Businesses big and small have not been spared the devastation of the COVID-19 crisis. With economies and businesses now in the midst of recovery, “resilience” is often cited.
Given its range of applications, resilience during a crisis takes on a variety of connotations. These include endurance – building mental resilience; defence – creating a resilience to overcome; and occasionally, even immunity – developing a resilience against such disruption.
In this prevailing crisis, it would be insightful to understand the relevance of resilience to businesses in its most fundamental construct – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Resilience as defined in the physical context, is the ability of a substance to spring back into shape.
This quality of being able to bounce back quickly resonates well with the translations of resilience in other Asian languages, for example, 弹性 (Chinese), 弾力性 Danryoku-sei (Japanese), 탄력성 Tanlyeogseong (Korean), लच ीलाता Lacheelaata (Indian), ความยื ดหยุ่นKhwām yụ̄ dh̄ yùn (Thai).
Looking through this lens, resilience is not only pertinent to the COVID-19 situation, but may be instrumental in differentiating how businesses recover after surviving this crisis.
How can businesses build resilience during a crisis and grow by turning setbacks into advantages?
In a crisis, taking ownership translates into taking responsibility and responsible action. Responding proactively and with urgency will aid business leaders in fostering trust, driving hard choices and thinking outside the box for solutions that enhance values beyond the immediate problems. Above all, it is imperative that business leaders are empathetic and human when making decisions and communicating them to their stakeholders.
Crises can be seen as an opportunity for businesses to reboot for future success. Through developing a sense of collective pride within the organisation, business leaders and their employees will be able to forge proactive and integrative solutions to complex problems.
In a climate of economic and operational uncertainty, it is necessary that companies cultivate the ability to contextualise and adapt to new situations. This requires businesses to nurture a growth mindset, developing the capacity to learn and leverage opportunities that come together with disruptions.
It is important to note, that while businesses may all be experiencing the same storm, not all are in the same boat. The way businesses respond will determine how fast and how strong they recover in relation to its competitors.
Be mindful of learning from crises. Keep track of what caught the business unaware, detail response strategies, and leverage hindsight to cultivate foresight.
A case in point – home-grown supermarket chain, Sheng Siong, posted a near 50 percent rise in its Q1 profits for 2020, following elevated demand from the current global pandemic. Having learnt from the SARS outbreak in 2003, Sheng Siong moved to increase stockholding from Q4 2019, thus preventing serious out-of-stock situations.
While a quick and agile recovery is important, businesses have to ensure that their responses are sustainable and serve the long-term goals of the business. A resilient and agile organisation requires trust, capabilities, behaviours and attitudinal shifts that can only be nurtured and developed over time.
To survive through tough times, business leaders must take calculated risks for future growth. By conscientiously acting today with tomorrow in mind, they will be able to come up with immediate response plans that embrace a long-term view for the business, as well as strategies required for a strong return to enduring success.
Beyond that, they must act on the understanding that times will change again. When that happens, will they be in a position to rebound better and faster than others?
Well-stewarded organisations develop long standing relationships with internal and external stakeholders. They leverage such established relationships to resolve conflicts and meet challenges.
This promotes reciprocal trust, kindness and compassion, fostering win-win partnerships and the adoption of broader definitions of success to include doing well, doing good and doing right.
In this regard, Sheng Siong also stands out in its decision to reward all its employees, except directors, with an additional month of salary.
Coupled with its decision to forego the payment of dividends for the quarter, the business is prioritising its key stakeholders – employees, customers and suppliers – by ploughing back the profits into motivating its employees and stabilising its supply chain through diversified sourcing.
Driven by his desire to help the community and the economy, Jesher Loi, Ya Kun’s Director of Branding and Market Development, launched a food security initiative in April named “Gift a Kaya Toast Set”.
The initiative aims to help families whose livelihoods have been impacted by the pandemic, and in just one month, over 1,300 sets were gifted. “This is my way of giving back to the community while keeping the business ecosystem running and providing job security for as many as possible,” he explained.
While this crisis will eventually pass, the actions taken and decisions made now, as well as the learnings gleaned, will set the foundation to help resilient businesses prepare for future storms that they, or the next generation, will face. This is stewardship in action.
This article originally appeared in the Entrepreneur's Digest print edition #92 and has been edited for clarity, brevity and for the relevance of this website.
About the Author
Ong Boon Hwee | Chief Executive Officer | Stewardship Asia Centre, Singapore
Over the last two decades, Mr Ong has served on the boards of companies across diverse sectors, including infrastructure, technology, security, telecommunications and learning institutes. Prior to establishing Stewardship Asia Centre (SAC), a Singapore-based thought leadership centre supported by Temasek Trust, Mr Ong was managing his own consultancy firm focusing on leadership development, organisational capacity-building, and strategic planning.
Mr Ong is the co-author of two books – “ENTRUSTED: Stewardship for Responsible Wealth Creation” and “Inspiring Stewardship”, and has published a number of papers and articles on stewardship