3 CEOs Share How They’re Leading During the Pandemic

By Dale Kurschner, Platinum Group

Minnesota CEOs have had to rapidly adjust to new ways of operating their businesses, including leading employees and serving clients during one of the most intensely uncertain times in U.S. history. In May, “One Take CEO Interviews” was launched to discuss (via Zoom) how they were dealing with the Pandemic and planning for the future. Since then 14 episodes have been produced and released on YouTube, Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Excerpts from the first three interviews follow, with valuable perspectives that remain keenly timely. They’re with:

On Leading Employees During COVID-19: Be Accessible, Authentic, Listen and Trust

Grangaard: “I'm a huge believer that hierarchies are no longer all that effective. If you want your employees to follow you, you need to work closely with them... ask their opinion. Communicate with them and throw out the idea that so-and-so reports to so-and-so and then that person is allowed to talk to the next person up the chain. Leadership today is all about being accessible and what we're learning with COVID-19 is that internet conference calls allow a leader to be much more involved. I also think emails to your employees where you write and tell them what you're thinking on a more regular basis are very important today. It’s really important to be accessible and visible as a leader, and to be seen as an authentic person.”

Runyon: “For the first time in 20 years we actually went through a round of layoffs and asked our team to take some wage reductions as we are navigating this crisis. Those were very difficult decisions to make and probably my toughest day ever as a business owner. That being said, I couldn’t be more proud of how the team has responded and rallied on behalf of our network. We accelerated and amplified our communication with all our stakeholders – weekly global calls, townhall meetings with employees. We re-prioritized. And then we trust. We’ve always hired for values, for culture and, at a time like this, it matters most because you are decentralizing control. You’re asking people across the organization to make the best decision on behalf of the brand. And they are putting stakeholders before shareholders, which is exactly the way it should be in franchises.”

Lantinen: “Everyone views this pandemic very differently. It matters what I think of it, but I really need to be thinking of how my people are feeling and what is going to give them the comfort level to move forward and do their jobs.”

On Serving Customers During COVID-19: Increase the Focus on What the Customer Wants – and How

Grangaard: “We need to think from the marketplace backwards towards us. We’ve been guilty of thinking of what our capabilities are, expecting we can go to the marketplace with that. [Additionally, we’ll be working very hard on] making sure our website has a strong social media presence and digital marketing presence heading into this fall.”

Runyon: “I still miss the environment of the club, it’s more motivating [this was when clubs were still shut down completely; today they’re open at limited capacity in most locations]. But we still have incredible trainers and incredible content, and we’re making it easy for our members to do workouts. We’re also providing [via technology] coaching, nutrition content and more customized to their lifestyles and routines.”

Lantinen: “More planning needs to go into sales meetings because I’m not able to allow the buyer to touch and feel the product. Not only do you have to prepare the product, you have to professionally photograph the product and put it into a nice presentation. And it’s not the same when you present this way than when you’re meeting with someone. There’s just natural chemistry that happens between people, whether it be employees working together or a sales meeting that I definitely miss and don’t get from a Zoom call. So that’s been an adjustment, too – how do you still make it feel quaint and make it feel like you’re there?”

Key Takeaways: Embrace Change and Remember to Decompress

Grangaard: “We're experiencing something that hasn't been experienced since the end of World War II in terms of its severity and how broadly felt it is.” [Regarding the future of retail] “boutiques will be strong again. There will be new places to shop where we already go frequently; coffee shops are going to be turning into much broader retail outlets. There also will be a lot of pop-up stores. Many retail companies are seasonal and have had to put up with a demand by landlords that they have a full-year lease. There’ll be a tremendous amount of space now available in retail centers and companies will instead be able to do pop-up stores during their high seasons.”

Runyon: “None of us want to be here. But the fact that we are, it is our job as leaders to learn from it. How are we going to get better? This is an opportunity to invest in the business. We see opportunities in market share. We see opportunities in real estate. There may be an opportunity to acquire other capabilities. I’m a hard-wired optimist. And as Minnesota people, we’re so used to changing conditions as the weather’s always changing here. So, at the end of the day, we’re going to be grittier, we’re going to be more competitive, we’re going to come out the other side of this faster than our competitors. Despite not wanting to be here, the fact that we are, we’re going to get better because of it.”

Lantinen: “This has affected everyone emotionally in many different ways. So it’s important, especially as we have been isolated, to find someone you can talk to about how you’re feeling. How you find an outlet that’s healthy and deal with the crisis is really important as it affects you not only personally but in the workplace. For me and my husband, we got into running. We’re running four miles every day and that’s been key to our mental wellbeing through all of this.”