Crises Present Opportunities: A Q&A with Mindy Grossman

In times of crisis, be more agile and innovative, the CEO of WW International says.

May 26, 2020
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mindy grossman

​Maintaining one’s good health is vital, perhaps more so today than ever. And a healthy workplace is a vital component of wellness, says Mindy Grossman, CEO of WW International Inc. (formerly Weight Watchers). Grossman spoke with HR Magazine about how HR professionals can support their employees’ well-being, especially during stressful times.

What can employers do to help support workers during times of uncertainty?

You have to take the fear out of it. Support employees and tell them, “It’s OK if something goes wrong.” Be clear about who’s doing what. Give people the tools they need and then trust them to do the work. Quick empowerment is really important. This isn’t a moment for over-scrutinization and micromanagement.

Communication is critical. My chief people officer [Kim Seymour] and I have been joined at the hip since we began to get an inkling of what could transpire [due to the coronavirus]. We have a lot of live communications with employees. We’ve launched a set of tools with information to help address people’s questions and concerns.

It’s also important to listen to how your employees are feeling—what their greatest concerns are. We do town halls with employees from around the globe, and before these events we ask for questions and input. We have to be cognizant of what local organizations are experiencing. A lot of companies are concerned about taking the pulse of customers, but it’s more important to take the pulse of your employees.

How has your company used technology to adapt to changed conditions?

We’re lucky we embraced workplace flexibility a long time ago and had tools in place for everybody to continue to do their roles during the pandemic. But we’ve also had to pivot. On the consumer side, we’ve had to pause our physical workshops. We do 30,000 workshops a week around the world. All of them are led virtually now. We paused our studio workshops on a Monday, and in three days we trained 12,000 people how to use virtual technology. On Thursday, we launched. Our coaches valued how quickly we moved. What would they have been doing if we hadn’t done that? We had a solution that provided a level of engagement and security for employees.

What potential long-term impacts on corporate culture do you foresee as a result of the pandemic?

There will be a greater focus on health and wellness. People are going to have a heightened sense of what health and wellness means to them. Companies are going to have to take all aspects of health into consideration—emotional, physical and financial.

Employees will also see more flexibility in their roles when companies can do that. That doesn’t mean people aren’t going to want to feel camaraderie in a physical way, but workplaces are going to have to be more flexible and trust people to get their work done.

How can HR professionals help revitalize their companies after a prolonged shutdown?

The first decision to make is when to bring people back. When they come back, make them your greatest focus. Think about it as re-boarding. You’re not just going to flip a switch and everybody comes through the door. They might need some form of retraining. How are people feeling? What did you learn through this? What are you going to do differently?

‘This isn’t a moment for over-scrutinization and micromanagement.’

For us, certain areas of the company are heavily taxed right now, and others are not. Some people are doing more heavy lifting than others. We’ve told our leaders, “Use this as an opportunity to put people on different teams and give them new experiences.” This is going to excite them, and they’re going to be utilized and maximized. It brings a diversity of thought when, for instance, you have someone from an operations team working with a brand team. That’s an opportunity.

Do you have any other advice for HR professionals dealing with uncertainty?

The most important thing is to be human, resolute, purposeful and resilient. I call myself a resilient optimist. How do you approach problems in a way that could move your organization forward post-crisis? These are times to give yourself permission to think faster, be more agile, test more things and move more quickly. It’s progress that’s important, not perfection. Keep in mind that the most important things are your people, innovation and opportunity.

Be as proactive as you can be when modeling all the different scenarios of what could happen. That ensures you’re doing the right thing for people and business. Our HR chief created a crisis workbook. It’s a complete document about what processes to put into place and how we could work together in the most effective manner during a crisis; we discussed every scenario and how to plan for it.

What I saw and lived through in 2008 [and the Great Recession] is very different than today, but my company at the time, HSN [formerly Home Shopping Network], was one of the few that grew in 2008-2009. I was a new CEO, taking HSN public in August 2008, and I said, “We’re going to look at this as an opportunity. We’re going to go on offense.” We had to be more nimble, agile and innovative. It’s the same today.

What can CEOs do to promote a healthy culture and employee well-being?

Create an atmosphere where people can live their best lives and get as much enjoyment, efficiency, productivity and financial security as possible. People think of their personal and work lives as one, and work culture expectations are really important. People want honesty and authenticity. Wellness programs work only if there’s engagement, and the CEO has to get people engaged—not just give them a list of available programs. The only way to effect transformation is to have a passionate and inspired culture aligned with what you’re doing. In today’s world, that’s more important than ever.

Interview by Kathryn Tyler, a freelance writer and former HR generalist and trainer in Wixom, Mich.

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