• Organizational agility was once desirable, but is now central to business survival.
  • Digitalization should not be seen as an acceptable solution to a problem, but rather grounds to change the business model creatively for the better.
  • Cooperation with previously unlikely partners proffers a more effective means to generate collective new gains.

The Covid-19 pandemic is primarily a global health crisis, but it has had vast economic and social repercussions. Even with certain economies slowly and cautiously reopening, the combined effect of the pandemic and the necessary mitigation measures, such as prolonged lockdown and physical distancing, has led to a global recession largely because of the rare twin supply-demand shock.

The twin shock caused by the outbreak has important implications for business. First, the supply shock reduces the economy’s ability to produce goods and services at a given price because of the closure of non-essential industries and physical distancing measures. An industry’s reduced capacity to produce goods, for example 60% of its pre-crisis output, contributes to the supply shock.

The demand shock reduces the consumer’s ability to purchase goods and services at a given price because of increased demand for healthcare-related products and a decrease in high-risk activities, such as going to restaurants or travelling. Loss of income could also contribute to the demand shock as this decreases the demand for purchase such as homes, cars and other appliances.

Forecasts predict that this outbreak will plunge the global economy into the worst recession since World War II, with many economies experiencing the largest declines in per capita output since 1870.

Trade Growth. Shaded area indicates forecasts. Trade is the average of import and export volumes.
Image: World Bank

This global crisis has forced economies to pause and has presented businesses with a unique opportunity to use massive challenges to make meaningful change. It has amplified the inconsistencies and inefficiencies of various systems under severe strain and has provided businesses with a chance to capitalize on the unseen consequences; the silver lining. Based on interactions, here are three ways businesses from the World Economic Forum`s New Champions Community of forward-looking, high growth firms have weathered the current storm while shaping their future resilience and profitability.

1. Combine speed and stability

Organizational agility is the ability of a company to quickly change or adapt in response to the tumultuous and rapidly changing market. It encompasses two major dimensions: speed and stability. With regards to the former, a business needs to be nimble and responsive in keeping with the changing times. This includes being innovative and dynamic in its thinking and actions; however, to ensure its sustained success and the ability to scale up operations, there needs to be a set of core elements. Thus, the latter component of stability or the solid backbone becomes crucial.

While organizational agility was once desirable, it has now become central to survival. This study shows that Covid-19 has forced agile transformation in several companies at an extraordinary level. An example of this is LUG, a company headquartered in Poland that brings over 30 years of experience in the lighting industry and technical facilities. Given the context of the changing demands as a result of the outbreak, the firm prioritized the development and production of a new family of luminaires which use UV-C technology to combat harmful microorganisms. Using its existing knowledge and skills in the industry as its core elements, LUG rapidly pivoted production to start manufacturing a product that offered a solution to hospitals and clinics, shops, and several other public facilities.

2. Turn digitization into an advantage

In a survey conducted in 2015, 82% of the executives that responded agreed on a need to transform digitally the way their firms source and manage labour but only 23% had devised and implemented a strategy for it.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a historic implementation of digitization in ways only imagined previously. Data suggests that in a matter of eight weeks, we have vaulted five years in consumer and business digital adoption. The outbreak has led to structural shifts including in customer preference of digital engagement and moving to remote working models for employees, which are likely to remain even post-COVID.

Image: McKinsey & Company

The challenge of the pandemic for businesses has not only been to sustain productivity through digitized operations, but to refocus on new opportunities spurred by digitalization for their work and workforce. It is in part a cultural shift, where digitalization is seen less as an acceptable solution to a problem, and more as a catylst to change the business model creatively for the better.

Vieira de Almeida & Associados (VdA) in Portugal and Puravankara Limited in India, two vastly different firms, offer similar success stories.

As a law firm that was founded over 40 years ago, VdA placed importance on bringing legal expertise across different fields under the same roof. However, during the pandemic that was no longer possible. The organization, like many others, had to quickly change its ways of working. Overnight, the firm adapted to remote working with over 400 of its employees now effectively doing business across the world in several jurisdictions. The shift to digital has removed some of the limitations of local jurisdictions and has freed the firm to offer much wider reach.

Purvankara Limited, one of the largest real estate developers in India, had been almost 100% dependent on in-person viewings of properties to generate sales. Once they shifted to digital, the organization placed emphasis on doing business via its online platforms. It identified the renewed opportunity of transferable manpower and increased productivity of remote working, and through digital interactions and online viewings – probably something that was desirable anyway – Purvankara remained relatively unscathed, even during the most tumultuous phases of the crisis.

3. Drive systemic change through cooperation

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a visceral reminder of how interconnected entire societies are today. Despite the challenges, the pandemic has brought to light the importance of multistakeholder collaboration and the need for systemic resilience. In order to successfully build these components, the fabric of trust needs to be ingrained across seemingly diverse stakeholders; and businesses are increasingly understanding this – be it trust in the various actors in a supply chain or between the employees in the organization. Systemic cooperation will also be key for business to regain the capacity to operate.

The Transport Corporation of India – India's leading logistics service provider – is one of the New Champions to identify and develop this. In a sector still wedded to paper waybills, receipts and administration across multiple stakeholders, the firm worked on its shared goals a chain of actors through multiple calls and touchpoints. It established trust from its stakeholders, and used the opportunity to optimize supply chain processes via digitization.

What’s next?

The world is reeling from Covid-19 with certain economies cautiously opening up but the past few months have forced scrutiny of our existing business operations and its inefficiencies.

While it is difficult to know what will happen next, it is possible to draw on the lessons of the past few months and to see them as opportunities for improvement. Businesses need to work on responding to the current crisis while simultaneously building to thrive in a new reality that focuses on agility, digitization, and multistakeholder collaboration. The three components are interrelated and need focused strategies to ensure success. This encompasses a wide array of elements, including the localization of production, reskilling of the workforce for a digitized economy, and considering non-traditional collaborations across different communities.

As a part of the New Champions Community, businesses enjoy access to Forum networks and expertise, which offers visibility and time-sensitive insight into strategic decision-making on the systemic issues. Apply here to be a part of this community.