Life and leadership after coronavirus: lessons from China

What has Performance Consultants been doing in China to help leaders and organizations navigate through the crisis and beyond?

Covid-19 has had a profound impact on business and everyday life throughout China. While we have managed to contain the spread of the virus, the road to domestic recovery is full of complexity and uncertainty. The news now is dominated by imported cases of the virus in citizens returning home from abroad and the extent of asymptomatic cases remains unclear.

As a result, social distancing is still in full effect for the whole of China, with only a partial re-opening of schools under way, in a closely controlled approach. Many of the restrictions on hospitality industries are still in place. For months we have been living in this changed world. Our “new normal” is uncertain, and uncharted. This sense of ambiguity is resonating as never before and we are understanding that we are all inter-linked and dependent on each other. Within China and globally, we need to work together and nurture an interdependent mindset to get through this crisis.

In the face of these challenges, PCI China together with our local associates have been actively helping leaders and organizations on multiple fronts.

In collaboration with leading training institutions and management magazines, we’ve hosted a series of online podcasts on leadership in a time of crisis and uncertainty. We have looked at how leaders and organizations can develop a “trust” mindset and build high-performing teams while working remotely. With entrepreneurs, we have been exploring approaches to transform their business in the face of Covid-19 challenges. For me, these sessions and the feedback from attendees have shown how a coaching approach is truly the right direction for leaders in these turbulent times, enabling organizations to release the creativity and potential in their people and build the interdependent cultures essential to both productivity and the human spirit.

Our local associates are also contributing in similar ways. For example, one of our associates Daniel Zhao has been collaborating with two of his fellow coaches, donating their time and effort to create an online workshop, titled “Creating Meaningful Work”, which aims to help organizational leaders to find deeper meaning in their personal mission and work. Many of our colleagues in coaching have been making similar efforts to help our clients and communities.

With traditional face-to-face training at a stand-still, we have launched a number of online learning products and services to enable coaches and organizations to continue, or to accelerate their development in this rapidly-changing landscape. The online workshop version of the Coaching for Performance Level 1 program has received rave reviews from participants. We have also launched GROW Training for Leaders in China. These flexible and efficient self-paced learning solutions have provided a much-needed option for organizations looking to promote a coaching leadership style in junior managers. And we have also recorded a full-length video podcast programme to further share the knowledge and real-life application of a coaching leadership style in small and medium-sized organizations and teams.

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What advice can you give for leaders working in other countries?

Here’s what we have learned from China’s experiences in dealing with Covid-19 and its impact:

  1. Those working in learning and development are not going to be able to deliver in-person learning in most places due to social distancing. This is expected to last for a while. Many people worry about the effectiveness of an online workshop but we have seen this is highly effective. Done right, the experience and learning from a virtual workshop can be as powerful as in-person, and people living in isolation are sustained and inspired by the genuine human connection that technology enables. In the midst of this great change, there is an opportunity to equip people with the skills needed in this “VUCA world”.
  2. The crisis can serve as a springboard to build a more interdependent way of working into the business. With people working from home in extended fashion, traditional “command and control” management reveals its limitations. Forward-looking leaders are using a coaching leadership style to create better partnership working and a purpose-driven team that can deliver higher performance.

What opportunities do you see for multinational organizations that have a presence in China?

The virus has shown us that, now more than ever, we need to work together and find creative ways to cooperate. Already, all around the world we are seeing examples where humankind is rising to meet this challenge and extraordinary new ways of thinking are opening up.

At the same time, the virus is leaving no individual, organization or nation unaffected and this time is fraught with anxiety and heightening geopolitical sensitivities. Before Covid-19, many countries around the world were seeing rising nationalist sentiment and in some cases this is being exacerbated by leaders, leading many to fear the end of globalization even as others argue this has never been more important.

In many ways this is a crisis of trust and interdependence is our opportunity.

Faced with these opposing forces and the volatile environment, the old adage to “think global, act local” applies. Multinationals will need to place greater trust in their Chinese management team, who will have much better awareness of local nuance and how to navigate the current complexities.

The Chinese government is still fully committed to multilateralism and China’s domestic market continues to present very attractive opportunities for multinational organizations. I believe those foreign brands that can foster deeper connection with Chinese values in the post-pandemic world, while remaining true to their vision and mission, will have a decisive edge over their competitors. And, by being open to working in collaborative ways they may not have conceived of pre-Covid-19, these businesses can make a major contribution to the world’s recovery.

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It is our mission to support leaders to rise to the challenge created by COVID-19. Get in touch to find out how we can help you.

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