From surviving to thriving: Reimagining the post-COVID-19 return

The 1966 World Cup marked a low point for
Brazilian soccer. Although the winner of the
previous two tournaments, the team was eliminated
in the first round, and its star player, Pelé, failed
to perform. Fouled frequently and flagrantly, he
threatened never to return to the World Cup. Many
wondered if Brazil’s glory days were over. Four years
later, however, Brazil won again, with such grace and
style that the 1970 team is not only widely regarded
as the best team ever to take the pitch but also as
the most beautiful. And Pelé was named the player
of the tournament.
Making this turnaround required innovation, in
particular, the creation of a unique attacking style
of soccer. It required building a cohesive team, even
as most of the roster changed. And it required
leadership, both in management and on the field.
The result: by reimagining everything, Brazil came
back stronger.
As businesses around the world consider how
they can return from the torment inflicted by the
coronavirus, Brazil’s journey from failure to triumph
provides food for thought. In a previous article,
McKinsey described five qualities that will be critical
for business leaders to find their way to the next
normal: resolve, resilience, return, reimagination,
and reform. We noted that there would likely be
overlap among these stages, and the order might
differ, depending on the business, the sector, and
the country.
In this article, we suggest that in order to come
back stronger, companies should reimagine their
business model as they return to full speed. The
moment is not to be lost: those who step up their
game will be better off and far more ready to
confront the challenges—and opportunities—of the
next normal than those who do not.
There are four strategic areas to focus on:
recovering revenue, rebuilding operations,
rethinking the organization, and accelerating the
adoption of digital solutions.
1.Rapidly recover revenue.
Speed matters: it will not be enough for companies
to recover revenues gradually as the crisis abates.
They will need to fundamentally rethink their
revenue profile, to position themselves for the long
term and to get ahead of the competition. To do this
companies must SHAPE up.
Start-up mindset. This favors action over
research, and testing over analysis. Establish
a brisk cadence to encourage agility and
accountability: daily team check-ins, weekly
30-minute CEO reviews, and twice-a-month
60-minute reviews.
Human at the core. Companies will need to
rethink their operating model based on how their
people work best. Sixty percent of businesses
surveyed by McKinsey in early April said that
their new remote sales models were proving as
much (29 percent) or more effective (31 percent)
than traditional channels.
Acceleration of digital, tech, and analytics.
It’s already a cliché: the COVID-19 crisis has
accelerated the shift to digital. But the best
companies are going further, by enhancing
and expanding their digital channels. They’re
successfully using advanced analytics to
combine new sources of data, such as satellite
imaging, with their own insights to make better
and faster decisions and strengthen their links
to customers.
Purpose-driven customer playbook. Companies
need to understand what customers will value,
post-COVID-19, and develop new use cases and
tailored experiences based on those insights.
Ecosystems and adaptability. Given crisisrelated disruptions in supply chains and
channels, adaptability is essential. That will
mean changing the ecosystem and considering
nontraditional collaborations with partners up
and down the supply chain.
2 From surviving to thriving: Reimagining the post-COVID-19 return
GES 2020
COVID Reimagining Return

Matrix for prioritizing measures for rapid revenue recovery, illustrative
Rapid revenue response isn’t just a way to survive
the crisis. It’s the next normal for how companies will
have to operate. Assuming company leaders are in
good SHAPE, how do they go about choosing what
to do? We see three steps.
Identify and prioritize revenue opportunities.
What’s important is to identify the primary sources
of revenue and, on that basis, make the “now or
never” moves that need to happen before the
recovery fully starts. This may include launching
targeted campaigns to win back loyal customers;
developing customer experiences focused on
increased health and safety; adjusting pricing
and promotions based on new data; reallocating
spending to proven growth sources; reskilling the
sales force to support remote selling; creating
flexible payment terms; digitizing sales channels;
and automating processes to free up sales
representatives to sell more.
Once identified, these measures need to be
rigorously prioritized to reflect their impact on
earnings and the company’s ability to execute
quickly (exhibit).
Act with urgency. During the current crisis,
businesses have worked faster and better than
they dreamed possible just a few months ago.
Maintaining that sense of possibility will be an
enduring source of competitive advantage.
Consider a Chinese car-rental company whose
revenues fell 95 percent in February. With the roads
From surviving to thriving: Reimagining the post-COVID-19 return 3
empty, company leaders didn’t just stew. Instead,
they reacted like a start-up. They invested in
micro–customer segmentation and social listening
to guide personalization. This led them to develop
new use cases. They discovered, for example, that
many tech firms were telling employees not to use
public transportation. The car-rental company used
this insight to experiment with and refine targeted
campaigns. They also called first-time customers
who had cancelled orders to reassure them of the
various safety steps the company had taken, such
as “no touch” car pickup. To manage the program,
they pulled together three agile teams with crossfunctional skills and designed a recovery dashboard
to track progress. Before the crisis, the company
took up to three weeks to launch a campaign; that
is now down to two to three days. Within seven
weeks, the company had recovered 90 percent of
its business, year on year—almost twice the rate of
its chief competitor.
Develop an agile operating model. Driven by urgency,
marketing and sales leaders are increasingly willing
to embrace agile methods; they are getting used
to jumping on quick videoconferences to solve
problems and give remote teams more decisionmaking authority. It’s also important, of course, for
cross-functional teams not to lose sight of the long
term and to avoid panic reactions.
In this sense, “agile” means putting in place a new
operating model built around the customer and
supported by the right processes and governance.
Agile sales organizations, for example, continuously
prioritize accounts and deals, and decide quickly
where to invest. But this is effective only if there is a
clear growth plan that sets out how to win each type
of customer. Similarly, fast decision making between
local sales and global business units and the rapid
reallocation of resources between them require a
stable sales-pipeline-management process.
2. Rebuilding operations.
The coronavirus pandemic has radically changed
demand patterns for products and services
across sectors, while exposing points of fragility
in global supply chains and service networks. At
the same time, it has been striking how fast many
companies have adapted, creating radical new
levels of visibility, agility, productivity, and endcustomer connectivity. Now leaders are asking
themselves: How can we sustain this performance?
As operations leaders seek to reinvent the way they
work and thus position themselves for the next
normal, five themes are emerging.
Building operations resilience. Successful
companies will redesign their operations and supply
chains to protect against a wider and more acute
range of potential shocks. In addition, they will act
quickly to rebalance their global asset base and
supplier mix. The once-prevalent global-sourcing
model in product-driven value chains has steadily
During the current crisis, businesses
have worked faster and better than they
dreamed possible just a few months ago.
Maintaining that sense of possibility
will be an enduring source of
competitive advantage.
4 From surviving to thriving: Reimagining the post-COVID-19 return
declined as new technologies and consumerdemand patterns encourage regionalization of
supply chains. We expect this trend to accelerate.
This reinvention and regionalization of global
value chains is also likely to accelerate adoption of
other levers to strengthen operational resilience,
including increased use of external suppliers to
supplement internal operations, greater workforce
cross-training, and dual or even triple sourcing.
Accelerating end-to-end value-chain digitization.
Creating this new level of operations resilience
could be expensive, in both time and resources.
The good news, however, is that leading innovators
have demonstrated how “Industry 4.0” (or the
Fourth Industrial Revolution suite of digital and
analytics tools and approaches) can significantly
reduce the cost of flexibility. In short, low-cost, highflexibility operations are not only possible—they are
happening. Most companies were already digitizing
their operations before the coronavirus hit. If they
accelerate these efforts now, they will likely see
significant benefits in productivity, flexibility, quality,
and end-customer connectivity.
Rapidly increasing capital- and operating-expense
transparency. To survive and thrive amid the
economic fallout, companies can build their nextnormal operations around a revamped approach
to spending. A full suite of technology-enabled
methodologies is accelerating cost transparency,
compressing months of effort into weeks or days.
These digital approaches include procurementspend analysis and clean-sheeting, end-toend inventory rebalancing, and capital-spend
diagnostics and portfolio rationalization. Companies
are also seeking to turn fixed capital costs into
variable ones by leveraging “as a service” models.
Embracing the future of work. The future of
work, defined by the use of more automation and
technology, was always coming. COVID-19 has
hastened the pace. Employees across all functions,
for example, have learned how to complete
tasks remotely, using digital communication and
collaboration tools. In operations, changes will
go further, with an accelerated decline in manual
and repetitive tasks and a rise in the need for
analytical and technical support. This shift will call
for substantial investment in workforce engagement
and training in new skills, much of it delivered using
digital tools.
Reimagining a sustainable operations competitive
advantage. Dramatic shifts in industry structure,
customer expectations, and demand patterns
create a need for equally dramatic shifts in
operations strategies to create competitive
advantage and new customer value propositions.
Successful companies will reinvent the role of
operations in their enterprises, creating new
value through a far greater responsiveness to
their end customers—including but not limited to
accelerated product-development and customerexperience innovation, mass customization,
improved environmental sustainability, and more
interconnected, nimble ecosystem management.
Taking action. To keep up during COVID-19,
companies have moved fast. Sales and operation
planning used to be done weekly or even monthly;
now a daily cadence is common. To build on this
progress, speed will continue to be of the essence.
Companies that recognize this, and that are willing
to set new standards and upend old paradigms, will
build long-term strategic advantage.
3. Rethinking the organization.
In 2019, a leading retailer was exploring how to
launch a curbside-delivery business; the plan
stretched over 18 months. When the COVID-19
lockdown hit the United States, it went live in two
days. There are many more examples of this kind.
“How can we ever tell ourselves that we can’t be
faster?” one executive of a consumer company
recently asked.
Call it the “great unfreezing”: in the heat of the
coronavirus crisis, organizations have been forced to
work in new ways, and they are responding. Much of
this progress comes from shifts in operating models.
Clear goals, focused teams, and rapid decision
making have replaced corporate bureaucracy. Now,
as the world begins to move into the post-COVID-19
From surviving to thriving: Reimagining the post-COVID-19 return 5
era, leaders must commit to not going back. The way
in which they rethink their organizations will go a
long way in determining their long-term competitive
Specifically, they must decide who they are, how to
work, and how to grow.
Who we are. In a crisis, what matters becomes
very clear, very fast. Strategy, roles, personal
ownership, external orientation, and leadership
that is both supportive and demanding—all can be
seen much more clearly now. The social contract
between the employee and employer is, we believe,
changing fundamentally. “It will matter whether
you actually acted to put the safety of employees
and communities first,” one CEO told us, “or just
said you cared.” One noticeable characteristic of
companies that have adapted well is that they have
a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees
have a shared sense of purpose and a common
performance culture; they know what the company
stands for, beyond shareholder value, and how to
get things done right.
How we work. Many leaders are reflecting on
how small, nimble teams built in a hurry to deal
with the COVID-19 emergency made important
decisions faster and better. What companies have
learned cannot be unlearned—namely, that a flatter
organization that delegates decision making down to
a dynamic network of teams is more effective. They
are rewiring their circuits to make decisions faster,
and with much less data and certainty than before. In
a world where fast beats slow, companies that can
institutionalize these forms of speedy and effective
decentralization will jump ahead of the competition.
Organizations are also showing a more profound
appreciation for matching the right talent,
regardless of hierarchy, to the most critical
challenges. In an environment with strong cost
pressures, successful leaders will see the value
in continuing to simplify and streamline their
organizational structures. Experience has shown
a better way, with critical roles linked to valuecreation opportunities and leadership roles that
are much more fluid, with new leaders emerging
from unexpected places: the premium is placed
on character and results, rather than on expertise
or experience. This can only work, however, if the
talent is there. To hire and keep top talent, the
scarcest capital of all, means creating a unique work
experience and committing to a renewed emphasis
on talent development.
How to grow. Coming out of the crisis, organizations
must answer important questions about growth and
scalability. Three factors will matter most: the ability
to embed data and analytics in decision making;
the creation of learning platforms that support
both individual and institutional experimentation
Many leaders are reflecting on how
small, nimble teams built in a hurry
to deal with the COVID-19 emergency
made important decisions faster
and better.
6 From surviving to thriving: Reimagining the post-COVID-19 return
and learning at scale; and the cultivation of an
organizational culture that fosters value creation
with other partners.
Those organizations that are making the shift from
closed systems and one-to-one transactional
relationships to digital platforms and networks of
mutually beneficial partnerships have proved more
resilient during the crisis. “Every business is now
a technology business, and what matters most is
a deep understanding of the customer, which is
enabled by technology,” remarked a retail CEO.
By organizing to encourage insight generation—for
example, by linking previously unconnected goods
and services—technology is revolutionizing how
organizations relate to their customers and their
customers’ customers. Creating digitally enabled
ecosystems is therefore critical because these
catalyze growth and enable rapid adaptation.
When the crisis hit, one company moved all its
full-time direct employees into a virtual operating
environment; meanwhile, its outsourcing partner,
the CEO recalled, “hid behind their contract and
played one customer off against another.” It is not
difficult to imagine who is better placed to succeed
in the more flexible post-COVID-19 business
environment, where value creation is shared and
strategic partnerships matter even more.
4. Accelerate digital adoption to
enable reimagination.
Over the past few months, there has been a
transformation in the way we interact with loved
ones, do our work, travel, get medical care,
spend leisure time, and conduct many of the
routine transactions of life. These changes have
accelerated the migration to digital technologies at
stunning scale and speed, across every sector. “We
are witnessing what will surely be remembered as
a historic deployment of remote work and digital
access to services across every domain,” remarked
one tech CEO. He is right. Through the COVID-19
recovery, too, digital will play a defining role.
During the early recovery period of partial
reopening, business leaders will face some
fundamental challenges. One is that consumer
behavior and demand patterns have changed
significantly and will continue to do so. Another is
that how the economy lurches back to life will differ
from country to country and even city to city. For
example, consumers may feel comfortable going
to restaurants before they will consider getting on
a plane or going to sporting events. Early signals
of increased consumer demand will likely come
suddenly, and in clusters. Analyzing these demand
signals in real time and adapting quickly to bring
supply chains and services back will be essential for
companies to successfully navigate the recovery.
To address these challenges, leaders will need to set
an ambitious digital agenda—and deliver it quickly,
on the order of two to three months, as opposed to
the previous norm of a year or more. There are four
elements to this agenda:
Refocus digital efforts to reflect changing
customer expectations. To adapt, companies
need to quickly rethink customer journeys and
accelerate the development of digital solutions.
The emphasis will be different for each sector. For
many retailers, this includes creating a seamless
e-commerce experience, enabling customers to
complete everything they need to do online, from
initial research and purchase to service and returns.
For auto companies, this could mean establishing
new digital distribution models to handle trade-ins,
financing, servicing, and home delivery of cars. For
industries such as airlines, ensuring health and
safety will be essential, for example, by reinventing
the passenger experience with “contactless” checkin, boarding, and in-flight experiences.
Use data, Internet of Things, and AI to better
manage operations. In parallel, companies need
to incorporate new data and create new models
to enable real-time decision making. In the same
way that many risk and financial models had to be
rebuilt after the 2008 financial crisis, the use of
From surviving to thriving: Reimagining the post-COVID-19 return 7
data and analytics will need to be recalibrated to
reflect the post-COVID-19 reality. This will involve
rapidly validating models, creating new data sets,
and enhancing modeling techniques. Getting this
right will enable companies to successfully navigate
demand forecasting, asset management, and
coping with massive new volumes. For example, one
airline developed a new app to manage and maintain
its idle fleet and support bringing it back into
service; and a North American telecommunications
company developed a digital collection model for
customers facing hardship.
Accelerate tech modernization. Companies will
also need to greatly improve their IT productivity to
lower their cost base and fund rapid, flexible digitalsolution development. First, this requires quickly
reducing IT costs and making them variable wherever
possible to match demand. This means figuring
out what costs are flexible in the near-to-medium
term, for example, by evaluating nonessential costs
related to projects or maintenance, and reallocating
resources. Second, this involves defining a future
IT-product platform, establishing the skills and roles
needed to sustain it, mapping these skills onto the
new organization model, and developing leaders who
can train people to fill the new or adapted roles. Third,
the adoption of cloud and automation technologies
will need to be speeded up, including bringing
cloud operations on-premise and decommissioning
legacy infrastructure.
Increase the speed and productivity of
digital solutions. To deal with the crisis and its
aftermath, companies not only need to develop
digital solutions quickly but also to adapt their
organizations to new operating models and deliver
these solutions to customers and employees at
scale. Solving this “last mile” challenge requires
integrating businesses processes, incorporating
data-driven decision making, and implementing
change management. There are different ways to
do this. A wide variety of companies, from banks
to mining operations, have accelerated delivery by
establishing an internal “digital factory” with crossfunctional teams dedicated to matching business
priorities to digital practices. Others, in addition to
reinventing their core businesses, have established
new business–building entities to capture new
opportunities quickly.
For companies around the world, the qualities that
brought Brazilian football to new heights in 1970—
imagination, leadership, and on-the field execution—
will be paramount as they consider how to navigate
the post-COVID-19 environment. Business as usual
will not be nearly enough: the game has changed
too much. But by reimagining how they recover,
operate, organize, and use technology, even as they
return to work, companies can set the foundations
for enduring success.
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