HBR: Lessons from Chinese Companies’ Response to Covid-19


At first, you may think this is a slightly strange subject for an article, given that there has been so much criticism of the Chinese response to COVID-19. However, as this great piece details, whatever government departments and officials did some Chinese companies were ahead of the US in the pandemic timeline and are actively meeting challenges that will will have to meet here in the coming weeks and months, so seeing how they are doing so is very insightful.

Lessons from Chinese Companies’ Response to Covid-19
HBR: June 05, 2020

The past four months have provided an opportunity to study a once-in-a-lifetime moment — how companies function during an unprecedented global pandemic while also navigating an accelerated shift to digital operations.

China was weeks ahead of the rest of the world in dealing with the pandemic and its fallout, so their experience is of interest. We conducted a series of 20 in-depth, in-person interviews, as well as a large-scale survey of more than 350 senior executives, to ascertain how the Chinese corporate world has adapted, innovated, survived — and even thrived — through this uncertain time. The companies we looked at, which ranged from state-owned enterprises to multinational corporations to local private companies, were forced to quickly:

  • Leverage digital technologies so that they could adapt and innovate
  • Try out novel business models
  • Stitch together solutions to address emerging and previously unrecognized customer needs
  • Develop new business processes and practices
  • Redefine models for collaboration and teamwork.

As China emerges from its Covid-19 lockdown, it is becoming clear that many of the challenges they faced are here to stay – and that some of the changes they introduced should be, as well. We identified 11 lessons to help inform business leaders throughout the rest of the world.

1. Be transparent about your challenges.
Leaders in our survey who reported their firms had successfully managed the crisis told us they regularly kept their teams up to date on the state of their organizations, as well as the priorities and principles that would guide decisions at all levels. These leaders said they plan to sustain this higher level of transparency and information sharing going forward with more frequent, direct, frank, and personal communication.

For example, when asked during a meeting with employees why his company decided to shut down one of its global R&D centers, which symbolized the future of the business, the CEO of a major engineering and technology company replied: “If we cannot survive the next three months, we will have no future at all.” Read More