Insights on leading during a global pandemic from the CEO and President of Oriflame and WFDSA Chair.
I was fortunate to catch up with the WFDSA Chair and the CEO and President of Oriflame Magnus Brännström. He offered his insights on leading during the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges, changes and successes of the direct selling industry.
How has the pandemic shifted your thinking as a CEO?
I am not sure that the pandemic itself shifted my thinking. It just reminded us about prioritizing the right things. The times have changed, and this change started long before the pandemic. I do see that digitalization has speeded everything up. And of course, for me, it means faster decision making.
What new leadership skills must executives have to operate in the new normal we find ourselves in?
I am not sure that the skills are completely new. It was always important for an executive to be open, flexible, have high integrity, a clear vision and be close to people. The crisis sharpens the need for those qualities. As everything is happening fast, the authenticity and being true to yourself gives reassurance to the organization, and it is very important in times like these.
What does success look like for you as CEO?
Success to me is marked by a flourishing community. Our mission is to empower people to flourish with sustainable healthy living. If we can do that through our offering and community then that would be success. Of course, results are important too and we are very focused on growth. This helps move our mission forward.
How is your company navigating the work from home environment?
We had to postpone our physical conferences, both for our brand partners (representatives) and employees. As we clearly miss live interaction. It is one thing to see each other online; it is another thing to build and strengthen relationships, spark creative thinking and have fun together. We are trying to compensate with online meetings—they are exciting and fun. However, we are eagerly waiting to be able to meet in person.
What changes have you already implemented or put into action?
We have been working with digitalization for quite some time, and this year we have set the new Oriflame—a social selling beauty company—in motion. I clearly see how fast everything has become. Before the adoption of a certain digital tool would take years, now it’s a matter of days (sometimes hours). It is definitely exciting, and it opens up for new opportunities!
What have you learned about your company/ workforce that you didn’t know before COVID-19?
I am very impressed by the curiosity of our people, and our ability to embrace change. We are much more digital than I thought. We have also proven that we are a community of like-minded people and thatTogetherness, Spirit and Passion are not just our value words—they are what makes us who we are.
How and when does a company transition to bringing back their employees to the office?
We are following local authorities’ regulations when it comes to bringing people back to the offices, and we are ready for a gradual return. Of course, in light of new experiences, we are looking into our work practices, as new digital tools allow now for more flexibility and new opportunities.
How are you building culture when you can’t be together with employees in an office?
Culture and employee experience are super important to us. It’s much more difficult to feel a sense of belonging when you are not physically together. We are very digital. Working from home during the quarantine wasn’t really a problem, as we are used to communicating online—we are a global company.
One of our core values is Togetherness, and we pretty quickly understood that we need to stay close to each other and not lose the connection. During. pandemic, we focused on the personal wellbeing of our people, on expanding the digital mindset even more, and on supporting our Oriflame culture through very transparent communication.
We believe in daily routines. That is how we work with our skin care and wellness categories. We organized weekly wellbeing programs for our people, both globally and locally. At 8:30 every day, we have joint workouts, yoga, mindfulness classes and lectures about general wellbeing. We have also organized a live session with a psychotherapist, where we went into the nature of emotions. People could ask anything that was on their mind. It was very special and super appreciated. This is not the first time for us, as we regularly organize sessions about the so-called wheel of life topics—different areas apart from work, that help you develop as a person.
When it comes to communication, we are running frequent staff updates, team meetings, check-ins, even virtual coffee-station chats. We exchange updates via Teams, Yammer, our intranet. We actually chose to take a non-formal approach and organized CEO Connect sessions every second or third week for everyone in Oriflame to join. We ran it through Teams Live. Instead of showing a presentation with numbers, I did a live Q&A and answered all questions uncut. Any question. People posted questions and voted for them live, and I answered. As transparent as I could. People asked everything important to them. I got many tough questions as the times are tough. Sometimes I didn’t have an answer, but it is ok. I just had to say it directly as it is. I believe that trust can be earned only when you are you and when you are totally open—especially in times like these. I feel that we are coming out of COVID stronger than ever—as the trust we have now is unbelievable. We are definitely set for the future. We have adjusted our communications channels during this time, and we stayed true to our culture of Togetherness, Spirit and Passion.
What is our channel doing well, where do we need to improve?
It is clear that we are good at selling, recommending and supplying products online. We are all getting the DS reports on a weekly basis, and it’s is great to see that the channel is doing ok, better than some other industries. But of course, it’s too early to judge.
What advice do you have for leaders of our channel as we move forward?
As a WFDSA Chair, I have seen a big development of the channel during the last years. We are now talking about social selling, gig economy. We feel pride, and we feel the momentum. Digitalization is here, that’s for sure. So, all that is just great.
When it comes to moving forward, there is one thing that makes a difference for our channel. We are the People’s Business. No matter what times we are in, if there is a crisis or not, people always come first. And if you have the trust and good relationships in place, both with your representatives and employees, everything else will happen. New tools, new ideas, new products, new successes. DSN