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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Fortune: A 7-Step Plan for Business Leaders to Win in the Post-COVID Economy

Finally there is some light at the end of the long, dark COVID-19 tunnel: Vaccine makers Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson committed to Congress that they will supply 240 million doses by the end of March, enough for 130 million Americans.

For the past year, most businesses have been playing defense. While the pandemic has endured a long time, the outlook has changed—much for the better. Leaders who adapted to the pandemic in a matter of days or weeks in March 2020 should once again prepare to adapt quickly to what’s ahead.

With the rapid expansion of vaccine availability, most Americans who want to be vaccinated will be able to do so by the summer. Vaccinations are the trigger point that will get people back to work, travel, and going out to restaurants, stores, sporting events, and concerts.

Don’t wait until it is too late to go on offense to get your team refocused on winning in the marketplace. Here is a seven-step plan to win in the “new normal” economy:

Understand the new normal for customers and employees in your industry

There is no going back to the way things were in 2019, but predicting the nature of your business in 2022–2025 requires a great deal of study and insight. Each industry will evolve differently, but the greatest challenge will be in predicting future consumer behavior. Having spent a year under COVID-19’s restrictions, people’s behavior has likely permanently changed when it comes to shopping behaviors and use of office space, restaurants, travel, medicine, and other services.

While many CEOs are yearning to have everyone back in the office, they need to understand how their employees’ needs and desires have changed. Retaining the best talent will require greater flexibility in working. That is why leading tech companies such as TwitterFacebookOracleGoogle, and Salesforce have announced flexible working arrangements for their employees.

Create a vision for your business to win big in the new normal

Once you have a sound understanding of the evolution of your industry, you should determine how your business will succeed in this future scenario. How can you lead your competitors in guiding your market through this evolution? With its rapid adaptation to telemedicine, Mayo Clinic got the jump on many of its competitors in being able to treat patients in their homes and local clinics.

Reshape your industry to play to your strengths

Building on your vision, you should figure out how to leverage your strengths to shape the industry in ways that create lasting competitive advantage for your organization. Take Best Buy: For years its Geek Squad of 20,000 people has provided superior in-home service that Amazon and Walmart cannot match. During COVID-19, the company developed remote service offerings, including working with its suppliers to develop electronic fixes for its products—a flexible and inexpensive benefit for customers.

Make vital investments

Prioritize expanding your talent base to leverage your capabilities and be prepared to take advantage of a growing economy. In spite of softer demand because of COVID-19, my former company Medtronic invested more heavily in innovation and technology, both internally and through acquisitions, to have new lifesaving products available immediately to physicians and patients. (I currently own stock in Medtronic.)

Bring your team together

Inspire your employees to focus on winning. When COVID-19 restrictions forced the closure of bank branches, U.S. Bank transformed its relationships with clients by having frontline employees operate phone banks. Rather than reverting to old ways of working, the bank will continue to build more personal relationships with clients in this fashion going forward.

Establish your image as the industry leader

If you want your organization to be the leader in your industry, start now to build your image in the post-COVID-19 marketplace. For example, Ecolab created a seal—Ecolab Science Certified—to help its beleaguered restaurants convince consumers it is safe to return, backing it with a $50 million advertising campaign. In doing so, Ecolab is reinforcing its image as the industry leader in cleanliness and sanitation.

Develop rigorous execution plans

None of these ideas will matter unless they are executed in a disciplined manner. This requires not only detailed plans but also high levels of employee engagement and commitment to serving your customers better.

Since forecasting consumer behavior and customer demand will be so difficult, successful leaders need to take risks to be fully prepared to meet customer needs, while using multi-scenario planning to adapt rapidly to changing conditions. Leaders who combine their understanding of the future market and a bold vision for success with agility and courage will be the big winners in the post-COVID-19 era.

Bill George is a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and former chair and CEO of Medtronic. He is the author of Discover Your True North.

This content was originally published on Fortune.com on 2/28/2021.