What now? Decisive actions to emerge stronger in the next normal

| Article
Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it is time for companies to act, not react.

As many business leaders return from a summer break that was far from normal, they may be asking themselves: What now? Over the past six months, they have reorganized supply chains, set up remote operations, and made tough financial decisions. But without a COVID-19 vaccine yet available, not much feels different, and the summer pause hasn’t done much to relieve fatigue.

One priority, then, is to reenergize the organization—to act rather than react. Even as the COVID-19 crisis continues to create a world of uncertainty, the goal must be to rebuild for the longer term. Companies that are strong and resilient will be better placed to survive and prosper. Those are qualities that can’t be taken for granted; they need to be cultivated.

There are many different ways to lead, but regardless of the type of business or geography, we believe that the ten actions detailed here (click on the tiles of the interactive below for more on each action, including links to relevant articles) are those from which a path to emerge stronger can be found. Not only do leaders need to act now, they need to act boldly. Previous McKinsey research has found that companies that made substantive changes fared better coming out of downturns than those that didn’t.

We have gathered the articles listed in the interactive into a downloadable compendium, our latest curated collection from among the 530 articles McKinsey has published on the COVID-19 crisis since March 2020. In this one, we present a selection of articles related to Reform, the last of the five stages on the path leading from the current crisis to the next normal. The previous four are Resolve, Resilience, Return, and Reimagination.

All ten of the actions we describe are what companies can—and perhaps, should—be doing. But there is a particular sense of urgency now; moreover, there is also a new sense of possibility. That’s why what we labeled as “Reform” back in March may now be considered more accurately as the start of a significant Reset.

Companies have had to make so many changes so quickly—often with startling success—that leaders have every reason to believe that they can do even more. Of course, not every company needs to take all ten actions; conditions differ. But we believe that they cover the range of possible activities that fit with the situations in which today’s leaders find themselves.

We start with an idea—that returning is a muscle that needs to be exercised, not a plan to be executed once or a date to be achieved. We go on to more specific considerations, such as the need to make big moves fast and to be willing to rethink entire portfolios, including where work gets done. People management will be critical both in ensuring that workplace learning gets its due and in taking care of people. The next normal may also mean resetting how companies relate to their governments and how they should address environmental issues. Finally, having a sense of purpose knits everything together. Knowing what your company stands for—and living those values—provides a framework for sound and ethical decision making.

You can download this compendium here, and the others we curated on the first four stages on the path to the next normal from McKinsey.com/pathbeyondcovid-19. Our entire collection of individual insights related to the next normal is at McKinsey.com/thenextnormal.

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