6 minute read 30 Aug 2021
Man leaping under solar panels

Five actions to help your organization leap from survivor to thriver

By Amy Brachio

EY Global Vice Chair - Sustainability

A voice for working women. Passionate about diversity and inclusiveness. Mother. Wife.

6 minute read 30 Aug 2021

The imperative to reshape the business for exponential growth and long-term value creation is reaching a critical inflection point.

Questions to ask
  • Is your organization listening to what your customers and employees want? Are you meeting them on their terms or yours?
  • Are you approaching your business and digital transformation as a one-and-done exercise or as a never-ending journey?
  • Do you continue to have a buy-versus-build mindset or are you leveraging ecosystems to innovate at scale?

The last year has been a time of tremendous loss and uncertainty. It has also been a time of great achievement. In a previous article, my colleagues and I talked about the need for organizations to transform using three value drivers that put humans at the center of purpose and strategy, deploy technology at the speed where exponential benefits accrue, and innovate at scale to be at the forefront of reshaping industries and customer expectations. We also discussed how a future-back approach can help organizations to excel against a backdrop of massive change and uncertainty.

Since then, through EY organization’s research and in conversations with our clients, we have identified five actions that will help to put organizations on a clear path toward achieving long-term value and create a distinction between those that simply survive and organizations that thrive.

1. Meet consumers on their terms

The latest EY Future Consumer Index finds that consumers are more concerned about their health, their families and their futures than they were four months ago, and certainly more than a year ago in terms of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fifty-nine percent of respondents say the pandemic has changed their lives significantly (up from 53% in October 2020). Of these respondents, 64% believe their lives will remain changed forever even after the pandemic is under control.

Overall, consumers indicate they will continue to make deep and permanent changes to their lives. In terms of what will change most, respondents say how they work, how they shop and how they stay entertained will change for the better. However, they see how they travel overseas as changing for the worse.

Although organizations have long talked about customer-centricity, now they need to do it. Yet, according to the most recent EY Future Consumer Index, many organizations have lagged behind in achieving this. Some of it relates to consumer reluctance to share their data. However, organizations have also lacked the capabilities to make proper use of the data they do have.

With 62% of respondents saying they will share data in exchange for healthier product recommendations, companies need to quickly ramp up their ability to respectfully and ethically harness this data using artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics. In doing so, they can do a better job of listening to what their customers want and redesign their business models to meet customers on their terms — how they’re living, and where and when they’re buying.

2. Double-down on empathy, flexibility and trust

In a time of increasing uncertainty, trust has also become a significant factor for employees, particularly around data privacy, as well as their health and well-being. Some organizations have done a better job than others in recognizing the pandemic’s impact on their employees and providing the right levels of empathy, support and flexibility.

Going forward, organizations looking to thrive will need to double-down on providing employee-centric policies that prioritize their physical and mental health. This includes listening to how people are feeling about returning to the physical workplace and designing the workplace of the future to meet the needs of their employees.

It’s important to recognize that there will be no one-size-fits-all approach to the future of work. In the EY Work Reimagined Survey 2021, 9 out of 10 employees want flexibility in where and when they work, with more than half willing to quit if they aren’t offered the flexibility they want.

Those who do return to the physical workspace will likely have to provide personal health data. Employers will need to demonstrate their trustworthiness by capturing and using this data only for the purposes in which it was intended, and securely storing it.

In addition to privacy and security of personal information, organizations will need to consider safety and security within the physical workspace. Organizations that expect their employees to make a physical return to work, either full-time or as part of a hybrid work arrangement, are having to reimagine their workspace environments. In addition to shifting away from shared offices and open-concept layouts, organizations are experimenting with staged returns to minimize the number of people in the office at any given time.

Ultimately, organizations need to realize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the future of work. Organizations will want to remain flexible and adaptable to employee needs, which will change over time, to drive better employee experiences that build and retain their trust.

3. Make technology at speed a never-ending journey

Massive technology shifts in incredibly short timeframes have had an enormous impact. Organizations have leveraged technology to adapt operations, build business resilience and virtualize connections and experiences among customers and employees almost overnight. Organizations that continue to evolve their digital transformation journeys and deploy technology at speed for these purposes will retain their positions as market makers.

The questions every organization should be asking at this stage is: Am I moving fast enough? How can I move faster? Am I using technology as an enabler of the customer or employee journey rather than implementing technology for technology’s sake? Technological advancements continue to move at a lightning pace. 5G, edge computing, quantum computing and precision sensors are only a few of the technologies that are a fast-approaching reality and will need entirely new infrastructure, business models and mindsets to harness effectively.

Organizations may have deployed technology at speed to provide remote work, e-commerce, supply chain reinvention and virtual health, but the digital transformation journey must continue for them to remain competitive and ever more customer-centric in the new post-pandemic reality.

4. Build partnerships, nurture ecosystems

Over the last year, we’ve seen incredible examples of organizations embracing the spirit of innovation in meaningful, life-changing ways. The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, infrared imaging to screen temperatures and drone delivery services are only a few examples. All organizations experienced some element of innovation. The ability to innovate at scale needs to continue — by putting humans at the center of customer and employee journeys, developing a future-back strategy, harnessing data to provide exceptional experiences, and transforming linear supply chains into networked and eventually autonomous supply networks.

Organizations will also want to seize the advantages ecosystems and partnerships offer. Ecosystems present a significant opportunity and an alternative to the traditional buy-versus-build dichotomy. Given the pace of change, and the imperative to innovate at scale, building an ecosystem can take too much time and buying can take too much capital. At the same time, technology has lowered or eliminated the traditional technical and operational hurdles that once made partnering models difficult. Yet, although companies increasingly say they are focused on developing and orchestrating ecosystems, only 47% of CEOs affirm making significant investments to do so. And ecosystems are still driven from the bottom up: just 31% of CEOs say external ecosystem partnerships are a part of business strategy. For organizations looking to innovate at scale, building and strengthening ecosystems, alliances and partnerships are urgent imperatives. 

5. Embed environmental sustainability into everything you do

The post-COVID-19 world is likely to be one where organizations that take environmental sustainability seriously will leapfrog those that choose to ignore it. We’ve seen how the world can reduce its carbon footprint in the short term. In the longer term, we expect to see a renewed push from governments, consumers and societies for organizations to address climate change in meaningful ways.

EY’s Future Consumer Index indicates that as a result of the pandemic, at least 50% of consumers will pay more attention to the societal impact of what they consume. At the same time, there have been widespread calls for a green recovery, using economic stimulus packages that prioritize environmentally friendly infrastructure projects, and to “build back better.” The European Commission’s recent announcement of a European Green Deal, designed to align EU’s climate, energy, transportation and taxation policies to achieve a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, is one example.


The difference between survivors and thrivers is the willingness to take the leap and go beyond. The opportunity is there for those who want it.

About this article

By Amy Brachio

EY Global Vice Chair - Sustainability

A voice for working women. Passionate about diversity and inclusiveness. Mother. Wife.