Lessons take from China's recovery following COVID-19 pandemic
China is already working hard to return to a full state of normalcy following the outbreak. Schools are reopening, people are returning to work and its makeshift hospitals are currently closed as the number of active cases drops.
Commodity market analyst, He Tianyu, says “Factories in China are now coming back online and aiming for an increase in demand again.”
The semi-fabricator industry is improving slowly. Demand from the construction and infrastructure sectors is also improving. Chinese stock markets have also began recovering, with President Xi's visit helping lift the blue-chip index to a 2.1% height.
Let’s look into their recovery in slightly more detail…
Hubei, where some 10,000 cases remain, the pressure on front-line medical workers has eased. On March 17, the first batch of nearly 4,000 medical workers who were parachuted into Wuhan to help control the outbreak were able to leave.
With so many provinces having downgraded their emergency response levels, China is slowly and cautiously returning to normal life.
Domestic travel gradually being allowed
People are gradually regaining their ability to travel. A number of provinces and cities throughout China have steadily resumed their public transportation, including provincial long distance buses that were suspended across the country. Hundreds of previously closed roads in towns have reopened, the national road network is basically back to normal.
News coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak has also eased, many entertainment shows are reappearing on Chinese TV.
Barbershops are reopening, parks welcoming tourists again and migrant workers are making their way back to their jobs. The pandemic that disrupted China's society so completely seems to be receding steadily.
Chinese companies have already moved beyond their crisis response mode, into recovery and post-recovery planning.
Here are the 5 lessons FCBT feels are broadly applicable to businesses and industries globally:
1. Be ahead of the curve, adapt your efforts.
Global pandemics have a largely dynamic trajectory which requires a constant redefining of business models and plans. Initial ignorance gives us the chance to make sense and discover opportunities, which allows for recovery planning, strategy, reflection and finally learning. This process, however, must be fast and agile enough to avoid getting stuck in complex internal coordination processes, affecting your ability to react to our fast changing circumstances.
In China, some of the fastest-recovering companies proactively looked ahead and anticipated such shifts.
2. A bottom-up approach to compliment your top-down strategies.
Rapid, coordinated responses require top-down leadership, but adapting to unpredictable change, with distinct dynamics in different communities, also requires decentralized initiative-taking. Some Chinese companies effectively balanced the two approaches, setting a top-down framework within which employees innovated.
Huizhou, a city that operates 6,000 hotels in 400 cities across China, set up a crisis task force that met daily to review their procedures and issued top-down guidance for the whole chain.
3. Create clarity and security for your employees.
In a crisis, it’s hard to find clarity. Especially when the situation and the available information are constantly changing and evolving. Confusion is compounded by a large amount of media reports with differing perspectives and advice. Your employees will need to adopt and adapt to new ways of working, but they won’t be able to do so unless they have clear, consistent information and overall direction from their leaders.
Some Chinese companies created very proactive guidance and support for their employees. China’s largest kitchenware manufacturer instituted very specific operational guidelines and procedures for its employees, such as instructions for limiting their exposure while dining in canteens and emergency plans for abnormal situations.
4. Use social media to coordinate your employees and other stakeholders.
With remote working and a new set of complex coordination challenges, many Chinese companies took to social media platforms, such as WeChat, to coordinate their employees and partners.
A large retail business initiated a program aimed at increasing its sales through WeChat, enlisting employees to promote to their social circles. They created a sales ranking amongst employees, helping motivate the rest of its staff to participate in the initiative.
South African businesses can take advantage of the various business apps available to mobilise your teams and collaborate remotely.
5. Rapidly innovate around the new and emerging customer needs.
Beyond rebalancing your product portfolio, the new customer needs also create opportunities for innovation for all businesses across the world. When threatened by crisis, many businesses will be focused on defensive moves, but some Chinese companies boldly innovated around emerging opportunities.
The insurance industry is notoriously conservative, but in response to the crisis, a company added free coronavirus-related coverage to its products. The action served a customer need, while promoting awareness of the firm’s online offerings and improving customer loyalty.
Without a doubt more new lessons will emerge from China, Korea, Italy, and eventually the U.S. businesses that adopt a high-frequency approach to learning, organising and applying lessons from other regions, will be better able to protect their employees and business.
In a fast changing, volatile world, such an adaptive approach should be applied more broadly beyond crisis management. Let us watch and learn how to make our businesses more agile, innovative and be ready for the new normal of business.