COVID-19 has caused a lot of devastation and revealed how unprepared businesses and people were for a time of crisis. The pandemic brought on so much change this year that even the most composed of us, who usually thrive on ambiguity, have felt it coming on as a destructive avalanche.

But did it only reveal our vulnerabilities? No, it also kindled a spirit of resilience, to survive the crisis and learn from it. While some struggled, others adapted to the change and found new ways of doing things to trigger growth and progress. Let’s not forget that there are even companies that hit record revenue growth each month since the crises started. And those typically had unplanned supply chain problems. So, no crises had ever been more individual to each company.

The profound changes that came about will have long lasting effects, but I believe that, if there are any business takeaways for a post-COVID future, they revolve around maintaining the momentum that we gained during the time of crisis.

Many changes had an impact on the industry that will persist in the future, including the ones below:

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1. Speed, now and next. 

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I’ve seen companies react with an increased speed and flexibility that I had never witnessed before. This momentum needs to be maintained in the future.

COVID-19 created urgent circumstances that heightened the necessity to act with agility and flexibility in order to satisfy a demand that shifted radically, due to volatile markets. Those who faired the best during the crisis months were companies that had already developed and prioritized alternative approaches prior to the crisis. They had the tools to accelerate product and service engineering and they also had means for flexibility to support scaling up or down, as needed.

Post-COVID, industrial companies will need to aim towards similar levels of agility and flexibility in order to be able to achieve and maintain growth.

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2. Perpetual "let's do it" attitude. 

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Together with the rest of the world, I’ve witnessed companies rally behind needed changes in a time frame that they had possibly never achieved before. What if we could maintain this business attitude to perpetuity?

Facing the shortage of medical supplies and hand sanitizer needed to keep the virus at bay, leading companies around the world rose to the challenge to pivot dramatically. For example, Accenture partnered with Rolls Royce for the VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium, to coordinate 3.4M ventilator parts coming through the supply chain from around the world. It was achieved in the span of approximately two weeks – time for such a project would have been much longer before the pandemic

Post-COVID, it is worth trying to keep fanning this flame of urgency and focus. Companies will need to embrace change, adapt with agility, sync all hands on deck, and simplify the flow of all processes in order to achieve their goals.

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3. Elastic digital acceleration. 

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I have been advocating digital transformation for industrial companies for years. This became an imperative last year, which propelled many companies into action. I see this imposed acceleration as a gift that will transform into growth immediately and in the near future.

In 2020 all companies wished they were more digital. Due to the pandemic, overnight, customers at all levels — B2B, B2C, B2B2C — were propelled at the speed of light into a digital world that some of them would not have otherwise considered for years to come.

In the industrial context, our recent research on industrial services reveals that 40% of industrial companies that already had well-established digital services weathered out the COVID-19 storm. In contrast, one in two companies that lacked digital services suffered under a severe negative impact.

Post-COVID, the changes in people’s behavior and perceptions will persist, if they proved to make life easier and more efficient. Digital is at the heart of this, on all levels. And for sure, value chains will continue to restructure.

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4. Cross-collaboration among leadership and pragmatic decision-making. 

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I’ve seen leaders rise to the occasion during the past year to manifest a leadership style that was decisive yet focused on putting people at the core of business. I believe that we shall see a continuity in this behavior beyond 2021 if we create awareness on how companies could work on their best day.

The pandemic put C-suite industrial leaders under duress, where they had to balance competing and simultaneous priorities, such as achieving a rapid shift to a remote workforce and protecting essential workers that remained in-person. At the same time, they made pragmatic decisions on the business side, focused on joint cost reduction and possibly restructuring and divesting non-essential business to refocus the business on its core products. Or they had to jointly fight for materials to feed their supply chain in growth situations.

COVID-19 brought about unity and collaboration in the C-suite and at the board level. Management boards acted more as a winning team. Cross-function collaboration worked better and various teams agreed to focus on joint, agreed-on big bets, uniting in their goals.

Post-COVID, all these behaviors can and should continue because those companies that do implement all these points in general, and not only in times of crisis, will grow much faster. And it is always more fun working in a winning team.

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5. Renewed sense of business purpose. 

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2020 made people scrutinize the impact of their lives and actions in the context of the larger world, as Fjord Trends 2021 showed. Many realized, maybe for the first time, that purpose is less about what you want and more about what you give. In turn, this reverberated at a business level.

Some industrial companies have responded to this by making a renewed sense of purpose central to their business model. For instance, our 3M client focused their resources and innovation towards creating the reusable respirators in response to the pandemic.

Lixil, co-created with Daigo Ishiyama, SATO’s Chief Engineer and Marketing Officer, a prototype for a tap handwashing solution for households without running water. Lixil has endorsed this prototype and is committing $1 million to help accelerate it.

Post-COVID, this sense of purpose and of business impact on our surrounding world will stay strong. Those companies that will manage to integrate this into their long-term business goals and strategy will emerge as industry leaders.

As Peter Drucker famously said, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday's logic.” And I could not agree more. Change, ambiguity and flexibility have become the norm in our lives and will remain so in the future. There is no point in looking back to old ways of conducting business, unless to draw on the most useful lessons learned as steppingstones for the future.

Thomas Rinn

Managing Director – Global Industrial Lead

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