Reno-area CEOs talk best ways to lead your company through a crisis
RENO, Nev. — When things are going well, being the leader of a company can feel like nothing but smooth sailing.
The economy is booming, business is rolling in and there are no staff or budget cuts on the horizon. Sure, it’s still possible to make mistakes, but a rising tide tends to lift all boats.
Since the coronavirus pandemic rocked the global economy, however, the roles and responsibilities of business leaders have profoundly changed. Prior to COVID-19, CEOs in Northern Nevada and beyond were focused on driving revenue, gaining market share and fostering innovation.
Now, during a crisis few could have anticipated, those CEOs must show their mettle, making rapid decisions as they attempt to chart a steady course. All the while, employees will be looking to their leaders for direction.
With that in mind, the NNBW spoke with CEOs of two Northern Nevada companies that employ more than 500 people apiece to find out the best ways to lead a company through a crisis.
For Scott Pruneau, CEO of ITS Logistics, communicating clearly and effectively with staff — early and often — has been a top priority.
“I think you have to communicate a very consistent message very regularly,” Pruneau said in a phone interview with the NNBW. “First and foremost, their safety is our No. 1 concern. You have to have compassion and genuine care for the safety of your staff.”
Dean Dow, CEO of the Regional Medical Services Authority (REMSA), agrees.
“Regardless what industry or profession you’re in, I think the focus has go to be the health and safety of your employees, the people that you work with and their families,” Dow told the NNBW. “Regardless of whether we’re in health, manufacturing or we’re providing some service to the public, we all have to stay focused, primarily on the health of everybody that we work with and their families.”
Throughout the pandemic, Pruneau said he also communicates the message that the company is an essential business and plays a key role in the macro-economy.
“It’s important we remind ourselves that the work we do is important,” he added.
For Dow, he reemphasizes that same message to REMSA employees, who are on frontlines every day as the ground emergency and medical services provider for Washoe County.
“They’ve given 100% through all of this through all of these weeks,” he said. “They’ve never blinked, they’ve never wavered, they are fully committed to the communities that we serve and fully committed to the importance of what they do for the communities.”
Though Dow said communicating to all of REMSA’s members is, “like trying to get the orchestra to play the music all at the same time,” he noted they spend a “considerable amount of time” getting information out to all of staff members every day.
He pointed to the CDC’s updates throughout the COVID-19 pandemic on proper PPE usage and the cleaning/sanitizing of ambulances as an example.
“Whether they are direct patient care providers, in our communication center or business office,” he said, “we’re putting out important news through email, group chats, even going all the way back to the basics of doing a newsletter and putting it in every ambulance as it gets ready to leave our main campus.”
During a crisis, one could argue no leadership role is more important than being understanding of company employees’ circumstances and distractions during a crisis, and finding ways to keep them engaged and motivated.
For ITS Logistics’ 100 employees now working from home, Pruneau said they have stressed the importance of making their home office environment as close to their work environment as possible. Employees were even given the option of taking their office desk home.
“We probably went above and beyond to make sure that when you plug in at home, the work experience and technology that you’re using is as close to the office as possible,” he said.
Moreover, Pruneau said intentionally connecting with individual employees and making sure the company’s teams are staying connected is crucial. He noted that all of the teams across the company start and end their day with a video chat.
‘FEAR WILL SPREAD LIKE WILDFIRE’
Above all, Pruneau said he’s recognized the importance — more than any time in his career — of being an adaptable and decisive leader. After all, the COVID-19 crisis in Nevada has changed by the day, sometimes by the hour.
“Do you have to be experimental? 100%,” he said. “Do you have to make some decisions without having all of the facts? Yes, you do. Do you make mistakes? 100%, you do. But, you have to react quickly and in accordance with your values.
“Indecisiveness and fear can spread like wildfire, and it’s so critical to not only be agile but also be decisive.”
In the process, the ITS Logistics CEO said the company is leaning on its value system to help guide its decision-making.
“And my job is to make sure we’re operating under that value system,” he said. “If you’re consistent and clear with your messaging, and you remind your people how much you care about them, and your actions follow your words, then I think people are much more apt to stay aligned and focused through the crisis.”
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.