Building Resilience: Bouncing Back from Crises

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 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 meaning of resilience embedded in various Asian language, e.g. 弹性 (Chinese), 弾力性Danryoku-sei (Japanese), 탄력성Tanlyeogseong (Korean), लचीलाता Lacheelaata (Indian), ความยืดหยุ่น Khwām yụ̄dh̄yùn (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 the crisis. How can businesses build resilience, and grow by turning setbacks into advantages?

Taking Ownership, Taking Action

In a crisis, taking ownership translates into taking responsibility and responsible action. Responding proactively and with urgency, business leaders foster trust, drive hard choices, and think outside the box for solutions that enhance values beyond the immediate problems. Above all, they are emphatic and human in all the decisions made and the communication of these to its stakeholders.  

This is an opportunity for businesses to reboot for future success, through developing a sense of collective pride within the organisation to forge proactive and integrative solutions to complex problems.

Building Relative Agility

Planning ahead, while contextualizing and adapting is a necessary capability companies must cultivate in a climate of economic and operational uncertainty. This requires businesses to nurture a growth mindset, developing the capacity to learn and leverage opportunities that came together with the disruption. It is important to note, that while businesses may all be in 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 competitors.

Be mindful of learning from the crisis. 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 per cent rise in its 2020 first quarter profits following elevated demand from the crisis. Having learnt from the SARS outbreak in 2003, Sheng Siong moved to increase stockholding since the end of the fourth quarter of 2019 which "prevented serious stock out situations".[1]

Act Short-term, Think Long-term

While a quick and agile recovery is important, businesses have to ensure their responses are sustainable and serve the long-term goals of the business. A resilient and agile organization requires trust, capabilities, behaviors, and attitudinal shifts that can only be nurtured and developed over time. To survive through current tough times, business leaders must take calculated risks for future growth. By conscientiously acting today with tomorrow in mind, they are keeping a steady eye on an immediate response plan, while embracing the long-term view, and strategizing 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, faster than others?

Fostering Thriving Relationships & Community

Well-stewarded organisations develop longstanding relationships with internal and external stakeholders. They leverage on such established relationships to resolve conflicts and meet challenges. They promote reciprocal trust, kindness and compassion, and foster win-win partnerships, adopting broader definition 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 not to pay dividends for the quarter, the business is prioritizing its key stakeholders – employees, customers and suppliers, by ploughing back the profits into motivating its employees and stabilizing 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, and next generation leader, 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 explains.

Stewardship in Action

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 they, or their next generation, will face. This is stewardship in action.

This article was first published in Entrepreneurs' Digest issue 92.​