“Why you should listen to and get to know your team personally & professionally”with Mark Scrimenti

Listen to and get to know your team personally and professionally — their individual strengths, weaknesses, passions, career aspirations, hopes and fears. Share yours with them as well. You’ll be better equipped to encourage and support each other when facing inevitable setbacks. In my work as a coach and consultant, I speak with business leaders across […]

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Listen to and get to know your team personally and professionally — their individual strengths, weaknesses, passions, career aspirations, hopes and fears. Share yours with them as well. You’ll be better equipped to encourage and support each other when facing inevitable setbacks.

In my work as a coach and consultant, I speak with business leaders across multiple industries about their most significant challenges. One common theme continues to emerge — rapid change and disruption are the new norm in business, and the only constant is the demand for resilience. At the heart of resilience is the ability to adapt and recover quickly from adversity. I am certain that more than intelligence and talent, resilience is the single most important trait required to succeed in today’s highly complex market.

My “Rising through Resilience” interview series explores the topic of resilience in interviews with leaders across all walks of business.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Scrimenti, who is a business operations executive, entrepreneur, and writer with 20+ years of experience in software product development, marketing, and customer service. He is a passionate customer experience advocate and researcher, who specializes in scaling technology, teams, and processes for sustainable growth and profitability. Mark has transformed a $40 million ecommerce company into a $140 million growth engine in eight years. He finds creative inspiration and gains strategic insight by talking to customers on a regular basis.

Thank you so much for joining me! Can you share your backstory with our readers?

Istarted my executive career as a Content Director and UI/UX designer for a B2B ecommerce platform and knowledge exchange startup in the transportation and logistics industry.

From there, I founded my own Web design and development and digital marketing business. On the side, I also built and ran a non-profit social media platform that connected volunteers with service opportunities and organizations.

Next, I took what turned out to be the first in a series of leadership positions at an ecommerce technology company that ran multiple online retail sites in the music gear business.

During my 12 years there, I built teams, scaled operations, and led product development, marketing, the contact center, HR, and facilities. As the operations lead with P&L responsibility, I grew sales from $40 million to $140 million in just eight years.

Ready for my next challenge, I served as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Product Officer at a SaaS startup in the healthcare space.

What are the top three factors you would attribute to your success?

  1. Learning and communication skills
    I’ve always had a growth mindset. I also love learning and enjoy synthesizing complex information, distilling it into simple terms, and translating it for different audiences. This has helped me jump into new contexts and solve complex problems I’ve never faced before.
  2. Grit
    As a leader, I’m willing to step outside my comfort zone and take risks to advocate for others as well as values I believe in. I also have the patience and perseverance to do the methodical, often tedious work necessary to achieve excellence or effect meaningful organizational change.
  3. Empathy
    I’ve become a better leader by listening to others first and seeking to understand their perspective, motivation, backstory, and particular pain. Empathy has helped me work through conflicts and adapt to different cultural needs, key to building authentic relationships based on mutual trust and respect.

What makes your company stand out from the crowd?

As I’m in an interim position now, I’m thinking of my last company, where I spent 12 years in different leadership roles.

What made that company stand out was the culture and the people. Almost everyone there was a musician so the place brimmed with music and creativity. At the same time, we were a technology company founded by a musically-gifted, social scientist with an exceptional talent for data analysis and modeling, amongst other things.

As the VP of Business Operations and Customer Experience, one of my primary goals was to build a culture that tempered a bias for action with a commitment to disciplined testing and analysis.

Over time, I helped create a data-driven culture where everyone understood the value of experimentation and iteration. Though the marriage of these two perspectives created friction at times, we built a remarkably healthy business on this foundation.

By the time I left the company, we had revenues approaching $1 million per employee and near 20% year-over-year growth for several years running. Happy owners and shared success makes for a more fulfilling workplace.

How has your company continued to thrive in the face of rapid change and disruption in your industry?

Here’s my Top 10 list:

  1. Talking directly to customers to find out what really matters to them.
  2. Identifying areas of strength — and building on them — while also shoring up weaknesses.
  3. Marrying qualitative and quantitative data to identify new opportunities for innovation and growth.
  4. Taking calculated risks to stake out competitive advantage in areas we think we can win — for example, by extending our own credit line to customers via no-interest payment plans to fuel growth.
  5. Testing everything and continuously refining/improving performance, based on rigorous, insightful analysis of the results.
  6. Building a scalable, operational infrastructure that maps to customer journey touchpoints.
  7. Developing reliable predictive models for critical business functions such as fraud detection and order financing.
  8. Collaborating across disciplines to create flexible product roadmaps that align with long-term business goals.
  9. Refining strategy regularly to maintain an optimal balance of predictable profit, acceptable risk, and sustainable growth.
  10. Thinking in terms of customer lifetime value (LTV) and continuing to deliver the best possible value and customer experience over time.

According to a recent KPMG study, resilience is the underlying trait of most successful businesses. How would you define “resilience?”

I define resilience as the ability to bounce back from failure, disappointment, or loss, and reemerge with renewed energy and focus. First, you have to do the work necessary to learn what you can from the experience, grow stronger, and adapt. Then, you can take on new challenges or approach the same ones from a different angle. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of perspective — for example, seeing everything as a learning experiment and turning a “failure” into a pivot.

When you think of tenacity and endurance, what person comes to mind? (Can you explain why you chose that person?)

Nelson Mandela, who endured 27 years of imprisonment for fighting a corrupt system, yet never lost faith in his vision for a freer, more just and democratic South Africa. After his release from prison, he worked with his former oppressors to peacefully dismantle apartheid, affect racial reconciliation, and transform his country for the better without succumbing to bitterness, resentment, or cynicism.

On a personal level, my Austrian-Romanian grandmother, Mutti, was a tiny woman with enormous courage, wit, heart, and toughness. She managed to keep her family alive through harrowing circumstances at the end of WWII, yet always kept her sense of humor, despite suffering tremendous personal hardship and loss through two world wars.

Was there ever a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? (Can you share the story with us?)

I remember showing up for my first Little League practice when I was 11 years old. Back then, I was one of the smallest guys on the team, quiet and unassuming, and I had a cheap, little red mitt from Sears. An older kid on the team, who was one of the stud players in the league, took one look at me and groaned, “That guy’s on my team?”

Over time, his attitude changed. Why? He saw what I could do on the field. We finished 7–7 that year, yet made it to the playoffs. Underdogs all the way, we did the impossible: we won the championship in a close contest.

I made two game-saving catches in left field, which got featured in our local newspaper. From that season on, the stud player became my champion and my friend. When I got to junior high, he took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. It felt great!

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? (Can you share that story with us?)

2012–13 was a tough year for my family. My wife started having health problems, and my father was diagnosed with cancer. He died five weeks later. Around the same time, our five-year-old daughter began struggling with anxiety issues. It was heartbreaking to watch, and it took a lot of time and energy to find her the proper care. Meanwhile, the company was going through some difficult growing pains.

Not long after my father’s funeral, my 360 review came back with some challenging feedback. People had noticed my recent absences and wanted more of my time and attention. Some were unhappy with the way things were going and wanted me to do something about it. Even though I was still having a hard time personally, I took the opportunity to confront the feedback head on, learn from it, and model the behavior I wanted other leaders on the team to embrace.

So I called a team meeting to share what I’d heard from them, explain my takeaways, and state how I intended to act on them. Some closest to me rushed to my defense; I assured them the feedback was OK, and thanked everyone for it. I also addressed some recent grumbling between teammates. The meeting set a tone for vulnerability, honesty, transparency, accountability, and directness that, over time, became more of the norm.

That year marked a turning point for me as a leader. I grew stronger and more focused. Those whose confidence, trust, and respect I’d earned through this process drew closer to me and became my inner circle. It also became clear who wasn’t on board with the leadership culture I was trying to create, and over time, I found different options for them.

The next year, I followed through on my promises. While my performance was already good, things really kicked into a higher gear once I got all the right people in place.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? (Can you share a story?)

My junior year of high school, my parents sent me away to military school. While I wasn’t happy about their decision at first, I became determined to make the most of my experience there. So, I buckled down, got straight A’s, earned a number of achievement medals, beat out the starting second baseman on the varsity team, and made a best friend from overseas.

Plus, I didn’t take crap from anybody. At the end of the year, the school offered me a full scholarship to return for my senior year. They were going to make me an officer, because they said they wanted more leaders like me. I chose to return home for senior year instead, but the experience gave me an appreciation for systems, structures, and routines, which I learned to internalize through self-discipline. It also broadened my perspective and helped me to recognize the opportunity in every apparent setback.

One of the things I respect most about the military, aside from the sacrifices required, is the decisive leadership it forges. Indeed, I can trace the focus and decisiveness I bring to work as a leader every day back to my military school experience.

What strategies do you use to strengthen your resilience? (Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. Please share a story or an example for each)

  1. Trying new things and seeing new places — e.g., learning to play guitar, traveling overseas.
  2. Practicing healthy habits and self-care — e.g., exercising regularly, eating well, going to bed early, keeping an organized physical and digital workspace, taking time off, nurturing creativity, practicing spiritual disciplines, enjoying outdoor activities.
  3. Stepping out of my comfort zone, inviting critical feedback, and intentionally cultivating relationships with people who are different from me.
  4. Reading broadly and journaling insights.
  5. Giving, serving, and helping others in need.
  6. Practicing gratitude and having grace for myself and others.
  7. Cultivating a close-knit, safe, and reliable support circle.

How can leaders create a more resilient workforce?

  1. Listen to and get to know your team personally and professionally — their individual strengths, weaknesses, passions, career aspirations, hopes and fears. Share yours with them as well. You’ll be better equipped to encourage and support each other when facing inevitable setbacks.
  2. Help outline long-term career paths for the employees you value most, even if they might eventually leave the company to achieve their goals. Try to align their talents and aspirations with the company’s long-term vision, and encourage a sense of ownership in a shared future.
  3. Build a values-based culture that nurtures holistic well-being including work-life balance; physical, emotional, and spiritual health; autonomy, flexibility, and openness. Take time to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate your accomplishments together.
  4. Foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in hiring, leadership, and professional development. It’s worth being intentional and persistent about this. Any additional costs involved will more than pay for themselves by creating a stronger, more resilient, and vital team.
  5. Advocate for your employees and show that you value them first as human beings. Understand what’s most important to them and make sure to recognize them in kind. Risk leading the way in effecting positive cultural change that aligns with core values, communicating your vision every step of the way.
  6. Take time to process setbacks and disappointments as a team. Acknowledge the elephant in the room and talk about it. Share your honest thoughts and feelings, and invite others to do the same, while ultimately guiding them towards acceptance, learning, and constructive next steps.
  7. Guard against/redirect/weed out cynicism in yourself and others. Don’t tolerate backbiting, finger-pointing, gossiping, infighting, or rudeness, no matter who it comes from. Work out conflicts directly and with everyone involved in attendance. See resolutions through to the end.
  8. Instill a growth mindset, and develop a culture of experimentation. Encourage everyone to ask lots of questions. Permit people to make mistakes and learn from them.

Extensive research suggests that people who have a clear purpose in their lives are more likely to persevere during difficult times. What are your goals?

  1. To serve others well, with integrity and kindness.
  2. To engage in fulfilling work that has a positive impact on the world.
  3. To make authentic connections.
  4. To share gratifying experiences in community.
  5. To grow and help others grow in ways that enrich lives with joy and meaning.

What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Harry S. Truman

Thank you so much, that was very interesting! How can our readers get in touch with you?

Send me a LinkedIn invitation with a personal note referencing this interview, and we’ll take it from there.

Thank you for the interview and to my publicist, Carolyn Barth, for arranging it.

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