COVID-19 started spreading around the world a year ago. It was March when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the contagious and deadly illness a pandemic. Now, most of the world is still grappling with the virus and its emerging variants.
The current public health and its accompanying economic crisis revealed vulnerabilities in every aspect of society. A few nations, including Singapore, managed to escape waves after waves of the pandemic because of strict border monitoring, effective testing and contact tracing, adherence to minimum health standards, and strong leadership. Many, however, continue to suffer and unable to return to normal life because they have not snuffed the virus yet.
Businesses all over the globe are severely affected, too. As traditional retail becomes a risk of infection, in-person transactions decline. Stores had to choose between transitioning to e-commerce or closing indefinitely. Meanwhile, offices and factories have become sites of outbreaks.
The world is living through unprecedented times, and, more than ever, good leadership is needed. But, how do good leaders act and respond in times of crisis?
A Leader Knows
Singapore has one of the best public transportation systems in the world. Its trains and buses are always on time, immaculately clean, and very comfortable. The locals prefer to use mass transit because it is affordable, too.
However, it is not perfect. A while back, SMRT, a multimodal transport operator, was embroiled in an unexpected incident. The flooding of the tunnel near an MRT station halted service for nearly a day, disappointing passengers.
Through the leadership of SMRT CEO Neo Kian Hong, the transport operator was able to gain the trust of the public back.
Mr. Hong was already aware of the problems within SMRT because he regularly interacts with employees who are on the ground every day. He also receives feedback from his friends and commuters.
So, as a response to the crisis, he identified three issues that he found and, one by one, addressed them all. Now, Singapore’s public transportation system receives the awe of the entire world.
During a crisis, the leader has to step up. They have to analyze the situation quickly and, using their expertise, arrive at the right solutions. This would not be possible if the leader has no experience on the ground. They would not have the information they need to respond to the crisis because they are unaware of the problems that caused it in the first place. The work, therefore, begins even before the crisis occurs.
Crafting an Effective Recovery Plan
The work does not end there. After the crisis comes the recovery.
Going back to normal is not going to be easy. A company will need to prove once again its capacity to serve its customers. They need to gain back the public’s trust.
In 2016, Samsung’s newest smartphone release, the Galaxy Note 7, was blowing up — literally. Immediately after launch, dozens of photos and videos showed the premium smartphone catching fire during unexpected moments. The brand received negative comments coming from all fronts. It was the largest scandal the conglomerate had to face as a smartphone-maker, and, for a while, its supremacy in the market seemed to be over.
A year later, however, Samsung was back with a brand-new device. Its brand value, after experiencing a dip, went up by 9%. Now, Samsung is still releasing smartphones that are highly sought after everywhere in the world.
Few companies can recover as successfully as Samsung, and its success cannot be attributed to just one decision. The leaders steered the company toward improving through a series of steps that started with taking accountability.
Samsung immediately called a press conference and confessed that they did not know exactly what is causing the problem. They promised to investigate, and they did by letting 700 researchers and engineers test hundreds of thousands of smartphones and tens of thousands of batteries until they figure out what went wrong. When the culprit was identified, they communicated it to the public. They also rolled out a program that will test the safety of the battery and other quality assurance features.
Next, the company reinvented itself. It focused on a bigger purpose that every person within the company supports. Samsung became a brand that is inclusive and known for innovation.
Crisis Leads to Resiliency
There is no better teacher than experience. The best way to survive a crisis is by learning from it.
No institution is immune to crisis. At some point, an organization will experience a crisis and scramble to figure out a way out of it. After survival, there is no assurance that another crisis will not happen again.
An ongoing crisis should be taken as an opportunity for leaders and organizations to develop and strengthen strategies that can avert future crises or, at least, minimize their impact.
Resilience is a necessary trait to foster in businesses, organizations, and one’s self. It ensures that, despite the challenges the world throws, people will thrive and grow.