Reacting to a Pandemic as a Global Franchise: Leadership Lessons from Dale Carnegie

At Dale Carnegie, we’re in the business of people. Resilience, agility, creating confidence, dealing with stress and worry – these are all priorities that drive the way we operate. Because of the nature of our business, our focus during this pandemic has been supporting our customers, communities and the public in overcoming the fear and uncertainty.

Continued Support

Many of our customers are struggling – for the first time, they are dealing with a remote workforce and don’t know how to manage virtually. Salespeople who are experienced in face-to-face selling are suddenly faced with the challenge. We’ve been focused on helping our clients by offering live online classes designed to build a strong virtual team that will help them go from zero to “ready to go.”

We’ve created a special webinar for teachers to help them learn the tools they need to successfully instruct remotely. We’ve also been running free workshops, which are open to the public and focus on helping clients manage the emotional aspect of these unprecedented times. These programs are meant to assist teams and organizations become agile while managing stress and worry as they scale and respond to this crisis.

Global Response

As a global business, the broader challenge – and opportunity – we’ve dealt with is being able to build and expand our operational and strategic response to COVID-19. Since January, we have tailored our response to fit each global franchise region to address geographical and product differences.

For example, for our Chinese franchise owners who were impacted so acutely at the beginning of the pandemic, we created a task force to partner with our Chinese franchise teams and determine and execute strategy. Since in-person training and development programs were all shut down by the government, we had to pivot and deploy live online webinars. We were able to do this because we had a solid foundation of experienced trainers – more than 2,500 trainers in 86 countries delivering in 32 languages – who adapted to a different modality. In 90 days, we were able to certify 1,000 of those trainers for online delivery.

As a company, we had been doing live online for years, but we had not yet implemented this strategy in China. That effort was successful, and to date, Dale Carnegie franchise owners in China have held more than a dozen live online webinars, including a six-hour, non-stop webinar for a charitable cause.

Shortly thereafter, we saw the impact the pandemic had on franchise owners and teams on the ground in Singapore, Vietnam and Japan – all similar to what we had seen in China. So, we adjusted the original task force’s timeline for implementing live online courses in the newly impacted countries. Then, we saw it hop over to Italy, which was our first European territory that struggled with COVID-19 before it spread throughout the continent.

We could see what was happening and we anticipated it was only a matter of time before it came to the United States – we just weren’t sure how significant it would be. By the middle of March, as the threat of the virus started to get much more serious in North America, we were able to leverage all the learnings we had gathered from the past two months to help our North American franchisees and operations scale quickly to live online and be more resilient as a network.

Lessons Learned

Throughout this process, we have been focused on learning from experiences across our franchise network. By doing so, we were able to shorten our strategy and execution cycle as the pandemic affected more franchisees. At the same time, there are nuances in each franchisee’s digital preparedness. For example, in North America, there’s already an infrastructure for live online training. We have resources here that North American franchisees can leverage immediately, opposed to our operators in other areas of the world. In other regions, that infrastructure had to be built up more quickly.

As a leader, I have found communication with both my corporate team and with the franchise network to be absolutely paramount. I focus on being empathetic, being transparent and meeting people on our teams where they are.

Above all, I encourage other leaders across franchising and all industries to be laser-focused on rising to the occasion every day. It can be easy to lead and be competent when times are easy or when things are going well, but I believe the opportunity, and really the responsibility of leadership, comes when times are challenging and uncertain.

I have had the same concerns as everyone else throughout the pandemic – the health of my family and loved ones, the survival of our business. To me, leadership means putting those worries aside and moving forward in a strong way. I think about nurses and doctors and other front line workers that kept people safe and our society running and it’s not because they were unafraid, but because they were moving forward anyway. We all need to find ways to keep overcoming fear and continue to move forward.


Jean-Louis Van Doorne is the Chief Franchise Advocate for Dale Carnegie. For more information and franchise opportunities for International Franchise Association (IFA) franchisor member Dale Carnegie, click here.