary component throughout, as we can be open and comfortable in challenging one another or retain the team’s confidence when making difficult decisions that would ultimately lead to the best possible outcome.  

Our teams have had their resilience tested and demonstrated a fighting spirit and unwavering commitment to serving our customers and patients, leveraging the myriad virtual meeting tools to engage our stakeholders in more innovative ways. We began hosting virtual roundtable discussions to share best practice in treatment management and knowledge exchange with small groups of local and regional experts; persevered with webinars and online iterations of our regional summits to unveil the latest scientific data; hosted multi-country launch activation workshops; and continued fostering local partnerships to drive access to our highly innovative medicines for patients that need them most.

Nonetheless, as much as our enhanced digital capabilities have enabled us to overcome certain barriers, we also learned that full days in front of a computer screen in back-to-back virtual meetings can also be overwhelming and exhausting. In response to this feedback, we introduced “Recharge Days” where employees were encouraged to keep the day free of meetings and use the time to clear through work that needed to be done and to recharge. Many of our local offices have also implemented virtual health and wellness programs to ensure the wellbeing of our people during these challenging times.

In a crisis like COVID-19, it is unlikely you will ever have all the answers, but by including employees on the journey, providing clear, practical guidance, and as much as possible, realistic expectations of what may come, you are fostering an environment of trust and openness.

The outcome
Our people are the cornerstone of our success and it is their trust, focus and agility that has enabled the organization to continue delivering on our commitment to support patients’ unmet needs today and in the future, as a patient-focused, values-based, R&D driven global biopharmaceutical leader.

As an organization, we’ve taken countless measures to communicate and recreate our Takeda culture in this new virtual world – much of it through thinking bold and taking the odd calculated risk here and there – which is encouraged and embraced when a strong culture of trust is embedded. We have seen this result in novel ways to celebrate the successes of our people, develop our talents and continue uniting our organization with a shared purpose and sense of belonging. This has also been recognized externally, with our Thailand and Taiwan offices recently being awarded “HR Asia’s Best Companies to Work For”, as well as Top Employer certification globally, for the APAC region and many of its local offices.

Amidst the ongoing commentary around what future work environments will look like, this is also an area in which we look to our employees for direction. A globally-led taskforce is taking a holistic and science-driven approach that engages colleagues across the organization to help define Takeda’s future working environment strategy in a “post-COVID-19” world. I’m confident that the final model will positively evolve the way we work, while advancing our corporate philosophy. And while the pandemic will likely be one of the most significant crises we will face in our lifetimes, I am firm in my belief that with a deeply embedded set of values to guide us in our actions and a robust Culture of Trust to unite our people towards a shared vision, there is no obstacle we cannot overcome together.

About the author

Thomas Willemsen

Thomas Willemsen

Takeda, Area Senior Vice President Asia Pacific (APAC)

Thomas Willemsen joined Takeda as Area Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific in May 2019, also serving as a member of the Growth & Emerging Markets Leadership Team, based in Singapore.

He brings over 20 years of extensive international management and leadership experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Prior to joining Takeda, Thomas held the position of Vice President, Oncology at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for its Intercontinental & Emerging Markets business, where he was assigned to develop the business’ strategy for Asia & Emerging Markets, including Access Strategy and Commercial structure design.

Prior to that, Thomas served as General Manager and Commercial Head for GSK in China, and as General Manager of GSK Taiwan. He also spent 12 years with Merck KGaA in various commercial and regional roles in the Asia Pacific region, and as the Head of its German Oncology business unit.

Thomas speaks German, English and Mandarin. He graduated with an MBA from Trier University, Germany, and attained a Chinese Language Degree from Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China.

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