How New Balance’s Melissa Worth Led Her Team During the Coronavirus Crisis

New Balance has aggressively pursued a greater stake in the marketʼs most influential categories in recent years. However, its approach to working from home is far more relaxed. “Carving out the time to recharge and encouraging my teams to do the same is important. We have also tried to champion new ways of working throughout the day,” explained Melissa Worth, New Balance SVP of North America and GM. “Itʼs perfectly OK to take a call on an outdoor walk or do a Zoom meeting with family noise in the background. This makes others feel more comfortable with their own situation and helps with their work-life balance.” Although the approach is looser, Worth said it has paid dividends, including pivoting to develop personal protective equipment for frontline workers. “[Weʼre] accomplishing projects in a matter of days that prior to COVID-19 would have taken us months,” Worth said. “We have been able to rethink the way we use our inventory, how we drive our digital business internally as well as with key partners and how we communicate and connect with each other.”

Below, Worth weighs in on other current topics including challenges being an empathetic leader amid crisis and supporting diverse leadership.

Footwear News: What have you learned about leadership in a crisis?

Melissa Worth: “I have found that being decisive, giving clear direction and over communicating are all keys to navigating a crisis. To help the teams focus and prioritize, we have shifted to an agile work method during this time. This has accelerated our cross functional ability and what we have been able to accomplish. I have also found there is an opportunity to tap into team members on a different level — everyone wants to make a difference and harnessing that has driven momentum and results in both the business and development of the team.”

What has your biggest challenge personally and professionally been amid crisis?

MW: “I think like most, it is getting comfortable with navigating the unknown. Both in our personal and professional lives we spend so much time planning ahead, and when we do, we have confidence that the majority of the time our plans will come to fruition. In this crisis there is a lack of clarity on what the next six months or even year will look like, so it is really forcing us to become comfortable with that and developing skills both personally and professionally where we can be nimble as the situation unfolds.”

What are some actionable steps the industry and companies can do to support more diverse leadership?

MW: “There is no quick fix to the systematic problems our society faces, but starting by establishing, developing, and aggressively advantaging a talent pipeline is a good first step. As leaders we need to commit to diversity and inclusion goals to change the face of the industry and hold ourselves, and each other accountable to achieve positive systematic change. We need to get comfortable talking about the problem, and we need to give a platform to associates of color, listen to what they have to say and act on it.”

How are you rallying the team and being an empathetic leader, while still pushing performance of the brand?

MW: “Recognizing the challenges everyone is going through during this time and being flexible with personal needs is always top of mind. From there celebrating our wins and over-communicating our areas of focus and priorities. This has not only helped the performance of the brand, but has enabled us to function better as a team. I find team members are very happy with our overall performance during this time, and this is a way of working we all want to continue post crisis.”

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