Even with the most innovative startup or interesting brand in the world, talent makes or breaks a company--especially in times of uncertainty like we are experiencing now. I've seen this play out as employees lose faith in their company during a crisis, and without their employees' support, the business fails. 

According to research from PwC's Digital IQ report, the largest executive survey of its kind, the top 5 percent of digital leaders achieve a 17 percent higher profit margin and it comes down to one main factor: your workforce. 

During times of upheaval, make sure you stay focused on your employees to mitigate fallout, excelling in the same four areas where those top leaders, or "Transcenders," do. 

"Bottom lines and revenue may be uncertain at the moment, but this is not the time to cost-cut the soul of your organization," says David Clarke, PwC global chief experience officer.

1. Mandate collaboration and cross-functional work 

PwC found the most successful leaders don't just talk about change, they make it happen: 84 percent of Transcenders mandate collaboration and cross-functional work. It isn't enough to suggest employees interact and work together, Transcenders build this into their culture. 

"This crisis is accelerating the usage of technologies that drive work from home collaboration," says Clarke. "If cross-functional collaboration is already ingrained in a company, as it is with the Transcenders, the transition to doing the same thing when disrupted is already baked into their DNA." 

Clarke continues, "Companies that weren't working this way before are going to quickly wake up to the need to make virtual collaboration and cross-functional work the norm."

2. Focus on reskilling and training 

Transcenders focus time and energy on adopting new programs to help their employees learn and grow. In fact, 63 percent have changed their training process entirely to make sure it's the best it can be for employees. To upskill their workforce, 72 percent of Transcenders say they are cultivating a culture of innovation.  

"This data indicates a need for leaders to stop thinking just about how their people work today and tomorrow," says Clarke, "and explore ways that they can work in six months or years from now." 

For example, take a look at PwC's own training practices and how it's managing the crisis: The company invested $3 billion in upskilling its workers. Not only does it produce better work, but it gives employees education opportunities which ultimately help improve work-life balance. 

3. Lean into digital investments 

Transcenders invest a third more than other companies in the digital infrastructure of their business, from their computers and software to their IT network, leading to 77 percent seeing increased employee satisfaction. 

Clarke explains that some companies today are realizing they may not have invested nearly enough in their digital infrastructure. "The natural response to a crisis is to pull back on investments and conserve cash," Clarke says, but really they should be focusing on their digital investments. "These are critical because they determine whether a company will be competitive in the future--something we've seen first-hand with the pandemic."

4. Transcend to a Transcender 

The final key to improving employee retention is to embody the Transcender philosophy. "This is even more relevant as companies that are wondering about when things will return to normal, or what the new normal might be," says Clarke. 

Additionally, one core differentiator of transcendent companies is their culture of resilience. "More than two-thirds of Transcenders experienced a disruptive event in the last two years--a merger, a divestiture, a significant change in business," Clarke says. "They emerged stronger because they aren't driven by the now. They focus on a long view."

"Transcendent companies see results that equate to higher profit margins, deeper and broader innovation, engaged and collaborative employees, and resilient business models," adds Tom Puthiyamadam, PwC global digital and BXT Leader. 

Overall, the Digital IQ report found that the success Transcenders have had is closely tied to digital innovation that supports your workforce. 

"It's all about people," Clarke says. "Invest in what matters--and do it like you mean it. Build resilience. Put your people first. They're truly your superpower." If you invest similarly, you'll be well on your way to propelling yourself ahead of competition despite uncertainty.