Building organisational resilience in an uncertain world

3 minute read

I started my MSc in Global Healthcare Leadership studies in late September, 2023. A few weeks before that, I was invited to attend a roundtable discussion hosted by the British Chamber of Commerce Shanghai as part of its industrial white paper series. The attendees were mainly senior managers of the chamber’s enterprise members from diversified industries such as insurance, healthcare, consumer goods, immigration, advertising, wealth management and international schools. The main purpose was to share the opportunities/challenges that our businesses are facing as foreign enterprises after the Covid-19 pandemic ended in China.

Almost everyone shared concerns on the economic downturn in 2023 and the subsequent impact on business. For example, international schools are losing both teachers and students as they are moving back to their home countries as a result of the lockdown policy in Shanghai in the previous years.

Although the healthcare industry has been traditionally considered to have more resilience during economic cycles, uncertainty around policies such as the anti-bribery and anti-corruption campaign launched by the government in the healthcare sector severely affected many of our hospital customers. Many companies said that they have already planned to lay people off to reduce costs. At that moment, I asked myself a question: ‘what alternatives can we do as healthcare leaders to help our organisations build resiliency in crisis, apart from layoffs to improve our profit and loss more sustainably?’

Bearing this question in my mind, as I started module 2 of the programme, dealing with organisation resiliency, I was looking for an answer. From the case study of relationships, layoffs, and organisational resilience, and attending lectures by Professor Eleanor Murray, I learned of the Conceptual Model of Organisational Resilience, which talked about layoffs as a response to crisis that will result in both negative impact on relational reserves and negative implications on organisational performance. Many studies have reported that interpersonal relationships are destroyed, trust and loyalty decreased, while conflict, anger and resistance to change increased. In addition, it is the organisation’s responsibility to keep financial reserves, including low levels of debt and high amounts of cash, on hand prior to the crisis.

In the corporate world where I have spent nearly 20 years in commercial roles, company strategy often, if not always, advocates layoffs to protect the interest of the shareholders, which I took for granted in the past. I remember clearly during module 2, right after class I went to spoke with Professor Murray about the latest study of keeping a reasonable level of redundancy versus laying people off when coping with crisis. I was so excited to learn the latest study on organisation resiliency, which brings a new perspective to cope with crisis.

According to Gittell’s 9/11 airline case study, when we look at business performance in 3-5 years’ time, the relational reserves lead to a higher level of job security and high level of trust, both of which are essential for sustained innovation and productivity. Financial reserves provide the organisations with more resources in the face of crisis. I am highly inspired to discover that there are alternatives to layoffs with solid evidence in the real business world.

Last but not least, another interesting takeaway from the roundtable held by the British Chamber of Commerce Shanghai is that, since 2023, the UK has become the largest main migration destination country, replacing the US for the wealthy Chinese population. This is a result of both the geopolitical tension between the Sino-US relationship in the last decade, and the US becoming less Chinese-immigrant friendly in recent years. Well, I hope they will love the English weather and food as much as I do. 

Oxford MSc in Global Healthcare Leadership