Ten leadership lessons from China's economic rebound

28 July 2020 Consultancy.asia 4 min. read

While Covid-19 continues to grapple Europe, the United States and the rest of the worlf, the Chinese economy is one of the first to emerge from the pandemic-induced downturn. Given its head start, the way Chinese businesses have responded provides valuable lessons on what lies ahead for the rest of the world.

When China’s economy effectively ground to a halt in late January 2020, its businesses were the first in the world to face the significant impact of Covid-19 disruption. Now those companies are some of the first to experience an economic rebound. 

Having spoken to dozens of business leaders of Chinese companies, including multinationals and privately-owned as well as state-owned enterprises, experts at Korn Ferry have drafted ten key recommendations for leaders wanting to kick-start their own recovery. For success, leaders will need to embrace a mix of measures, including some level of re-structuring and a change in ways of working, but also tweaks to mindset and cultural aspects will be required. 

Ten leadership lessons 


  • Make sure that your strategy is customer-centred
  • Think about how your strategy differentiates you in the market and can endure beyond the crisis
  • Think differently about your competitors. Can you work together to effect positive change?
  • Seek opportunities to collaborate with government and global partners – build out your ecosystem
  • Replace the five-year plan with a two-year vision statement

Harness the power of purpose

  • Guide employees with a compelling purpose
  • Make sure that your purpose is customer-centred
  • Communicate clear short-term business priorities that align with organisational purpose
  • Provide autonomy over decisions that align with purpose 

Building in agility

  • Agile structures and collaborative ecosystems will help you respond to future disruptions
  • Re-think your business model and processes. Are they fit for the future?
  • Reflect on your recent experience: what new behaviours and processes will you keep?
  • Give people the capability, capacity and commitment to continue doing the right things
  • Adopt a highly efficient, digital-driven operating model 

Remove siloes and roadblocks

  • Break down and re-build models, so they are fit for the future.
  • Reduce the number of hierarchy levels to no more than three or four
  • Create bigger and more versatile teams (or ‘tribes’) that can pivot to deal with different challenges
  • Group different functions with similar capabilities together 

Develop talent from within

  • Think differently about the source: in-house talent may be found in surprising places
  • Move them across business units to extend knowledge and share different perspectives on critical projects
  • Look for people who excel at building relationships, are action-oriented and curious 

Make space for collaboration

  • Empower people to make quick decisions, connect across functions, and perform in ambiguous circumstances
  • Build smart teams that are diverse, inclusive, and come together for a defined purpose
  • Define broader ecosystems of strategic partners and suppliers around your organisation. They can help you be more responsive to constant change

Bring out the best in others

  • Foster positivity, inclusion, and optimism
  • Communicate clearly, consistently and with empathy
  • Enable an exchange of ideas and empower high performance 

Pivoting demands creativity, at speed

  • Focus on the behaviours that enable creativity and spend and embed these into your DNA
  • Give people clear expectations of outcomes, and let them find, test, and iterate the solution
  • Champion positive examples of this throughout the organisation

Adjust rewards and performance management

  • Ensure targets and remuneration packages recognise and incentivise the specific behaviours you want to encourage
  • Move towards real-time feedback – don’t wait for the annual review
  • People, processes, structure, and governance all need to enable and reinforce your culture

Develop a new leadership mindset

  • Analyse the situation, mobilise resources, and cultivate a culture that can respond and adapt
  • Be ready to let go of traditions, rules, and conventions in your industry
  • Act with a sense of urgency, change can happen much faster than you previously thought possible
  • Use your judgement to make quick decisions and create opportunities
  • Use agile processes – be prepared to fail, learn, and move on