As our colleagues have noted elsewhere, businesses reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic have produced previously unimagined gains in speed and productivity, even as the very nature of their workplace was transformed. Business leaders tell us that the metabolic rate of their organizations has soared. Their companies have accelerated by adopting new ways to work. Boundaries and silos have been removed; new technology has been adopted quickly, delivering digital products that customers suddenly needed; decision making has accelerated and been pushed further down in the organization. Leaders have spent more time in direct connection with teams, while teams of cross-functional, high-caliber talent have assembled and then reformed to address the company’s—and its customers’—most critical needs. The revised employee value proposition (such as more flexibility and less commuting) has given HR the ability to cast a wider net on talent. The spread of empowerment throughout the company, born of necessity, has created a new set of potential leaders.CEOs are actively taking advantage of this particularly malleable moment, where new ideas are becoming the foundation of new ways of doing business, to reinvent their companies in ways that simply make more sense for today’s—and tomorrow’s—economy.The result: COVID-19 is shaping a new kind of operating model. Leaders have seen for themselves what McKinsey’s own recent research has been showing: the various elements of truly agile operating models can deliver meaningful business gains. Many companies have tested aspects of such models before and during the crisis with convincing results: total clarity on priorities and goals, nimble resource allocation, and reduced handovers can boost productivity by 20 to 40 percent. A genuine customer orientation with fast, iterative feedback cycles can raise customer-satisfaction scores by 30 points. And people working with a clearer purpose and greater autonomy to make decisions will drive up employee-engagement scores (see sidebar, “How operating-model reinventions drive better results”).
In this article, we highlight four key pandemic accelerations that are now being incorporated into the emerging operating models of leading companies. We also look at the process by which companies can evaluate the changes they made during the pandemic, decide which shifts they want to make permanent, and embark on a broader transformation to make this speed and efficiency the standard going forward. The exigencies of the pandemic have given many companies a tangible experience of operating at unprecedented speed (exhibit). Companies that don’t lean into this emergent shift run the risk of being leapfrogged by those that do understand why a swift, nimble, and versatile operating model is best and necessary for uncertain times like these.
COVID-19 is shaping a new kind of operating model. Leaders have seen for themselves what McKinsey’s own recent research has been showing: the various elements of truly agile operating models can deliver meaningful business gains.