How to Thrive in a Post-Pandemic World


July 20, 2021

I was talking to Kelly Hungerford, director digital transformation strategy and services at Sunstar last week. Kelly lives just outside of Geneva, Switzerland but was getting ready to fly back to the States and visit family.

Her prep list was incredibly long with plenty of boxes to check.

It’s not her first trip during the pandemic. But we got to talking about how quickly our expectations have adjusted because of this last year. For Kelly, it’s another adjustment that happens as times change. It doesn’t cause her on-going stress because she’s open to change. She’s quick to adjust to what’s going on and shift how she makes decisions. She’s also learned to travel differently.

The interesting thing about Kelly’s trip prep is that the same qualities that help her adjust to travel in 2021 have made her and Sunstar thrivers during the crazy conditions we’ve had during the last year.

This isn’t just me wearing rose-colored glasses as I talk to someone I respect and adore. New research from Adobe and the London School of Economics reinforces my perception.

We’re not in Kansas anymore

The surreal whirlwind of 2020 has changed not only how we behave every day, but also our expectations about the experiences we both receive as consumers and deliver as brands. A year ago, Kelly and I talked about the difference between the companies we believed would thrive during COVID and those that would hang on for dear life to survive.

Kelly has led Sunstar’s digital journey through transformation, which started in 2016. She knew the work that it took to adjust to a fully digital-first world. There were companies she’d watched transform without the added pressure of an economic and healthcare crisis. And now we saw others who kept pushing it off until “someday” that realized that day was here.

And they weren’t prepared.

It’s this distinction that that researchers from Adobe and London School of Economics point out in their recently released New Era in Experience Report. More than 10 years ago, the research team began looking into what made some companies more successful with digital transformation than others. There was no year better to wrap up their findings than 2020 to truly define the world we’re all now stepping into.

Their research divided the types of companies they discovered into three distinct categories – Survivors, Hiders and Thrivers.

Survivors, Hiders and Thrivers

The research team pointed out that while they found many companies vulnerable because they weren’t able to respond fully or quick enough, there are many opportunities for us to learn from. They noticed that leadership plays a pretty important role across the board in all three types of companies when it came to how they adjusted and responded to digital transformation.


Tallying 35 percent of the total companies, Survivors are exactly what they sound like – they do the bare minimum to get by, and not a fraction more. They’re cautious in hard times and usually the deepest cuts across their businesses. They focus on profitability and short-term results, but that only maintains the status quo. They’re rarely concerned or even connected with the day-to-day operations of running a company.

During COVID, Survivors cut pretty much all nonessential spending, reduced staff, looked for more money and showed little to no strategic planning. Survivors are vanilla and safe. But it turns out “pandemic safe” only works in social distancing and toilet paper. Survivors got hit with tanking revenues–almost 70 percent said they struggled to bring money in the door, and their average revenues fell by around 50 percent.


Hiders, which make up 40 percent of the overall group, tended to be about refining investments and looked in areas believed to offer the greatest benefits. The main downfall of Hiders is their lack of IT skills. This means they fall short when it comes to being able to respond to COVID and the impact it had on their company. While they cut back on tech and innovation, they kept enough to stay relatively competitive.

If Goldilocks were a professional, she’d be a Hider. Hiders are equal parts short-term and long-term thinkers. Unfortunately, this didn’t always work in their favor. Goldilocks may have found the bed that felt “just right,” but in the end the bears came home. In the same way, playing it somewhat safe got Hiders in murky water – Around 66 percent of them reported a fall in revenue due to the pandemic, with an average drop of around 35 percent.


So, how did Thrivers successfully navigate the shock of COVID? They armed themselves with heightened attention to digital transformation, automation, cutting costs in the right places, innovation and investment. In fact, even though 66 percent of Thrivers said that they had at least some decline in revenue, the average drop was only 15 percent. And this doesn’t even measure how their strong digital presence will supercharge their ability to react, adapt and flourish in the long run.

How to become a Thriver

Researchers found four characteristics that Thriver brands share. These are traits and skills that any leader can apply across any company to make sure they’re ready for a digital-first world…

👉 Be hands-on and open to change. Our new experience world means we need a new type of leader. One who’s visible to the whole organization, adapts quickly to whatever comes their way and is humble enough to learn from their mistakes.

👉 Build trust and be mindful of the well-being of your employees. The next stage of business has created a whole new relationship between employers and employees. You can’t put enough emphasis on trust, because that leads to empowerment and autonomy.

👉 Be decisive. Our world is now faster paced than ever and even more unpredictable. For everyone to be able to work together and respond to what customers need, it takes quick decision making to deal with whatever’s coming next.

👉 Be willing to invest in employee skills. Let’s face it, there’s no better investment than in the people who make everything hum. Whatever’s next depends solely on your company’s ability to respond. You have to equip the people who do the work so they’re able to turn on a dime. Short cutting their learning means chipping away at your companies readiness for whatever this new era brings us.

Photo credit: Pexels via Pixabay

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.