Posted: 01 May 2020 5 min. read

The rise of the adaptable organization: Measuring and building organizational resilience to recover and thrive in uncertain times

Posted by Tiffany McDowellMaya Bodan, and India Mullady on May 1, 2020.

COVID-19 has created a massive shift in the way works get done. As companies flex in this time of extreme disruption and uncertainty, the actions taken will alter business as usual. Companies that are not adaptable or able to react quickly risk falling short during this critical time for their employees and communities. If leaders cannot pivot effectively, organizations further risk being able to recover and thrive as companies collectively enter the “new normal.”

For example, think of a car manufacturer who has pivoted from manufacturing cars to manufacturing ventilators. Perhaps your favorite local distillery has shifted operations from making spirits to now producing hand sanitizer. Or maybe your city’s power and utility provider associates are now all working from home yet maintaining their same commitment to delivery. These companies have had to make significant adaptability plays to respond to COVID.

The external forces have thrown organizations into an even greater need for adaptability, not just in their immediate response, but in their ability to recover and ultimately thrive. Employers are realizing that work getting done is not necessarily dependent on location. However, questions remain: are employees more productive in these flexible work environments? Are they producing work at the same or better quality? 

If yes, then organizations need to rapidly ideate what the future of their company will look like post-virus. Businesses will be hard-pressed if they try to return to business as usual in one day. Also, given immediate cost pressures, quick decisions will need to be made to help reduce those costs (i.e., changing the real estate footprint). In fact, not returning those employees to an office environment immediately could offer a quick way to recoup costs.

If no, organizations need to determine specific interventions to guide, tweak, or adjust the "rules of engagement" to support leaders, teams, and individuals to be able to thrive while producing their best work. The answer will not be, return everyone to the ‘old way’ of working, but identifying the underlying causes that are stifling productivity and eliminate those barriers.

Many of the companies that have been most successful in their transitions to the new ways of operating are those that are equipped to pivot quickly and “swarm” their most valuable resources towards a high-priority mission or outcome. They also understand the importance of preserving core areas of their business that are hardwired for efficiency plays. To intentionally build adaptability into your organization, it’s important to take a data-driven approach based on the informal interactions, or the way work is being done. This data can uncover the operating rhythm of your organization as well as where the bottlenecks and inefficiencies are occurring, yielding a roadmap for near-term and long-term adaptability. This data exists in your organization today, and Deloitte’s Adaptable Organization Network Analysis (AONA) can help you unlock the insights of how work gets done.

You may need to address the increasing pressures from the impacts of COVID-19, and AONA enables you to strategically place your adaptability plays so you can avoid disrupting critical paths of collaboration, knowledge distribution, and cross-functional collaboration that could lead to broader breakdowns of productivity in your organization. These adaptability plays will support the nimbleness needed to recover and to be able to thrive in the "new normal."


  • Maya Bodan is a senior manager in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Organization Transformation practice, with a focus on supporting senior leaders through large-scale organization design and operating model transformations to help them prepare for the future of work.
  • India Mullady
  • Tiffany McDowell

Join the conversation

Get in touch