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July–August 2020 Issue

Emerging from the Crisis

The pandemic has dramatically changed the world we know. Here’s how leaders can chart a course for their organizations and guide their teams through tumultuous times.


Learning from the Future

Idea in Brief

The Challenge

北京快3Good strategy creates competitive advantage over time, but the uncertainty of the future makes it difficult to identify effective courses of action, particularly in the midst of a crisis. As a leader, how can you prepare for an unpredictable future while managing the urgent demands of the present?

The Promise

北京快3The practice of strategic foresight provides the capacity to sense, shape, and adapt to change as it happens. One important element of the practice is scenario planning, which helps leaders navigate uncertainty by teaching them how to anticipate possible futures while still operating in the present.

The Way Forward

To make effective strategy in the face of uncertainty, leaders need to institutionalize strategic foresight, harnessing the power of imagination to build a dynamic link between planning and operations.

How can we formulate strategy in the face of uncertainty?

That’s the fundamental question leaders must ask as they prepare for the future. And in the midst of a global pandemic, answering it has never felt more urgent.

Even before the Covid-19 crisis, rapid technological change, growing economic interdependence, and mounting political instability had conspired to make the future increasingly murky. Uncertainty was so all-encompassing that to fully capture the dimensions of the problem, researchers had devised elaborate acronyms such as VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) and TUNA (turbulent, uncertain, novel, and ambiguous).

In response, many leaders sought refuge in the more predictable short term—a mechanism for coping with uncertainty that research has shown leaves billions of dollars of earnings on the table and millions of people needlessly unemployed. By the start of 2020, the sense of uncertainty was so pervasive that many executives were doubling down on efficiency at the expense of innovation, favoring the present at the expense of the future.

And then the pandemic hit.

北京快3Now the tyranny of the present is supreme. A lot of organizations have had no choice but to focus on surviving immediate threats. (There are no futurists in foxholes.) But many business and political discussions still demand farsightedness. The stakes are high, and decisions that leaders make now may have ramifications for years—or even decades. As they try to manage their way through the crisis, they need a way to link current moves to future outcomes.

北京快3So how best to proceed?

Strategic foresight—the history, theory, and practice of which I have spent years researching—offers a way forward. Its aim is not to predict the future but rather to make it possible to imagine multiple futures in creative ways that heighten our ability to sense, shape, and adapt to what happens in the years ahead. Strategic foresight doesn’t help us figure out what to think about the future. It helps us figure out how to think about it.

北京快3To be sure, a growing body of research has demonstrated that it is possible to make more-accurate predictions, even in chaotic fields like geopolitics. We should use those techniques to the extent we can. But when predictive tools reach their limits, we need to turn to strategic foresight, which takes the irreducible uncertainty of the future as a starting point. In that distinctive context, it helps leaders make better decisions.

The most recognizable tool of strategic foresight is scenario planning. It involves several stages: identifying forces that will shape future market and operating conditions; exploring how those drivers may interact; imagining a variety of plausible futures; revising mental models of the present on the basis of those futures; and then using those new models to devise strategies that prepare organizations for whatever the future actually brings.

Today the use of scenarios is widespread. But all too often, organizations conduct just a single exercise and then set whatever they learn from it on the shelf. If companies want to make effective strategy in the face of uncertainty, they need to set up a process of constant exploration—one that allows top managers to build permanent but flexible bridges between their actions in the present and their thinking about the future. What’s necessary, in short, is not just imagination but the institutionalization of imagination. That is the essence of strategic foresight.

The Limits of Experience

北京快3Uncertainty stems from our inability to compare the present to anything we’ve previously experienced. When situations lack analogies to the past, we have trouble envisioning how they will play out in the future.

The economist Frank Knight famously argued that uncertainty is best understood in contrast with risk. In situations of risk, Knight wrote, we can calculate the probability of particular outcomes, because we have seen many similar situations before. (A life insurance company, for example, has data on enough 45-year-old, nonsmoking white men to estimate how long one of them is going to live.) But in situations of uncertainty—and Knight put most business decisions in this category—we can only guess what might happen, because we lack the experience to gauge the most likely outcome. In fact, we might not even be able to imagine the range of potential outcomes.

北京快3The key in those situations, Knight felt, was judgment. Managers with good judgment can successfully chart a course through uncertainty despite a lack of reference points. Unfortunately, Knight had no idea where good judgment came from. He called it an “unfathomable mystery.”

Of course, in something of a catch-22, conventional wisdom holds that to a large extent good judgment is based on experience. And in many uncertain situations managers do, in fact, turn to historical analogy北京快3 to anticipate the future. This is why business schools use the case teaching method: It’s a way of exposing students to a range of analogies—and thus ostensibly helping them develop judgment—much more quickly than is possible in the normal course of life.

When situations lack analogies to the past, it’s hard to envision the future.

北京快3But Knight’s point was that uncertainty is marked by novelty, which, by definition, lacks antecedents. At the very moment when the present least resembles the past, it makes little sense to look back in time for clues about the future. In times of uncertainty, we run up against the limits of experience, so we must look elsewhere for judgment.

That’s where strategic foresight comes in.

“Strange Aids to Thought”

北京快3In the United States, strategic foresight can be traced back to the RAND Corporation, a think tank that the U.S. Air Force set up after World War II. Rather than plumbing the mystery of judgment, RAND scholars hoped to replace it with the “rational” tools of quantitative analysis. But as they grappled with the military demands of the postwar world, they could not escape the fact that nuclear weapons had fundamentally changed the nature of warfare. Two countries, the United States and the Soviet Union, had acquired the ability to destroy each other as functioning civilizations. And because no one had ever fought a nuclear war before, no one knew how best to fight (or avoid) one.

北京快3One RAND analyst, who approached the problem of a potential apocalypse with a glee that made him a model for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, was a mathematician named Herman Kahn. In the atomic age, Kahn realized, military strategists faced uncertainty to an absolutely unprecedented degree. “Nuclear war is still (and hopefully will remain) so far from our experience,” he wrote, “that it is difficult to reason from, or illustrate arguments by, analogies from history.”

北京快3How, then, Kahn asked, could military strategists develop the judgment crucial to making decisions about an uncertain future? It was the very question Knight had posed, but unlike Knight, Kahn had an answer: “ersatz experience.” What strategists needed, he suggested, were “strange aids to thought,” in the form of multiple imagined futures that could be developed through simulations such as war games and scenarios.

Marc Piasecki/Getty Images

In 1961, Kahn left RAND to help found the Hudson Institute, where he eventually shared his ideas with Pierre Wack, an executive from Royal Dutch Shell. In the early 1970s Wack famously applied Kahn’s ideas in the business world, by devising scenarios to help Shell prepare for what might take place as the oil-rich nations of the Middle East began to assert themselves on the world stage. When change did come, in the form of the price shocks induced by the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, Shell was able to ride the crisis out much better than its competitors. (In 1985, Wack chronicled Shell’s efforts in two articles for this magazine: “Scenarios: Uncharted Waters Ahead” and “Scenarios: Shooting the Rapids.”)

The Shell exercises marked the birth of scenario planning as a strategic tool for business managers. In subsequent years, Wack’s successors at the company refined his method, and scenario planners from Shell went on to become some of the most prominent scholars and practitioners in the field. Nonetheless, few of the organizations that have conducted scenario-planning exercises in recent decades have institutionalized them as part of a broader effort to achieve strategic foresight.

One of the rare exceptions is the U.S. Coast Guard, which describes its work with scenario planning as part of a “cycle of strategic renewal.” As such, it offers a model that many organizations can learn from.

北京快3One might ask how relevant the Coast Guard’s experience is for businesses, but in fact it constitutes what social scientists call a “crucial-case test.” As a military service, the Coast Guard has less organizational flexibility than most private firms, with a mission mandated by statute and a budget determined by Congress. What’s more, for a long time its need to react daily to numerous emerging situations—from ships in distress to drug interdictions—forced it to focus almost exclusively on the short term, leaving it with little bandwidth to formulate strategy for the long term. Nevertheless, in recent years it has managed to leverage scenario planning to its advantage, reorienting the organization in an ongoing way toward the future. And that, in turn, has allowed it to respond and adapt to disruptive changes, such as those that followed the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Future-Proofing the Coast Guard

北京快3On that tragic morning, hundreds of thousands of people found themselves trapped in Lower Manhattan, desperate to escape the burning chaos that was Ground Zero. While some were able to walk uptown or across bridges, which officials had closed to vehicles, for many the best way off the island was by water. So over the next hours, an impromptu flotilla—of ferries, tugs, private craft, and fire and police boats—took clusters of people away from the wreckage of the World Trade Center and across the water to safety.

Although many vessels operated on their own initiative, a significant part of the evacuation was directed by the Coast Guard, which had issued a call for “all available boats” and coordinated the chaotic debarkation with remarkable poise, creativity, and efficiency. The effort reminded many of the storied British evacuation across the English Channel of several hundred thousand troops that Nazi forces had trapped in Dunkirk, on the coast of France.

That the Coast Guard rose to the challenge is no surprise. Although it has a broad set of responsibilities, ranging from search-and-rescue to environmental protection to port security, the organization’s motto is Semper paratus,北京快3 or “Always ready,” and it prides itself on responding to emergencies. As one retired captain told me, “Our whole idea is, when the alarm goes off, to be able to fly into action.”

北京快3But September 11 ended up being more than a short-term challenge. In its aftermath, the Coast Guard found its mission quickly expanding. Within a day it was tasked with implementing radically heightened port-security measures around the country: Port security had previously accounted for 1% to 2% of its daily operational load, but it soon consumed 50% to 60%. In March 2003 the Coast Guard was integrated into the new Department of Homeland Security, and that same month it was given the job of securing ports and waterways all over Iraq, following the U.S.-led invasion. In subsequent years the service’s budget would double and its ranks would swell. A new future had arrived.

The Coast Guard adapted to this future nimbly—and did so in part because in the late 1990s it had conducted a scenario-planning exercise called Project Long View, which was designed to help the organization contend with “a startlingly complex future operating environment characterized by new or unfamiliar security threats.” Its aim, in effect, was to future-proof the Coast Guard.

The service ran Long View in 1998 and 1999—and then, in 2003, in response to the shocks of September 11, renamed it Project Evergreen and began running it every four years. Ever since, the organization has relied on Evergreen to help its leaders think and act strategically.

Robust Strategy—No Matter What the Future Holds

北京快3When the Coast Guard decided to launch Long View, it enlisted the help of the Futures Strategy Group (FSG), a consultancy specializing in scenario planning. FSG maintains that uncertainty precludes prediction but demands anticipation—and that imaginatively and rigorously exploring plausible futures can facilitate decision-making.

Working with FSG, the Coast Guard identified four forces for change that would have a significant impact on its future: the role of the federal government, the strength of the U.S. economy, the seriousness of threats to U.S. society, and the demand for maritime services. By exploring them and looking forward some 20 years, the team came up with 16 possible “far-future worlds” in which the Coast Guard might have to operate. Of those, Coast Guard leaders selected five that were as distinct as possible from one another (while remaining plausible) and represented the range of environments the service might face. FSG then wrote detailed descriptions of those futures and the fictional events that led to them.

北京快3Each future world was given a name intended to capture its essence. “Taking on Water” described a future in which the U.S. economy struggled amid significant environmental degradation. In “Pax Americana,” a humbled United States had to contend with a world rent by political instability and economic catastrophe. “Planet Enterprise” was dominated by giant transnational corporations. “Pan-American Highway” featured regional trade blocs oriented around the dollar and the euro. And “Balkanized America” presciently warned of a divided world in which “terrorism strikes with frightening frequency, and increasingly close to home.”

NurPhoto/Getty Images

Using those scenarios, the Coast Guard convened a three-day workshop, which FSG facilitated. Teams of civilians and officers were assigned to different future worlds and charged with devising strategies that would enable the Coast Guard to operate effectively in them. At the end of the workshop the teams compared notes on what they had come up with. Strategies that appeared again and again, across different teams, were deemed “robust.” In their final report the organizers of Long View listed 10 of these strategies, ranging from the creation of a more unified command structure to the development of a more flexible human-resources system to the establishment of “full maritime domain awareness”—which the Coast Guard defines as the “ability to acquire, track, and identify in real time any vessel or aircraft entering America’s maritime domain.” All of these strategies, they argued, would help the Coast Guard carry out its mission, no matter what the future held.

Many of the strategies weren’t novel. But Long View allowed participants to think about them in new ways that proved crucial in the post–September 11 world. In effect, Long View allowed the Coast Guard to pressure-test strategies under a range of plausible futures, prioritize the most-promising ones, and socialize them among the leadership—which meant that after the attacks, when the organization found its mission changing dramatically, it was able to respond quickly.

Launching Long View and subsequently establishing Evergreen as a continuous process wasn’t easy. It took exceptionally strong leadership—in particular from admirals James Loy and Thad Allen. The program has also faced challenges in implementing ideas; there is a difference between strategic foresight and strategic execution. But once established, the program developed significant momentum, fueled in part by a growing cadre of alumni who saw the value of a dynamic relationship between the present and the future. The Coast Guard had institutionalized imagination.

Exploration Enables Exploitation

Long View and Evergreen weren’t designed to bring about a wholesale organizational shift from the operational to the strategic or to train the Coast Guard’s attention primarily on the long term. Instead, the goal was to get its personnel thinking about the future in a way that would inform and improve their ability to operate in the present.

That was no small challenge. Management scholars have long noted that, in order to survive and thrive over time, organizations need to both exploit existing competencies and explore new ones. They need to be “ambidextrous.”

北京快3The problem is that those two imperatives compete for resources, demand distinct ways of thinking, and require different organizational structures. Doing one makes it harder to do the other. Ambidexterity requires managers to somehow resolve this paradox.

Long View and Evergreen helped the service’s leaders do that. The programs didn’t reduce the organization’s ability to attend to the present. If anything, the opposite occurred. Exploration enabled exploitation.

The Coast Guard members I interviewed for my research reported that Long View and Evergreen accomplished this in several ways. At the most explicit level, they identified strategies that the Coast Guard then pursued. Take maritime domain awareness. The scenarios made it clear to Coast Guard leaders that in any plausible future, they would want the ability to identify and track every vessel in U.S. waters. Although this may seem like an obvious need, it’s not a capability that the service had in the 1990s. As one retired admiral explained, “Ships could come in 10 miles off or even three miles off the United States’ coast, and we might not know it.” That was in part because U.S. agencies had no integrated system for gathering and disseminating information.

Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
About the art: During the quarantines in March and April of this year, photographers in cities around the world captured images of deserted tourist sites.


Even though the Coast Guard didn’t have the organizational and technological infrastructure to establish full maritime domain awareness immediately, Long View built consensus about its value among top leadership, which helped the service implement it more quickly after 9/11. In fact, the Coast Guard captain who had managed Evergreen led the interagency effort to develop the first National Strategy for Maritime Security, which ultimately prompted the creation of the Nationwide Automatic Identification System—a sort of transponder system for ships.

The strategies that emerged from the scenario-planning exercises also enabled personnel who participated in them to act with a greater awareness of the service’s future needs. For example, the first iteration of Evergreen stressed the importance of building strategic partnerships at home and abroad. With this in mind, one senior Coast Guard leader prepared for threats that might emerge in the Pacific by developing bilateral relationships with island nations there; sharing information, coordinating patrols, and holding joint exercises with counterparts in China, Russia, Canada, South Korea, and Japan; and finding ways to work more closely with other U.S. agencies, from the FBI to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

北京快3At the most basic level, Long View and Evergreen simply got the service’s people to think more about the future. The master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard Reserve described how Evergreen had changed his thinking, citing a recent conversation with a colleague: “He and I were here in my office this morning, talking about, ‘Twenty-five years from now, what is the Coast Guard Reserve component going to look like?’” Before taking part in Evergreen, he added, “I just wouldn’t understand how to think that way.”

北京快3Perhaps most interesting, however—and most important in resolving the supposed paradox between exploration and exploitation—is the way that Long View and Evergreen helped participants understand the demands of the past and the future not as competing but as complementary. The exercises changed the very way in which participants thought about time.

Humans tend to conceive of time as linear and unidirectional, as moving from past to present to future, with each time frame discrete. We remember yesterday; we experience today; we anticipate tomorrow. But the best scenario planning embraces a decidedly nonlinear conception of time. That’s what Long View and Evergreen did: They took stock of trends in the present, jumped many years into the future, described plausible worlds created by those drivers, worked backward to develop stories about how those worlds had come to pass, and then worked forward again to develop robust strategies. In this model, time circles around on itself, in a constantly evolving feedback cycle between present and future. In a word, it is a loop.

Once participants began to view time as a loop, they understood thinking about the future as an essential component of taking action in the present. The scenarios gave them a structure that strengthened their ability to be strategic,北京快3 despite tremendous uncertainty. It became clear that in making decisions, Coast Guard personnel should learn not only from past experience but also from imagined futures.

Getting Started

北京快3The prospect of organizing a scenario exercise can intimidate the uninitiated. There are distinct benefits to enlisting one of the individuals, boutique consultancies, or even large firms that specialize in scenarios to provide helpful direction. However, regardless of who runs the process, managers should follow these key guidelines:

Invite the right people to participate.

One of the chief purposes of a scenario exercise is to challenge mental models of how the world works. To create the conditions for success, you’ll need to bring together participants who have significantly different organizational roles, points of view, and personal experiences. You’ll also need people who represent what Kees van der Heijden, one of Wack’s successors at Shell, has described as the three powers necessary for any effective conversation about strategy: the power to perceive, the power to think, and the power to act.

The best scenario planning embraces a decidedly nonlinear conception of time.

Identify assumptions, drivers, and uncertainties.

It’s important to explicitly articulate the assumptions in your current strategy and what future you expect will result from its implementation. Think of this scenario as your projected scenario—but recognize that it’s just one of many possible futures, and focus on determining which assumptions it would be helpful to revisit. Rafael Ramirez, who leads the Oxford Scenarios Programme, advises that in doing this you disaggregate transactional actors, which you can influence or control, from environmental forces, which you cannot. How might those forces combine to create different possible futures?

Imagine plausible, but dramatically different, futures.

This can be the most difficult part of the exercise, particularly for those used to more analytical modes of thinking. Push yourself to imagine what the future will look like in five, 10, or even 20 years—without simply extrapolating from trends in the present. This takes a high degree of creativity and also requires the judgment to distinguish a scenario that, as the Coast Guard puts it, pushes the envelope of plausibility from one that tears it—an inherently subjective task. Good facilitators can both prime the imagination and maintain the guardrails of reality.

Inhabit those futures.

Scenario planning is most effective when it’s an immersive experience. Creating “artifacts from the future,” such as fictional newspaper articles or even video clips, often helps challenge existing mental models. It’s also a good idea to disconnect participants from the present, so hold workshops off-site and discourage the use of phones at them.

Isolate strategies that will be useful across multiple possible futures.

Form teams to inhabit each of your far-future worlds, and give them this challenge: What should we be doing now that would enable us to operate better in that particular future? Create an atmosphere in which even junior participants can put forward ideas without hesitation. Once the groups develop strategies for their worlds, bring them together to compare notes. Look for commonalities, single them out, and identify plans and investments that will make sense across a range of futures.

Implement those strategies.

北京快3This may sound obvious, but it is the place where most companies fall down. Using scenario planning to devise strategies isn’t resource-intensive, but implementing them requires commitment. To couple foresight with action, leaders should set up a formal system in which managers have to explain explicitly how their plans will advance the firm’s new strategies. Realistically, foresight will not drive every initiative, but scenario exercises can still be valuable in several ways. First, they can provide participants with a common language to talk about the future. Second, they can build support for an idea within an organization so that when the need for implementation becomes clear, it can move faster. Finally, they can enable participants to act at the unit level, even if the organization as a whole fails to link the present and future as tightly as it should.

Ingrain the process.

In the long run you’ll reap the greatest value from scenario exercises by establishing an iterative cycle—that is, a process that continually orients your organization toward the future while keeping an eye on the present, and vice versa. This ambidexterity will allow you to thrive under the best of conditions—and it’s essential for survival under the worst. Moving in a loop between the present and multiple imagined futures helps you to adjust and update your strategies continually.


This last point is critical. As the current pandemic has made clear, needs and assumptions can change quickly and unpredictably. Preparing for the future demands constant reappraisal. Strategic foresight—the capacity to sense, shape, and adapt to what happens—requires iterative exploration, whether through scenario planning or another method. (See “The Future: A Glossary.”) Only by institutionalizing the imaginative process can organizations establish a continual give-and-take between the present and the future. Used dynamically in this way, scenario planning and other tools of strategic foresight allow us to map ever-shifting territory.

北京快3Of course, strategic foresight also enables us to identify opportunities and amplifies our ability to seize them. Organizations don’t just prepare for the future. They make it. Moments of uncertainty hold great entrepreneurial potential. As Wack once wrote in these pages, “It is precisely in these contexts—not in stable times—that the real opportunities lie to gain competitive advantage through strategy.”

It takes strength to stand up against the tyranny of the present and invest in imagination. Strategic foresight makes both possible—and offers leaders a chance for legacy. After all, they will be judged not only by what they do today but by how well they chart a course toward tomorrow.

J. Peter Scoblic is a cofounder and principal of , a foresight consultancy, and a senior fellow in the International Security Program at New America. He has just completed a doctorate at Harvard Business School, where his work on strategy and uncertainty won the Wyss Award for Excellence in Doctoral Research.

“What Is the Next Normal Going to Look Like?”

Nigel Buchanan

Participants in the roundtable discussion: Kevin Sneader, Nancy McKinstry, and Geoff Martha (top row); Chuck Robbins and Tory Burch (bottom row)


This roundtable discussion, held virtually in late April, was a departure from the norm—and thus perfectly in keeping with these very strange days. Tory Burch, the fashion designer and retail magnate, joked about dressing up for the video call after living in sweatpants for weeks. Kevin Sneader, the global managing partner at McKinsey & Company, appeared from the kitchen table of his in-laws’ home. Nancy McKinstry and Geoff Martha, the CEOs, respectively, of Wolters Kluwer and Medtronic, both had connection trouble at first, but Chuck Robbins, the CEO of Cisco Systems (which owns Webex, the videoconferencing service), provided impromptu tech support. During an hour-long discussion moderated by HBR editor in chief Adi Ignatius, these five executives, who collectively lead a workforce of about 217,000 people worldwide, spoke about how they’ve adjusted to uncertain times, what employees and society expect from them now, and how business will change as the crisis ebbs. What follows are edited excerpts from the conversation.

HBR: We’re in an extraordinary moment. What does it take to be an effective leader right now?

Sneader: Leaders should choose candor over charisma. There’s some really tough stuff to this. I want to be an optimist, but there are things we don’t know and things that may or may not happen. So the phrase in my head is “bounded optimism.” This is also a chance to bring purpose to the chaos.

Robbins: People want to see leaders being human. I’ve reiterated to our team: This is a time for leadership, not management. Be calm, have realistic optimism, and show up and be visible.

Sneader: I agree about being human. When the crisis started, I was firing off lots of information-heavy messages. But on my mother’s 80th birthday, I included a picture of her celebrating with a cake. That prompted other people to send pictures, and it made everyone more engaged. One group of employees got all their pets together for a video meeting, so I showed up with my two cats. But I was outdone by somebody with a horse! There’s been a lot of getting to know people in a different way. So in some respects, I feel more closely connected than if we were physically gathering.

Burch: You need to keep your strategy intact but be flexible and agile. It’s also important for leaders to show vulnerability along with optimism, and to acknowledge that this situation is hard. The uncertainty really throws people off, but it helps if they see a focused management team that communicates frequently. People want authentic dialogue and transparency.

McKinstry: Here at Wolters Kluwer, leading is first and foremost about communication. We’re in a phase of overcommunicating with our employees and our customers, to try to keep everybody up to speed on where we’re headed and to make sure we’re addressing concerns. Second, it’s about priorities. A big part of my interactions with the leadership team is around not just making adjustments on the cost side or in how we go to market, but keeping everyone focused on the top strategic priorities. And the third thing is to be adaptable. The world is changing every single day, and we need to keep asking: How can we help our customers? How can we help our communities? We need to clear away bureaucracy, address things very quickly, and be operationally agile.

Martha: As others have mentioned, communication is a big piece. At Medtronic, we’ve broken this crisis down into three phases—the shutdown, the recovery, and the new normal. Throughout each phase, we have clear priorities and a framework for helping people make decisions. You can’t decide everything from the top, so providing this guidance is important.

How has Covid-19 changed the nature of what you do and how you do it?

Burch: We’ve learned that we can adapt and run the business from home virtually. We have a great team, and to see the amount we can get done is inspiring. One thing that isn’t easy is the creative process. Design is tactile and collaborative work, and to design collections on a computer is really difficult.

Robbins: Tory’s right—running the business is not that difficult. And frankly, not being on airplanes, and sleeping in the same bed every night, has been a unique experience for me—I don’t think I’ve stayed in one place this long in 30 years. Because of the culture at Cisco, our people are certainly used to working from home and leveraging technology. And we’re moving faster than we ever have. For example, in March our team started 3D-printing surgical shields in our San Jose office. Typically, the legal issues around doing that would have taken weeks to resolve. But we wrote up a one-page legal waiver, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department signed it in 10 minutes, and we were off and running. Those are the kinds of things we are figuring out, which should change how we operate going forward.

Martha: We’re a med-tech company, and one of our businesses does remote patient management. We’ve heard a lot about how telehealth—which allows patients to meet with doctors remotely—has picked up. But it’s amazing how quickly we’re also moving to remote device management. For example, we make ventilators, and one of the biggest issues in treating Covid-19 is that when patients are on ventilators in the ICU, the health care workers treating them may face exposure to the virus. Remote device management allows you to control the ventilator from outside the ICU. You’re going to see more of that technology. Until recently, health care institutions weren’t all that incentivized or excited about it, but now I think that’s going to become a priority. Another thing I’d say is that the speed at which we’ve partnered with other companies is amazing. Typically, you hammer out a business agreement first; here we just got to work. That’s something we can learn from.

Sneader: McKinsey is a client service organization, and we like to think we work on the toughest problems our clients face. So the biggest change for us is that clients’ problems just got a whole lot tougher. We’re helping companies whose revenues have dropped to near nothing, helping hospital systems deal with rapid scale-up in demand, finding ways to get supplies of critical products. At the same time, we’re a people organization, and our people are working extraordinarily hard. Some of them are in small apartments far from their families. We have dual-career couples, and each partner is trying to conduct business with kids running around needing attention. That is not easy, and it’s had a profound change on how we work.

McKinstry: At Wolters Kluwer, what we do is help professional customers navigate change, whether it’s dealing with new regulations or new scientific and medical developments. So with the Covid-19 onset, the most important thing has been for us to rapidly disseminate information and software solutions to our health care customers and to our tax and accounting professionals, all for free. I’m most proud of how our organization has quickly adapted and gotten solutions out in front of customers.

Tory, you have 300 stores around the world, most of them now closed. Will people’s embrace of e-commerce during the crisis mean a permanent shift of business in that direction?

Burch: I believe in digital, and globally it’s been our great growth driver in recent years. But I also believe in physical retail. China is opening back up right now, and that gives us a lot of hope. I thought people there would be much more fearful of going into stores. Still, we have to figure out how to make sure that when stores start to reopen, customers feel safe. Another interesting fact is that when you look at Gen Z, shopping is part of their social life. They grew up on computers, and that’s part of why they love to go out to stores and touch products. That’s still going to be extremely important.

Nancy, you’ve been on our list of the world’s best-performing CEOs, partly because you’ve successfully led a digital transformation. What advice do you have for CEOs who are trying to cut costs during the crisis while still pursuing a transformation effort?

McKinstry: One of the things I often say about digital transformation is that you have to take the long view. The trends that we’ve been seeing around collaboration tools, digital marketing, cloud computing—those are only going to get more pronounced post-Covid. The first priority is to focus on digital transformation that affects your customers. That’s where it all starts. So put the right tools in your employees’ hands and your customers’ hands to start that journey. Second, continue reinvesting. We invest 8% to 10% of revenue in innovation, and we did that even during the 2008 financial crisis. And keep focused on a few priorities. People get distracted, but you have to be very centered on the two or three things you need to transform to really get momentum going.

Kevin, you talk to CEOs all over the world all the time. What is the most common mistake or misperception you’re seeing as leaders think about how to survive or thrive in the crisis?

Sneader: All CEOs are navigating an unprecedented situation, and most are doing it remarkably well. It’s very hard to balance the here and now versus the future. You need a microscope to deal with the details of getting the business stable. But the reality is that we’re not going back to what we thought normal was, so you need a telescope to figure out “What is the next normal going to look like?” Many CEOs are trying to do both things, and if you put a microscope up to one eye and a telescope up to the other, you just get a headache. You tend not to see anything very clearly. So it’s important to have one team dealing with bringing the business back, and a separate team dealing with what’s going to happen a year or two from now and considering the what-if questions.

Thinking about that next normal, what might fundamentally change about the ways we manage organizations?

Martha: We’ve already talked about more digitization. Another thing is that people are watching to see how companies treat their employees, customers, investors, and other stakeholders. Are they behaving in a socially responsible way? The younger generations, Gen Z in particular, will make future employment decisions in large part based on how companies are showing up in this pandemic. The social responsibility piece of this will have a direct impact on your ability to attract and retain top talent.

McKinstry: Something that I’ve seen in parts of the world is more collaboration between governments and private enterprise. Some of the countries that have fared better so far—Germany comes to mind—have had a lot more engagement between the public and private sectors. That’s true whether it involves supply chains or patients or other issues. When we look back on this, hopefully we’ll be able to take some of those best practices in collaboration and bring them forward.

Robbins: I think we’ll all be expected to keep moving at high velocity, having proven we can do so. And this experience is going to fundamentally change how we think about the location of our talent, because we all now know that we can be productive with digital technology. So at Cisco, instead of having to hire engineers in certain geographies, we can go find the best talent anywhere and bring them onto teams. I also think that the virus has highlighted the inequality in the United States and in the world as nothing else ever has. When you look at the people who are on the front lines fighting this thing—the people who are in harm’s way every day—they are the most at risk financially. We now have an opportunity and an obligation to think about how we solve that problem. As we come out of this, we should have the energy to tackle it in new ways.

Sneader: I think a few other things will change. One is the role of government. By one estimate, the amount of government money spent on the crisis is already eight times the size of the Marshall Plan after World War II. What will be government’s role going forward? Will it step back from being involved in business, or will it be a more permanent fixture? Another change involves prioritizing resilience over efficiency. We’ve been in an era in which people were very focused on efficiency, implementing just-in-time inventory and global supply chains. In the future, I think people are going to be very focused on resilience because we’ve seen that disruption can be catastrophic. And here’s the last thing: We used to talk about “the death of distance” because of technology, but borders have gone back up, and people care more about what they can touch and feel and the locality where they operate. That challenges some of our assumptions about globalization.

Chuck, Cisco is on the front lines of how we’re communicating and connecting now. How did your team prepare for the surge in Webex usage?

Robbins: We watched the crisis unfold in Asia, so we knew it was coming, but we didn’t fully appreciate how fast we’d have to move. Asia is now using Webex at four times the capacity it did previously. In Europe and the Americas the load is about triple. There are times of day—especially around 11 AM Eastern time, which is early morning on the West Coast and late afternoon in Europe—when usage is 15 times what it was in early 2020, and that base was not a small number. The first three weeks of the crisis were a little rocky as we built out infrastructure. But we had great partners in the carriers and the telcos helping us, and we’re doing more than 4 million meetings a day right now. People see that you can do work this way. Not everybody wants to do it this way every minute of every day, but you realize you can make it work. That raises obvious questions about commercial real estate footprints and other things that will be debated until we get to the other side of this.

Kevin, I know McKinsey has done research on what helped some companies outperform as they emerged from the last recession. Do those lessons apply now?

Sneader: The scale and magnitude of what we’re facing now are definitely different. But with that caveat, the companies that came out of the 2008 global financial crisis with strength were the ones that created flexibility in their balance sheets and their costs before the crisis. Then many of them reshaped their portfolios during the crisis. They thought really hard about which costs mattered, and they were thoughtful about their IT spending. The winners got those decisions right. They were also incredibly customer-focused. And they came out of the recession enjoying total shareholder returns 150% higher than those of their competitors.

McKinstry: I would add that how companies treat their people now is really going to matter. Talent is so scarce. At Wolters Kluwer, we’re putting our employees front and center as the top priority, and I believe that will pay dividends. When I look back at the global financial crisis, I think some companies paid a steep price for the way they treated workers.

Geoff, you’re stepping into the CEO role at Medtronic just this month. I can’t imagine what a transition is like at this moment.

Martha: We’d announced my transition to CEO months ago. Omar Ishrak, my predecessor, had been stepping back from the day-to-day running of the company, and I was moving into the role. Then Covid-19 erupted. Omar’s gotten more involved again, because it’s an all-hands-on-deck moment. But although I wouldn’t wish this pandemic on anybody, in many ways it’s helped accelerate the transition. When you’re promoted and you start leading your former peers, there’s a tendency to walk on eggshells. In a crisis, there’s no time for that—you have to be very assertive and make decisions. So because of the intensity of the work and how much we’ve all been talking together, I feel like I’ve been CEO for a year or two.

This will sound like a facetious question, Tory, but I’m serious. A lot of us have been wearing pajamas and sweats for weeks while working from home. Is this going to have a lasting effect on how people dress for work?

Burch: Trends come and go, but being casual and interested in health and wellness was a trend before the crisis. That’s going to continue. At the same time, people are going to want to go out and dress up again. So I wouldn’t throw away any of your good pants or jackets. But let me make a larger point. People often think of fashion and apparel retailing as a “lite” industry, and when this threat struck, it was clear that no one was advocating for the government to help us. But our sector represents 11 million American jobs and $2.5 trillion of GDP. This idea that fashion is frivolous is a misperception.

Any final predictions?

Sneader: At some point, we’ll return to talking about major issues we faced before the crisis. One was sustainability and the environment. It’s hard to think about it right now, especially with oil prices where they are, but flying less has been good for the planet. And the response to Covid-19 from governments around the world has been massive. So how are people going to reconcile that investment with the obligation to do something about what’s happening to the environment? The coronavirus is a shock with an immediate impact, but environmental change is a shock that has been building cumulatively. And business is going to be in the middle of the conversation as we talk about the green agenda in supply chains. It may not be so easy to jump on sustainability because there are going to be some real costs that will be harder to afford.

McKinstry: On a different note, what the frontline doctors and nurses are going through is just astonishing. We all owe them incredible gratitude. One of the things that will come out of this is that we’ll rethink health care and how it’s delivered around the world.

Robbins: The culture of organizations, and their people, and how leaders show up during this moment—all of that will define who’s going to be successful in the future. Employees and society want to see who you are as a company. What do you stand for? The answers will have lasting impact as we move beyond this.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article misstated Tory Burch’s title. She is the executive chairman and chief creative officer, not the CEO.

Adi Ignatius is the editor in chief of Harvard Business Review.

Helping Your Team Heal

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One night some time ago I was in a movie theater in Los Angeles when an earthquake struck. It was a rather long one, with several aftershocks. I remember distinctly that people in the theater seemed to fall naturally into one of three groups: Some panicked and moved chaotically, unsure what to do or where to go. Some remained calm and moved to the emergency exits, just as the preshow announcement had suggested they should. And some hardly moved at all. Instead they implored others to calm down and go back to watching the movie.

北京快3I’ve been thinking about that night since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. This crisis is a shock different from an earthquake, to be sure, but it’s still a shock, and I’ve seen friends, family members, and workers at the companies I consult with experience reactions similar to those in the theater. Some have struggled to cope. Some have done what they can with the guidance they have. And some want others to calm down and continue with business as usual.

As companies navigate a slow return to ordinary life and work routines, they must understand and acknowledge that employees will need varying kinds of support. This is not a time to check the policy manual or to robotically “copy all” with messages about thoughts and prayers. This is a time to help each individual with his or her particular grief.

Putting that name—grief—on it has proved to be a powerful way to help anxious colleagues make progress toward normalcy. In late March, as the situation in the United States escalated rapidly, I was interviewed by HBR about grief and the pandemic. We addressed the collective anxiety over the loss of control, the radical change in how we were living, the anticipatory grief we felt as we imagined future job losses and possibly the death of loved ones. The interview struck a deep chord as it was shared across the world. It spurred countless notes of gratitude from doctors, nurses, other essential workers, and people from all walks of life. The reaction was a reminder that what people need first to deal with this trauma is to name what they feel so that they can start to manage it.

北京快3Grief is well understood, so we know of ways to deal with it. The five stages of grief are built on the incredible work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who died in 2004. They are adapted from her landmark work in the late 1960s on the five stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. Together she and I applied them to grief. It is imperative to recognize that these stages are not linear; they don’t happen in predictable time frames; you may experience all or only some of them. They are not a map of grief but, rather, a reference guide so that when you do have one of these feelings, you can identify it and manage it.

As people go back to work, or as those who’ve stayed on the job through the crisis begin to interact with returning workers, many will still be grieving. Not everyone will be at the same stage at the same time. Employees, leaders, managers, and organizations need to recognize this. If people seem unusually angry, we should give them space and exercise patience. They are grieving. Someone who questions the pandemic statistics may be in denial—and grieving.

Be aware of three groups: the worried well, the affected, and the bereaved.

Most important is to allow people to feel these stages. A peculiarity of modern life is that we have feelings about our feelings. We may feel sadness and then tell ourselves we shouldn’t be sad—that others have suffered more. We do this with many emotions. Ultimately it doesn’t work. Allowing yourself to experience the stages of grief—to let feelings move through you—is how you get to that fifth stage: acceptance. There, unsurprisingly, is where the power is. In acceptance we regain control, because we are no longer fighting the truth. This awful thing has happened. Now what?

Finding the Right Interventions

I’ve talked to many companies during this pandemic, including some very large ones. My primary message to them is: Avoid blanket policies; don’t think that all employees need the same support. And recognize that we grieve other losses as well as the loss of health or life.

Leaders should think about three groups of people all working together. First are the worried well.北京快3 They’re healthy. They haven’t experienced sickness around them, but they are concerned. They may still be grieving losses of work, of normalcy, of opportunities and events. Work projects they were passionate about. Weddings. Holiday gatherings. Vacations and trips. Students are losing activities that fulfill them; seniors are grieving the loss of the capstones to their academic careers: graduations, proms, and other ceremonies. Those are legitimate losses that create grief.

北京快3The worried well are also experiencing anticipatory grief—deep anxiety in which the mind imagines future losses, of all the above and more, and the effect on loved ones. Within this group are minimizers and maximizers. Minimizers cope by denying the severity of the situation or hoping deeply, nervously, for the best. Maximizers imagine the sky is falling. The truth lies somewhere between the two points of view. Work helps each group balance their minds.

Second are the affected, who were sick themselves or know someone who was sick but has recovered or will recover. These people haven’t just imagined trauma—they’ve experienced it. They will benefit from accommodation and validation. Some may need counseling and other support mechanisms.

The third group holds the bereaved.北京快3 They have lost a loved one, are grieving a death, and will be dealing directly with the five stages. Many of them will be far from acceptance.

Simply recognizing these three groups and adjusting interventions specifically for each will go a long way toward helping workers heal. Making them aware that the groups exist helps as well: They can be sensitive to different experiences. You don’t want a worried well minimizer saying, “So we had to work from home for a couple of months—so what?” in a group that may include colleagues who were sick or who are grieving a death.

北京快3In the workplace much talk is about how to engage employees. When I work with companies, I tell them that if someone is grieving a loss, that is a powerful opportunity to engage them. What keeps people in jobs and dedicated is not their compensation packages or a project they worked on. It’s “When my loved one died, my boss did this very thoughtful thing.” Or “When I got very sick, the company supported me throughout.” Or “They checked on me during a crisis.” One worker I spoke with had a loved one who became ill. His boss called—not to ask when he’d be back to work but, rather, to ask how the loved one was doing.

Companies have many grieving workers in this moment. As work returns to normal, how will they treat their employees? What did they learn? Can they turn post-traumatic stress into post-traumatic growth? (For more on this, see “Growth After Trauma.”) Are they mistakenly “ramping back up” by asking “How can we return to the routine?” or “How can we make up for lost time and revenue?” Or will leaders invite workers into their offices and ask, “How are you doing today?” and “How can I support you?” Engagement comes from the latter.

Finding Meaning

Like any other framework, the five stages of grief are a distillation of complex ideas. It was always challenging for Kübler-Ross—one of the 20th century’s great thinkers and the author of dozens of books that have been translated into more than 40 languages—to see her life’s work reduced to those five words. People started viewing them as “five easy steps to grief,” but she and I would tell you there’s nothing easy about them. Late in her life we talked about how acceptance had taken on a kind of finality in the grief process that neither of us had intended. Some people believed that if they reached acceptance, they were finished. We talked informally about stages beyond acceptance—hope, maybe, or finding meaning after grief. I started to write a little about what came after acceptance.

北京快3Then, in 2016, my younger son, David, died unexpectedly. I canceled everything and stayed home for weeks. It felt as brutal as I could ever have imagined. Eventually I came across the writing I had done on meaning. It didn’t take the pain away, but it did provide a cushion. I started to talk with others who’d experienced similar grief, and they echoed what I felt.

I did not want to stop at acceptance. I started to notice that people who felt stuck in grief were those who were unable to find meaning. I began to see meaning as the sixth stage of grief. I was honored when the Kübler-Ross family and foundation allowed me to add it to the grief stages. I believe that many of us will be looking for this sixth stage in the wake of the pandemic.

I’m not talking about finding meaning in a terrible event. Rather, meaning is what you find, and what you make, after it. That won’t make a loss seem worth the cost. It will never be worth the cost. But meaning can heal painful memories and help us keep moving forward.

北京快3Meaning comes in many forms. An effort to remember the joy that something or someone gave before the loss can bring meaning. Rituals of remembrance can bring meaning. Gratitude is a form of meaning: I’ve found myself in awe of, and thanking, workers in essential services who persevere through this crisis, many of them risking their health for low wages. Turning the loss into something positive for others can bring meaning. Meaning comes in moments and actions that heal, even if just a little.

Meaning may take time. It will be personal (only you can find your own meaning). And it doesn’t have to be profound. In my book Finding Meaning, I tell the story of Marcy, a woman who lost her father. One day she was buying stamps, and the man behind the desk asked what kind she wanted and showed her a bunch of designs. Marcy didn’t really care until she noticed that one set had a picture of the entertainer Danny Thomas on them. She and her father used to love to watch The Danny Thomas Show together. It was a favorite memory. So Marcy chose those stamps. She didn’t frame them or revere them; she used them. When she paid a bill or sent a letter, she could remember her father fondly. She had created meaning.

Recognize that your loss is not a test. When we grapple with loss, we tend to think of it as a test of our fortitude and our ability to escape from the feelings the loss creates. But loss just happens. There’s no test—there’s just grieving. Meaning is what we make happen after.

I suspect that with the pandemic we’ll find meaning sooner than we do with many losses, because we’re all in this together over a relatively long period of time. I’ve found some meaning already. For me, writing articles like this one helps create meaning. Does it make experiencing a pandemic worth it? Absolutely not. But it is healing. That doesn’t mean we forget, or that damage didn’t occur; it means that damage no longer controls our lives. If we acknowledge that in this crisis, in our work, something meaningful happened for us and others, we are healing. We are moving forward in our grief.

I sincerely hope that for you, meaning comes soon, if it hasn’t already. I hope that work becomes a place where people find it—where coworkers support one another and where managers take care of their workers and allow them to grieve.

北京快3The pandemic is one season in our lives; it will end. It will be remembered as an extraordinarily difficult time. But the slow process of returning to a new normal—of naming our grief, helping one another reach acceptance, and finding meaning—will continue. For leaders that moment will be an opportunity.

David Kessler is the world’s foremost expert on grief and a coauthor, with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, of . His latest book is 北京快3 (2019). He is the founder of .