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From responding to thriving: Navigating COVID-19

Six experts weigh in

Times of uncertainty mean it’s time to unite. COVID-19 has upended businesses around the globe, and every part of an organization is being challenged, changed and innovated. Leaders are faced with myriad questions–What’s next? What will stay and what will fall away?–in an environment that demands speed, creativity, and, most of all, humanity.

To help find our next normal, six Deloitte experts throw light on what leaders will want to consider right now, and keep in mind for the future, in customer experience, talent management, supply chain, operations, HCM, finance and technology.

Customer experience–Andy Main, global customer & marketing leader, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

In 1793, Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote, “Now’s the day, now’s the hour.” For main, the same sense of urgency defines the response of the global community to COVID-19. And though speed is paramount, it must also be accompanied by a human approach. People’s needs have remained, but some are rising to the top, such as food, exercise, learning, safety. Business must adapt and change. “Learning from home is the next normal, companies must be agile to get equipment like laptops, to their people; contact lists are being built everywhere to help people stay in touch…” He is encouraged by the kind of innovation the drive to meet these most important human needs is uncovering.

But what’s really at work here, Main posits, is people are developing a greater tolerance for inconvenience, and brands are mattering less and less. He cites how he was unfazed by not getting the exact brand of product he ordered in his online grocery order. “Businesses are serving human needs–everything is consumed by people. When you strip it all away, that’s what has emerged. Businesses need to respond to that.” 

Workforce management–Erica Volini, global human capital leader, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

“We are all trying new things, and unlocking our imagination of what can be,” offers Volini. And though mistakes will be made, it’s the courage to continue through to the other side that counts. Volini offers leaders should consider embedding that newfound respect for potential into their organization, noting the impact of leaders checking in with employees regularly just because; how employees are using ingenuity to do things quicker, smoother; how CEOs are stepping up to care for their entire organizations. “That’s a big shift in culture we need to stay.”

Businesses are seeing what people are capable of, so workforce strategies and programs need to be anchored on what a person has the ability to do, not just want they can do. “It needs to be about challenging people and pushing them to their limits–giving them the freedom to consider: How can I do this differently and apply this to my everyday work so I can add value. We are tapping into real human potential these days. “That will move us forward.”

Supply chain–Jim Kilpatrick, global supply chain & network operations leader, partner, Deloitte Inc.

For Kilpatrick, there has never been a more important, if disruptive, time for supply chain than now. COVID-19 has effectively elevated it to a board-level and CXO topic. Companies need to respond to and mitigate risk, and be tuned to the signals of recovery. Add to that how supply is becoming a confluence of several elements: “Many are having to juggle the turbulence of flow of product, as well as the flow of cash and flow of information.”

For the short term, he advises to not sacrifice good in the pursuit of perfection. Speed is paramount at the moment, and he encourages companies do make directionally-correct statements, eschewing–for the moment–precision, and then iterate as necessary. The task soon for supply chain leaders will be to use information and technologies to increase organization resilience, and technologies such as IoT, robotics, AI, machine learning, cloud-computing, are all critical to enable a digitized and drive a much more efficient supply network of the future. “Leverage information, end-to-end,” Kilpatrick says, “from multi-tier vendors, right through the ultimate consumer.”

Operations–John Ciaramella, global core business operations leader, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

For Ciaramella, COVID-19 is driving the kind of innovation we could not have imagined before. “Hope comes through innovation and we’re seeing it everywhere at the local and world levels. It’s through this innovation we’ll find reason to hope about a better future when we come out the other side.” When we reach that ‘other side,’ exactly, will be difficult to tell, but one thing is certain for Ciaramella: It will look different than before. “The way we perform tasks, the services we receive… Organizations will adapt and evolve, as they decide how to return to an optimized state.”

Cloud, as he sees it, will play a critical role in data contingency plans going forward. “When humans are not around to manage data, cloud ensures critical systems are available … so key parts of the organization can keep moving forward.”

Technology–Darwin Deano, global SAP chief technology officer, Deloitte LLP

“When you can’t change the direction of the wind, adjust your sales.” A pithy life lesson that, for Deano, gets at the heart of what’s important, right now: Keep moving forward. “The challenge is to adapt and make the most of the situation.” Deano cautions that the lead time to return to normalcy will be protracted, something he offers might be widely underappreciated. The ‘next’ or ‘new’ normal will linger, and companies that are built to evolve will be able to navigate this. Deano offers “Business continuity is not a one-time event. In this next normal, business need to realize it’s not going to go away overnight, and must be ready when this happens again.”

Finance–Jason Dess, global finance & performance leader, partner, Deloitte Inc.

Dess concurs with the necessities of speed and resilience, and adds context that many organizations must stave off the paralysis that can cloak entire teams in times of stress and uncertainty. “Those who set plans and move on them decisively, and adapt as needed and look for opportunities will thrive. Those that don’t even try will find themselves in a difficult position later on.”

CFOs are really looking through defense and offense lenses. In the former, they’re in survival mode asking: How do I ensure the operation of my business? They can examine variable costs, revisit capital investment plans, as examples–all sorts of tactical applications–leveraging technology for insight and efficiency. But in the latter, they must still help the business plan and allocate capital for strategic moves the organization will make. Those playing offense will want to look at value opportunities in either what they are doing now, or looking at adjacent businesses moving forward that may not be as strong as you or not as well positioned. Start to plan around those now with forecasting and scenario planning to see short term survival strategies and long-term value in macrotrends. Balance the two, and finance execs can cement the success of the business.

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