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How is COVID-19 reshaping the role of corporate strategy?

Five new realities chief strategy officers need to embrace

In just a short time, COVID-19 has eclipsed nearly every other pandemic or epidemic in the past 150 years in both size and impact. In addition to the disruption to millions of lives, the economic damage has been, and will be, significant and far-reaching.

Strategy in a COVID-19 world

To mitigate risk, business leaders usually try to account for every uncertainty, but recent events present challenges few, if any, executives saw coming. While the impact of these events will not be uniform across all companies, most chief strategy officers (CSOs) share the same top-of-mind question—what role can strategy as a corporate function play to help the business recover and thrive?

To help address this question, we pooled insights from conversations with Deloitte leaders and more than 50 CSOs and senior strategy executives at companies across a range of industries and geographies who are helping their companies navigate the current turbulence. We uncovered five key activities that CSOs can pursue to help their organisations recover from recent events and thrive in the long term:

  • Balance the here and now with a long-term view
  • Embrace uncertainty by planning for multiple alternate futures
  • Reconsider what is possible
  • Elevate the orchestrator role
  • Tune into purpose


The pandemic has only underscored the importance and emphasis that companies need to place on being able to navigate change and uncertainty. As one senior strategy executive noted, “The only true certainty is the current uncertainty.” Fundamental and structural changes that seemed far off now appear likely to occur far faster and sooner than they would otherwise. Companies are innovating rapidly, embracing new ways of working and learning, and sacrificing elegance for speed.

In our rapidly evolving environment, strategy functions need to focus on seeing around the corner of what comes next, positioning their companies for sustained success, and driving growth in bold ways. The challenge will be how to do so effectively in a significantly different COVID-19 environment, which is widely referred to—yet still not clearly defined—as the “new normal.” By focusing on the five key activities we have identified, we believe CSOs and thus the strategy function will be well-positioned to help their organisations greet whatever comes next.


1 Bernardo Silva, Tom Schoenwaelder, Wayne Nelson, and Sarit Markovich, 2020 Chief Strategy Officer Survey, Deloitte Insights, April 2020.

2 Suzanne Kounkel, Andy Main, Diana O’Brien, and Anthony R. Stephan, “Purpose is everything: How brands that authentically lead with purpose are changing the nature of business today,” Deloitte Insights, October 2019.

3 Alaistair Marsh, “BlackRock Joins Allianz, Invesco Saying ESG Outperformed,” Bloomberg, May 2020.

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