As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Gianna Scorsone.
As the GM and Head of North America at Aircall, Gianna Scorsone empowers employees and oversees every department spanning the customer journey spectrum — from lead-gen to partnership and integrations.
Gianna has a deep background in sales operations and management. Her past titles include COO at Mondo and VP of Sales Operations at Bluewolf. She serves as an advisor and mentor to leaders throughout the startup community.She also advises several startups, and sits on the board of a Brooklyn based non-profit, Read718.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Absolutely! From a career perspective, I started working in retail as a store manager in New York City. I loved being on the floor and interacting directly with the clientele, but I was also fortunate to take advantage of their sales leadership training program. That gave me such a great foundation for the rest of my career.
Some titles that followed — Regional Manager for a cosmetics company, Logistics Manager at a handbag company — I eventually worked my way into a role at Bluewolf as their Director of Sales Operations and Training, and then all the way up to VP of Sales Operations.
At that time, I was focused on the IT staffing side of the business, which rebranded and became Mondo. I directed the rebrand from a project management perspective and handled all of the training. This was a really marketing and sales heavy assignment, which launched me into the COO role.
When the company was sold to Addison Group, I took some time off, and now I am GM and Head of North America at Aircall.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I cringe every time I think of this story, because as a leader I would hate to be put in this position!
During college, I had a role as a salesperson at a brick and mortar location for a cosmetics company. I was very enthusiastic and always surpassed my goals. After working there for some time, I was overly eager to share some feedback with the district manager — I was young and thought I had it all figured out and knew best! Fast forward, that manager came in one day with someone from corporate. Picture a 20-year old who’s so eager to move forward, and who’s not aware of protocol and timing… I asked the manager to sit down and talk because I was unhappy and wanted to share feedback. Rightly, albeit bluntly, she just said: “no!” So I quit, right then and there, because I was so taken aback by her response. Again, my entitlement was appalling!
While I now abandon all sense of hierarchy when it comes to training, reaching out to colleagues across all levels and making myself available for anyone else to do the same, this experience shaped my understanding that sometimes there are hierarchical boundaries that need not be crossed and more importantly, timing!
I still get embarrassed over my actions that day.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Two people really stand out, the co-founders of Bluewolf, Michael Kirven and Eric Berridge. Aside from giving me guidance throughout my tenure, I was given the opportunity to build and pilot a consultant training program for Eric’s side of the business.
Upon build, it happened to be when we had grown out of our office because of the ridiculous growth we were experiencing. I actually ended up sharing an office with Michael, Eric and Jolene Chan, the Chief of Staff. I started white boarding on the wall, as ridiculous as Brilliant Minds — the whole wall was covered with workflows, process mapping, and a roadmap. Yes, they made fun of me, but that also grew their trust in me and in turn, they always made time for me. They still do and are my mentors to this day.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Aircall was founded with the goal of making phone support as easy to manage as any other business workflow — accessible, transparent, and collaborative.
We believe voice is the most powerful way to communicate with customers, prospects, candidates, and colleagues. With traditional phone systems, teams waste time logging calls and searching for context when they should be strengthening relationships. I’ve learned this lesson personally from all my time working with customers and training new generations of salespeople.
Using a cloud-based approach, Aircall lets teams set up in a matter of seconds, integrate with detailed CRM and helpdesk tools, and start having more impactful conversations.
I recently interviewed someone who uses Aircall at their current employer. He shared how he sees our mission being one that provides critical functionality because conversations are not only valuable but that it can make a BIG difference. He works for a platform that connects Senior Citizens with the critical services that they need. It made me quite proud to work for an organization, whose mission is felt by others outside of it.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Well, I think it’s important to recognize that life happens outside of work as well. It’s no longer valid for an employer to demand separating the two — that’s impossible and unrealistic. Instead, the power in a great leader, not to mention the humane thing to do, is to not only recognize external influencers but making sure employees know you’re there to help them succeed through it all. That’s truly what it means to lead to the individual — of course, this takes trust.
Secondly, it’s important to inspire the masses. Knowing each point of communication is an opportunity to motivate and create community.
Especially in a time of uncertainty, I believe that focusing on people first will result in the beautiful byproduct of fantastic business results, all while people feel valued and supported in building their dreams. Adversely, if you focus on results first, people start to feel dispensable and will treat the company as such, so this becomes the negative byproduct.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
It’s very personal, but one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever had occurred before I even entered the workforce.
In high school, I was dead-set on attending a specific university in Switzerland. I was confident this school would provide me with the tools and connections I would need to get where I wanted in my career and in life. I applied to two other schools — both in the U.S. — but I didn’t really imagine a future where I wasn’t spending my college years in Europe. As I was making those plans though, my circumstances changed.
My father died unexpectedly, and suddenly I was both grieving for him and grappling with questions about my family’s financial security. I was accepted into that Swiss school, but it wasn’t exclusively a moment of celebration. I had a lot of other peoples’ wellbeings and livelihoods to consider.
The school’s U.S. open house was hosted in a marble, three-story townhouse on Madison Avenue in New York. I greeted the person at the door, saying, “Nice to meet you,” but they responded with a deprecating, “I’m just the butler.” To this, I said, “Well, it’s still nice to meet you.”
As I met alumni throughout the day, I felt very insecure and unwelcomed by an air of wealth and entitlement. I didn’t go to that school for fear of the burden put on my family. It left me feeling stripped, I had no control in my financial security. I was completely disheartened and absolutely felt like giving up, but instead, I formed new goals.
Largely from that experience, I developed a key part of the drive that sustains me: I never want to depend on anyone but myself for my well being. I had the rug pulled out from under me financially and was made to feel lesser-than because of it, so I worked hard to gain that security for myself.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
A true leader needs to look beyond just performance and metrics to ensure their team is functioning sustainably. A genuine sense of empathy is vital — this means paying close attention to what your team says, as well as what they don’t.
If someone looks exhausted or down, ask them how they’re doing — how they’re feeling. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way and lets your team feel supported.
And celebrate! It’s crucial to create an environment where people feel celebrated. Bringing joy is an often overlooked quality in a leader.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The best way to boost morale — during uncertain or “normal” times — is to celebrate the wins, no matter how small. People need to know they’re making an impact, and it’s important for employees to feel like they’re building something great.
Also, I make sure to explain the why behind what my team is doing — reminding them there’s a reason to contribute, they are all of value, and that you have gratitude for the effort they put in.
I also encourage employees to step up for others. In a growing company, everything you do can have a direct impact on your teammates. Leaders should encourage their reports to understand what’s possible for them, as well as, how they can stimulate growth for their peers.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Clearly, concise, and straightforward. You should also come to the table with solutions, have a pathway forward, and be ready to offer an empathetic ear.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Stay the course when possible, and don’t stop what you are doing. These are the times when creativity thrives.
Historically, tough times are when great companies stand out and do really impactful work. When things are challenging, companies should continue to invest in themselves and make contributions that create a culture of creativity and innovation.
What are some of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
In tough times, some businesses under-invest in their teams and growth — they begin leading with fear.
Even when the future is unpredictable, it’s paramount that businesses don’t “lead with a hammer.” It can be tempting to continue leading by the numbers and put pressure on your team out of fear, but long-term success comes from sedating this fear and motivating and inspiring others to do their best work.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
The number one priority is to stay customer obsessed.
A lot of teams will avoid customer experience complaints from fear of not being able to solve the problem. Then, they do nothing because they’re scared of what could happen. This stigma of always having to be the ultimate problem solver must be removed. The most important thing to do is ensure customers feel heard and understood.
Don’t be afraid to say, “I can’t solve this.” Don’t focus all the way to the end goal. The goal is to listen to your customer, understand their problem or question, and then build a strategy from there.
The primary question of our discussion: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Not leading with fear. During the 2008 recession, I was working at Bluewolf, and we took the uncertainty as an opportunity to refocus.
Rather than reacting to falling numbers and lack of sales, we gave purpose to our sales team, encouraging them to focus on helping other teams and strengthening our database, which helped us in the long term.
2. Fostering creativity. Give your people a platform to build something completely new.
Hold workshops to help teams create their own strengthening plan and identify ways they can improve, both long term and in that moment.
3. Create strong processes. Especially when our teams went remote, it was never more important to have processes for reporting, team improvement, and honest communication.
With this, transparency from leadership hasn’t evaporated — we’re focused on providing all tools employees need in order to be strong contributors during the pandemic.
4. Celebrate wins — no matter how small. I celebrate any and all wins in Slack — with different emojis for deal size — and encourage lots of comments and engagement across teams.
Finding something to celebrate every day, even amid these challenging times, boosts morale across the organization.
5. Be empathetic. As I mentioned before, leaders should focus on empathy and pay close attention to unspoken communication. This is easier said than done, especially now in our predominantly remote work environment, but it’s vital to a community’s atmosphere.
I noticed the other day that one of my team members wasn’t as bubbly as usual over Zoom, so I asked him if he was alright. We talked for a bit about what he was going through. He appreciated the effort I made and said he felt more supported by my gesture.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote — constantly shared by the director of my junior high school (much to the chagrin of my classmates and myself) — is “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”
I’ve come to appreciate this quote in my adult-life, and I carry it with me constantly. It’s easy to pick others apart and point out what they’re doing wrong, but it’s up to you to figure out how you can fill in those gaps and create solutions.
How can our readers further follow your work?