Raj Indupuri of eClinical Solutions: Five Things You Need to Be a Highly Effective Leader During…

Posted on

Raj Indupuri of eClinical Solutions: Five Things You Need to Be a Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

We can all aspire to find a measure of life success in the simplicity of doing our best work while maintaining a focus on the people — those you do the work with, and those you do the work for — and remember that the two are very much connected.

As part of our series called “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective C-Suite Executive” we had the pleasure of interviewing Raj Indupuri, CEO and co-founder of eClinical Solutions.

A technologist with over 25 years of industry experience, Raj Indupuri is responsible for establishing the eClinical Solutions vision and future-looking technology strategy. He is deeply passionate about fostering innovation to revolutionize the Life Sciences industry with ground-breaking technologies that will modernize clinical trials and bring treatments to patients faster. As an industry veteran who has been part of the evolution of Life Sciences and clinical data management for over two decades, Raj has an astute business vision to realize the digital future and enable progress and potential with data and analytics at the core of the company’s innovative products and solutions. Raj is responsible for the overall direction and management of the company and is a Mechanical Engineer with an MBA from Boston University who firmly believes data is the new fuel that will drive human progress.

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?

I grew up in Andhra Pradesh, a southern state in India. My family was business-minded, and I looked up to my grandfather who was an entrepreneur. He was a risk-taker, always pushing boundaries. Growing up, he was a primary influence. I studied mechanical engineering in the early 90’s at Nagarjuna University in South India. During that time, I was exposed to computer programming and software engineering, which I found fascinating. I decided I would love to have a career in that field. In 1997, I came to the Boston area from India and began working for a biotech company as a clinical database developer. When I started in biotech, I found it very inspiring to be part of a company and industry where you can contribute in your own way, small or large, to impact healthcare and be part of bringing better medicines to patients. From that very first role in my career, I decided this was an industry I wanted to be part of, and I’ve been fortunate to continue this journey in life sciences for the past 25 years.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Fortunately, our business is in the life sciences space which is inherently purpose-built. Our leadership team is driven to create solutions that help our clients accelerate clinical research and help patients. eClinical Solutions began in 2012 with a vision to help life sciences companies address a growing data problem in clinical trials. Trials were becoming increasingly complex, and we saw the volume and velocity of incoming data increasing. Prior to November 2012, eClinical Solutions was a division of consulting leader Eliassen Group, focused mainly on professional services. Then we launched a software platform. We predicted that tech could transform stakeholder experiences with clinical data for greater access and efficiency. We saw the potential for data infrastructure and analytics technology to be a game-changer for those working with clinical data. In late 2012, I joined Bob Arnesen, eClinical Solutions president and co-founder, in pitching Eliassen Group to break eClinical Solutions out as its own entity. We were fortunate to get the go-ahead from Eliassen and to have Bharat Agrawal, now chairman of the board, invest in our vision. This was the start of our journey as the independent company eClinical Solutions. Our beginnings were fueled by this opportunity we saw for technology to help the industry gain control of and extract value from their clinical data. We believe data is the currency of the industry and the most critical asset.

When we first started, we were fortunate to have a group of people who were equally passionate about our common goal, and we formed a mission to make clinical research data acquisition and analysis easy and intelligent to help bring new treatments to patients faster. As leaders and co-founders, Bob and I consider it part of our job to inspire and remind our team about this mission. We take the time to remind our teams that we are supporting our clients who are helping improve clinical research and the lives of patients. I do firmly believe that being a purpose-driven business is a strength that greatly contributes to our success.

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?

eClinical Solutions has been fortunate as a company, from the beginning, to be disciplined in terms of how we operate, and always be thinking a little bit ahead with our strategic planning — trying to anticipate both macro and industry trends as much as possible. Taking this approach has helped position us to be able to pivot as needed. I believe in our organizational ability to be nimble and react to circumstances, whether that means being able to evolve what we offer or change our focus to different areas or market segments. Our culture enables this because of some of the inherent beliefs and values that we operate by — being open, allowing ourselves to challenge and experiment, and taking risks as needed. As a leader, it’s my job to interpret signals and anticipate uncertainties as quickly and as early as possible, which is not easy to do — for anyone.

It’s also important to be transparent with my own direct reports, communicating early about potential areas of risk and working together on what can be addressed. It’s important to be open-minded and encourage my teams to be the same in order to promote a culture where disagreement without disapproval is allowed and encouraged. Leaders who force agreement at all costs run the risk of stifling flexibility, creativity, and innovation — all of which are critical to navigating challenges or unknowns. Encouraging my team to take risks positions us to emerge from uncertainty stronger. It’s also important not to be afraid or hesitate in pushing for ways to maximize investments already made, whether through automation or opportunities for efficiency.

As we all know, during the pandemic there was a lot of uncertainty, both for team member well-being and for the businesses. As a leadership team, we came together about how we could deal with these challenges. For the business, we focused efforts on efficiency so we could operate through the unknowns. For our team, we made sure to over-communicate. During the pandemic, we realized we were well-positioned because of the needs of the life sciences industry at the time. By being efficient and nimble with the business and transparent with our teams as things unfolded, we were able to minimize risk and then swiftly double down investment in line with evolving signals.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

One book that really inspired me was Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, which I read right around the time of eClinical Solutions’ founding. From a leadership perspective, it showed that as a leader with limited resources, you can change the world with innovation. In reading the book, you learn that Steve Jobs had several ups and downs over the years, and the lesson is to never give up and to continue to work hard to achieve your dreams. His story shows the importance of surrounding yourself with people who believe in your vision and being unafraid to push boundaries. It also highlights the need to have an aspirational vision to create a world-class company by envisioning solutions to a problem that can be solved by technology. That aspirational vision is not always what the client initially wants or is thinking just yet. That’s not to say it isn’t client-driven, but the book showed the importance of tracking against an aspirational vision that clients may not have predicted yet themselves. Once you have it, you keep that as your focus and then you collaborate with the client to create something that can truly transform and create better experiences for them.

The book is not just about leadership but also innovation, managing and dealing with different personalities, and about life in general as well as rising to overcome challenges. When embarking on the journey of starting a company there is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety, especially if you are trying to build something that doesn’t exist yet. You have people who believe in it, which increases your feeling of responsibility. Reading “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson helped increase my confidence and provided pointers about pushing boundaries and gaining successful outcomes. You must always maintain clear vision of where you’re headed. Your clients might not be aware of the full realm of possibilities. Once there is enthusiasm and you have early adopters, then you make sure to collaborate very closely with your clients so they can help realize the vision and strengthen the outcome. But it starts with thinking about something that end users may not even be thinking of yet.

Another book that’s brilliant is “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton M. Christensen, which I read in 2010, two years before we started eClinical Solutions. The book had a big influence on myself and our Chief Technology Officer, Sam Anwar. It illustrates that as an incumbent, you must always be aware and cannot be dismissive. There are many high-profile examples of this, from Kodak and digital photography to Blockbuster and Netflix. As leader, you cannot be numb or indifferent about the impacts disruptive technology can have, and you must continually innovate and be aware in anticipating blind spots.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

The most critical role of a leader in challenging times centers around communication — what goes into that communication and the way it’s handled. This means being open, honest, and transparent, without creating panic or more anxiety. Discuss what the challenges are, what they mean, and what is planned to address them. Beyond that, rally your team around mitigating these challenges together. Acknowledging challenging times means being inclusive in terms of asking the team to be part of solutions.

Leaders need to find ways to effectively manage their teams while also establishing a strong foundation of trust and respect. In general, it’s not good practice to micromanage or be overbearing since those traits can easily lead to burnout and disengagement. It’s especially important to remember this when you’re navigating turbulent times because it can be easy for leaders to inadvertently try to regain control over as much as possible. Leaders need to remember that especially during challenging times, their people must come first. It becomes more important than ever to find ways to keep teams engaged and aligned. If your workforce no longer feels aligned with their purpose or role within the company, they won’t feel motivated to help take the company to where you want it to be. Challenging times can be the most difficult to navigate, but if you keep a people-first mentality, you can help keep your teams engaged and moving forward.

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?

No one person has all the answers and ideas, and leaders should continue to remind themselves of this. Don’t stifle creativity, encourage it. Particularly in times of uncertainty, encouraging teams and individuals to claim autonomy and ownership can help them regain a sense of control and boost motivation. Empowering your team to bring solutions helps ensure that uncertainty doesn’t become a paralyzing force working against your culture. Place trust in your team and remind them of their role and impact. Innovation and collaboration can still occur in less stable times if your team is aligned and continuing to work toward common goals. Take time to inspire by reminding your team of the mission and how they contribute. Celebrate accomplishments and successes any time you can; find those moments to recognize progress is even more important and impressive when times are unsteady.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Communicating difficult news is never an easy task, but it is an inevitable part of being a leader. The best way to approach a difficult conversation is to be upfront and transparent. Trying to mask bad news is an easy way to lose clarity around your message and it erodes confidence. Focus on facts and relay what you can about where things are, what led to this and what’s next. Be prepared to provide support and guidance so that your message is both direct and empathetic. When things are uncertain or unfolding, it’s better to say what you know and what you don’t than to delay or avoid difficult conversations. Let people know what you can, and that more communication will come once you know more. You don’t always need to have to have all the answers to establish trust and confidence as a leader, but you do need to take the step to communicate along the way.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

Be prepared to ask yourself the “what if” questions. As a leader, you need to keep an open mind while also striving to have the best understanding of potential outcomes. Use available data and the perspectives of your team to consider different scenarios and understand the implications of different outcomes before setting your plan. You can’t predict the future and, unfortunately, you won’t always be able to predict curveballs that might come your way. As much as you plan, you do need to remain flexible and create a culture where teams can also be flexible in how they accomplish your shared goals. Sometimes you’ll need to take risks. Certain things shouldn’t change greatly based on external factors, for example your vision, mission, and the values you operate by. If you keep sight of those, you can make plans in unpredictable environments, knowing that you’ll continue to use data and input to regularly evaluate set plans against your goals and any changes that arise. Knowing that plans can change and having a mechanism to be agile and revisit them regularly can make it easier to set that initial plan. Having that understanding, and the courage and flexibility to take a risk when it’s necessary will be key to ensuring you’re able to pivot as necessary when navigating challenging landscapes.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

At the end of the day, it really is all about the people. In order to successfully navigate the inevitable ups and downs during turbulent times, you need to ensure that you’re operating with a people-first mindset. You need to prioritize employee well-being and ensure you’re meeting their needs and keeping them inspired while also letting them grow and develop in an environment where they feel valued and respected. You cannot succeed alone, so it really is critical to always prioritize your team, especially the times they might be feeling the most insecure.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Not prioritizing team satisfaction. People want a leader with empathy. I personally believe that people are your most valuable asset, and if you do not prioritize your employees, they’ll likely become disconnected. Don’t put your team in a position where they need to choose between prioritizing their own well-being and the needs of the company.

Fearing all failure. As a leader, it can be difficult to make decisions without the right data or support to rationalize a clear choice. The fear of the unknown can impede decision-making, but in some cases choosing a direction and taking risks with speed is more critical than waiting until you have all the answers. Sometimes you must trust your intuition, make choices without all the objective data and be willing to take risks without fear of failure.

Under-Communicating. It can be difficult to have unpleasant conversations, and some people prolong having the conversation or avoid it altogether. Under-communicating drives fear, it does not alleviate it. If people don’t know what is going on, it can increase insecurity and fear. If there is any uncertainty, as a leader you need to eliminate that.

Here is 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.

Focus on the people first. Think first about your people — those within your organization and those your organization serves, your clients and partners. Chances are nothing you do will be effective if you don’t start there and lead with empathy. Take the time to think about the perspectives of those around you and acknowledge them. At the end of the day, it’s all about the people. Without people you don’t have a business.

Overcommunicate. Communicate early, often, and with transparency. An important reminder — this doesn’t only mean communicating as a leader when you have something to say. It applies to times when leaders need to be proactive and communicate to their team, and it also applies to fostering open communication lines across the organization. Your communication style as a leader is a model for the communication culture you hope to have. Make that style one of frequent, ample communication, active listening, asking questions and collaboration if you want your company culture to reflect the same.

Be willing to pivot. Everyone learned very quickly during the pandemic that flexibility is key to navigating turbulent times. We found ways to adapt practices to continue operating smoothly, and revisited set strategies in the context of new information and circumstances. It’s important to maintain stability and focus when it comes to your goals, mission, and vision. But having an adaptive mindset and always being aware of the challenges and opportunities that come with changing environments is equally important and helps enable your team to do the same.

Continuously learn. Being well-informed and having a dedication to perpetual learning can go a long way when it comes to leading during uncertain times. Once you are in a leadership role, it’s important to continue to think about your strengths and weaknesses, and to be open about improving as a leader. Don’t take your leadership role for granted or think it means you have — or should have — all the answers. Striving to learn and improve enables you to apply this as a coaching mentality, encouraging your team to play to their strengths and continuously improve, as well.

Utilize technology. For eClinical Solutions, this is a given since we create technological solutions, but it really is important to leverage modern-day technology to keep your team engaged, improve day-to-day processes, and increase productivity. As a leader, you set the productivity pace for the team, so adopting technology that can help streamline workflows and eliminate manual work can help your team stay productive and focused. Make technology part of your organization in thoughtful ways so that it can connect colleagues, remove roadblocks, and lift burdens that are creating pain-points for individuals and teams. When applied thoughtfully, technology can make your organization more efficient and make it easier for you to manage the overall business.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One favorite quote of mine is from an interview between Warren Buffet and Financial Times in 2019, where he said, “I can’t buy time, I can’t buy love but I can do anything else with money, pretty much. And why do I get up every day and jump out of bed and I’m excited at 88? It’s because I love what I do and love the people I do it with. I’ve got 25 people out here. We go to baseball games together. They try and make my life good, I try and make their life good.”

What especially resonated for me was his statement, “I love what I do and love the people I do it with.” It’s a great reminder that the most powerful link to happiness — both as a motivator and a reward — is doing work you care about with people you care about. I have found that to be true. I’m excited to get to work every day because I strongly believe in our purpose and enjoy the nature of the work. I’m motivated by the positive impact we can create for our clients, partners, and industry, and hope that our team finds personal and professional rewards in that process as well. We can all aspire to find a measure of life success in the simplicity of doing our best work while maintaining a focus on the people — those you do the work with, and those you do the work for — and remember that the two are very much connected.

Ten years ago, we predicted this data problem and the need for near real-time insights for making better decisions faster. We have been working hard to help our clients address patients’ unmet needs. Today, we are most excited about the opportunity to power digital trials and derive insights with our elluminate Clinical Data Cloud and tech-enabled clinical biometrics services

When we share examples of how our work is making a positive impact, it reminds our teams to take a step back and celebrate what we’ve accomplished.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Raj Indupuri of eClinical Solutions: Five Things You Need to Be a Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.