US Insights and actions
PwC’s Global Crisis Survey 2021 examines the business community’s response to the most disruptive crisis of our lifetime: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Find out how US companies reacted, what they’ve learned and how they’re preparing for what’s next.
As 2020 dims in the rearview mirror, the public health landscape looks decidedly brighter with broad distribution of vaccines and hints of a slow-but-steady return to near-normal. The damage has been immense on many levels — and it’s not over yet. But finally, a glimmer of the post-pandemic period is appearing on the horizon.
Resilience is the theme of 2021. US businesses have experienced an accelerated, involuntary journey of adaptation and endurance during the most devastating year many of us have ever encountered. Multiple crises are ongoing, from the pandemic’s economic impact to social upheaval and climate change-fueled catastrophes.
But the flexibility and grit demanded by the crisis have helped organizations learn pivotal lessons — and reveal new opportunities.
Looking ahead, businesses that apply their freshly acquired muscle memory to repair, reconfigure and reimagine the future are the ones that will thrive. And the good news? After experiencing 2020, you know more than you think.
Two years ago, when PwC’s first Global Crisis Survey analyzed data from business leaders around the world, more than 95 percent of global respondents said they expected to experience a crisis within the next two years.
Despite recognizing the inevitability of disruption, almost a quarter of this year’s US survey respondents did not have a designated response team in place — which turned out to be a critical misstep as the scope of the pandemic and its shockwaves became clear. Nearly 20 percent of US organizations were forced to put together a new or mostly new team to deal with the crisis.
Only 39% of US respondents had a crisis plan in place that they found to be "very relevant" — which means the majority did not design their plans to be crisis-agnostic — a hallmark of a resilient organization.
And crises beget other crises, as the majority of US organizations have learned. Almost 80 percent reported that they experienced a secondary crisis exacerbated by the pandemic. Financial damage and supply chain issues were revealed as most common, with operational disruption and technology failure tied as the third-most frequent problem.
One silver lining, though, is that leaders recognize that the single most important action their organization has taken so far in response to COVID-19 is taking care of its people.
Some industries were hard-hit, while others managed to innovate and thrive. Some states, cities and towns have suffered exponentially more upheaval than others. Overwhelmingly, though, US business leaders across all sectors and regions said their most consequential move was to focus on wellness and protect their teams: 86 percent agreed (40 percent strongly) that their response to the crisis took into consideration the physical and emotional needs of their employees.
How we fully emerge from the pandemic era has yet to be written. But the common thread of organizations focusing on the wellness of their workers should continue when life — and business — gets back to normal.
Bottom line: Establish a dedicated crisis response team with a fit-for-purpose response strategy, aligned to your organization’s goals and purpose. Design a response that can flex to address various contingencies and types of crises — with an ever-present eye on the safety and well-being of your people.
Only 23% of US organizations had a dedicated crisis response team in place at the start of the pandemic
Before the COVID-19 pandemic upended lives and businesses worldwide, resilience planning was viewed by many organizations as somewhat of a spreadsheet exercise: “Crisis plan. Business continuity plan. Check, check.”
That approach left a lot of businesses vulnerable when the crisis hit. Structured in silos, resilience competencies and response teams were disjointed and unequipped to coordinate the tactics, tools and technologies needed for an effective strategic response.
Business leaders have taken notice.
Seventy-five percent of US organizations said they’re planning to increase their investment in building resilience. Among risk officers, we’re seeing that number trend as high as nine in 10.
Where to start? First, elevate resilience within the organization. Many business leaders have told us that their resilience-focused teams, prior to the pandemic, were too far removed from the C-suite. Organizations are establishing governance at the highest levels: designating a senior leader to sponsor the resilience program and creating steering committees to guide funding and resources.
Next, examine your resilience strategy, identify gaps and inconsistencies and design an integrated program that builds in the right plans, protocols and trainings. A centralized inventory that houses each component of your program helps maintain consistency across each function and enables a clear response strategy, with each element interacting appropriately.
And finally, foster a culture of resilience. Position and socialize organizational resilience as an umbrella over your core competencies and across your technology and operations, data, workforce and financial domains. Building resilience into your organizational DNA requires addressing it as a priority — not as a “nice to have” or a back-up plan in case of emergency. Resilience is foundational to how an organization weathers disruption and creates new opportunities in peacetime.
Bottom line: Examine your existing resilience landscape. Think holistically about how to build resilience. Focus on integrating your core resilience competencies. And put the spreadsheet back on the shelf.
What does resilience mean, exactly? In simplest terms, it’s the ability to bounce back from a crisis or disruption. To persevere. But it’s also about being prepared to enable and secure new possibilities.
Amid the upheaval of the past year, business leaders are recognizing that a foundation of resilience can make the difference between faltering or flourishing — during a shock or in good times. As the post-pandemic era begins to take shape in the coming months, they have an opportunity to rethink opportunities for the future.
And the outlook is positive: In PwC’s 24th Annual Global CEO Survey, a record-high 76 percent of CEOs believe global economic growth will improve in 2021.
That optimism aligns with Global Crisis Survey data revealing that three out of four companies are confident they can successfully integrate what they’ve learned through the crisis and invigorate their organizational resilience.
Technology upgrades are key. More than a quarter of US companies have found it difficult to collect data or information in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. And only 26 percent strongly agree that their organization has been able to incorporate data effectively to influence decision making.
Risk leaders plan to invest 28 cents of every dollar in tech capabilities this year, responding, in part, to the need for data tools as new ways of working feed the need for clear communication channels. The inability to gather and synthesize accurate data and information can have an alarming ripple effect. At the most basic level, companies that didn’t have employee home contact information with the abrupt switch to remote working lost valuable time and productivity.
Organizations must also address the risk of cyber attacks, fueled by the increase in remote work and cited as the second-most worrisome threat in PwC’s Global CEO Survey, at 47 percent. Concern about the spread of misinformation has risen as well, to 28 percent, up from 16 percent in last year’s study.
Investing and shifting your focus to resilience are foundational steps to building strength for the long term. But to succeed and prevail through whatever new disruption may arise, just having a plan on paper isn't sufficient. Given the variety of threats today's business leaders face, it's important to design a built-for-purpose, crisis-agnostic program with the flexibility to adapt to whatever comes next.
Bottom line: Hold your organization to a higher standard for resilience. Plan a strategy and resilience program that delivers on your investment with dividends of crisis preparation, clarity and openness to opportunities.
Between Aug. 20, 2020, and Jan. 25, 2021, more than 2,800 business leaders, including 333 in the United States, shared company data and personal insights on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the future of enterprise resilience. Representing 73 countries and 29 industries, their observations create a compelling portrait of the tactics, tools and processes organisations put in place, what’s worked, what hasn’t and why.
Principal, US Territory Crisis Leader, PwC US
Partner, Global Investigations & Forensics Leader, Global Crisis Consulting Leader, PwC US