Arvita Tripati of Korio Clinical On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Trust & Communication: Building trust and communicating about uncertainty is essential. You shouldn’t communicate every little twist and turn that happens on a daily or perhaps even a weekly basis. I think that twice a month doing a general update that includes high financials ($0 in, $15k out, $2.25k remaining) is a respectful thing to do for your employees. It helps them not be wasteful and keep an eye on the urgency of say getting to profitability, it helps you have measured transparency and keep them in the loop, and makes
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 Arvita Tripati.
Arvita Tripati is an accomplished executive with sixteen years proven experience in product development, product management, and regulatory compliance across biotech, medtech, and digital health with experience from pre-revenue to $11.3B in revenue. As an executive at Korio, Clip Health, endpoint Clinical (a LabCorp subsidiary), Vineti, and AliveCor she successfully implemented strategies to develop new products, maximize operational efficiencies, oversaw post-M&A compliance & IT systems integration, and opened new markets to expand the TAM. Her portfolio has covered a broad and varied range, from product, to a global compliance & cybersecurity function, including setting strategic direction and leading enterprise risk management, and leading the company through interactions with regulatory authorities. She has worked on partnerships with Sanofi, Novartis, Moderna, Gilead, and bluebird bio to name a few.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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 graduated degree in history back in 2001, moving to Minnesota in 2003 to do AmeriCorps.
I came back in 2004, then worked in city government, eventually leaving for a job at a device startup in Customer Service. Unfortunately this was just as the great recession was hitting and I was laid off pretty quickly.
So, I went to the next medical device startup as an admin and no one had been minding the shop with regards to Quality for the past 2 years. They hired a head of Quality who started about a week before a big audit. It was a perfect introduction into the ways things can go wrong for companies when they lose sight of quality. I learned all the ways in which things breakdown, and also how to fix them. The company did well, I grew into a QE role, and they sold to Medtronic.
I moved through the Quality role, determined to be amongst the best, seeking mentors, taking on product development, auditing, and eventually leadership roles and earning certifications as I went. I had the good fortune of working across the gamut of startup, scaling, and enterprise companies. Two of the best pieces of advice I ever got and have worked into my leadership style are: 1) be a sponge and 2) treat Compliance like it is a product. Meet your users where they are, figure out how they want to operate and then build that in, so it is seamless or frictionless for them.
Over the years I went to work at well-established Fortune 500 companies like LabCorp and Coopervision, as well as scrappy lean startups like AliveCor and Vineti. The throughline of it all was my passion for product development and life sciences.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m a bit of an introvert and I also have something of an inferiority complex. One of the mistakes I made early on (and to be fair, have to work hard to not continuously make even today) is thinking that I’m the least interesting person in the room and why in the world would someone want to talk to me.
So the funny story around that: I was an admin at a municipal corporation yard, you know, the place where the street, sewer, and water crews work out of. I was at the front desk and the shop steward for the water department comes up and asks me a question, I answer, he waits for a moment longer than he needed to, then walks away. Later that week, I’m having my 1:1 with my boss and I get told that I need to be more friendly, people don’t just want someone that works, they want someone friendly to interact with. I thought that was tremendously funny since I was doing so much more than the prior person, but it turned out I was focusing on the wrong thing by not focusing on the relationship. Great lesson.
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 folks in particular: Barry Craner and Geetha Rao.
Barry was my teacher at a UC Santa Cruz Extension course in regulatory affairs. I excelled and a few months later he was hiring and he gave me a call. He then mentored me throughout my time at his company and was a strong positive force. He showed me the importance of being a kind and positive leader. He was good at what he did, but that was secondary to his kindness and positivity.
Geetha Rao showed me how to be a strong woman in a male dominated field without losing my identity. An Indian woman and PhD electrical engineer, she proudly wore saris, raised two delightful young women, and generally was a badass. She helped me think outside the conventional and particularly when I had moments of insecurity around my lack of engineering cred, she was supportive & helped me calm my fears of being inadequate in those areas.
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?
Korio’s vision is to reshape the landscape of clinical trial setup and management by delivering software that emphasizes reusability, repeatability, and quality.
Note: I would prefer to not mention Korio at all in this piece, if at all possible. If you need to mention them, if possible to keep it generic (clinical trials technology company), that would be appreciated.
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?
A great example of that was during COVID. I joined a company that was pivoting from making STD tests to making COVID tests. They were a small startup without venture funding and over the years they had come close to running out of money, but always managed to survive. I was their first non-scientist / non-engineer employee and helped them get up & running in other areas of the business
A focus on measured transparency, making sure people understood what we were focused on, and celebrating micro-wins helped build a culture of trust and mutual support enabled the company to notch some key wins: a potential partnership with a top 10 pharma company, winning a RADx grant, and FDA EUA approval for our test.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I regularly assessed that. I think Annie Duke was right on with her book Quit. We should be continually assessing the value things bring to our lives and making a determination as to whether to continue, pivot, or move wholly away. Knowing that I am consciously choosing to stay, that I have agency, that makes all the difference to me and my motivation. I chose to keep going to work because I believed in the value that I was bringing — helping get COVID tests on the market.
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?
Well, I already mentioned Quit. The other author that has been transformative for me is Patrick Lencioni. His works the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team and 3 Signs of a Miserable Job are core to my management style.
In 5 Dysfunctions, everything starts with trust. And when I think back on it, it is totally true — trust is the fundamental building block of any relationship. Trust is given at the outset and then further extended and earned as time goes by. I was once at a company where the hardware development team kept on missing key milestones and delivery dates. In the end, it was only because of a herculean effort by the engineering team (e.g., working around the clock) and huge expedite fees that the product was able to be delivered on time. In this case, the folks at the company trusted in the leadership and the vision to be able to make it work. However, when sales didn’t materialize as leadership had forecast, that was the beginning of the dissolution of commitment. When the next product development effort began and there was a similar sort of squishyness around the target buyer, that leaked out resulted in departures because everyone saw a repeat ahead: immense amounts of work not resulting in user value.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Focus and Communicating in measured realism.
Focus because if you extend yourself too much, then you’ll fail.
Communication in measured realism because you need people to have a fire lit under them so they are getting the important things done, knowing that if they don’t it isn’t going to be good for the company. That said, you don’t want to give people ulcers or make them so worried that they are going to start hedging their bets and looking for a different job.
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?
From a morale perspective, I think that acknowledging things are a work in progress and that there will be frequent check-ins and course corrections as needed, is a great step.
For inspiration, I think it goes back to what I was just saying about communicating with measured realism and focus. Breaking things down into micro-tasks and providing measures against progress to the overall goal is great for motivation. For engagement, I like to find a spirit animal and use that as the mascot for the team or product. At one company, I implemented the Golden Llama Club for folks who have exemplified leadership characteristics that are commonly found in llamas (which conveniently align with our company values).
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
First make sure it is actually difficult news. Is there a way to position it so that it is folks getting what they want or need? Are you late on the deliverable or is the other party late and so you are going to take the extra time to apply additional care to making sure the deliverable top notch? Is it bad that personnel are getting reassigned, or is it good that teams are being geographically aligned and that a set of more senior personnel are going to work with the junior manager so that way they have more feedback given and can improve their management style faster?
If there really is bad news, then gathering the data, thinking about the follow-up questions, and the follow-ups to those questions is essential and then go rip the band-aid off as quickly as possible.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
I’m a big fan of preserving optionality. To me that means thinking through the decisions to be made and the diverse ways it could go and then figuring out the latest point at which we can make those decisions. By doing that, you enable yourself to keep as many doors open for as long as possible.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Buddha said the source of all disappointment is expectation. Communicating, re-communicating, and over-communicating so that expectations are appropriately set and adjusted is essential to weathering turbulence. Even if you have not much to say because things haven’t changed, letting people know that you haven’t forgotten and that things are in a holding pattern is very important.
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?
Fundamentally, you need to keep an eye on cash and make sure you aren’t going to run out. Being communicative about this can help earn trust within your org and also help leaders have challenging conversations with those that you might want to encourage to explore other options.
Next most important thing is making sure your employees have what they need not just to survive, but to thrive. If they are thriving, then they’ll go the extra mile and make the business thrive. Lots of places cut back on Learning & Development spending, spending on benefits, during lean times. This is a good time to work with a skilled People strategist to identify the 1–3 most impactful things to the people experience and make sure that your company is doing well at that. And then be sure to communicate how you are realigning your investments.
Finally, when things are difficult there can be an instinctual reaction to clench up. As an organization this can mean more detailed oversight of your employees. While oversight is good, if you previously had a bit more of a relaxed stance, this can come off as micro-managing. So if you haven’t already done so, it is a great time to roll out OKRs and KPIs. If you have and they are working, then I’d just make sure that you’re adhering to that system and that you’ve got a good communication cascade.
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?
Jobs are miserable when employees feel their work is irrelevant, they are anonymous, and they have no sense of progress against a goal. Combine that with a lack of trust and communication you have a toxic workplace that in any environment would be a struggle, but during a time of uncertainty and turbulence is only amplified. So I would tackle those 5 things.
1 — Irrelevance: Make sure your organization has focus, then cascade that focus down to every role, every person, so that way people understand how they play a part in delivering against the common good. OKRs are a great way to do this. I once worked on a deliverable that ‘had to be’ delivered by a certain date. I worked like crazy on it and gave up several weekends and evenings to bring it in on time. Wouldn’t you know at the prep meeting for the presentation it was determined that it wasn’t going to be used. You can only go through so many cycles of that before you start resenting your employer.
2 — Anonymity. We need to realize that the whole human is coming to work, not an automaton. This is where the vulnerability and authenticity movement of the last few years comes into play. If your employee is struggling because of their caregiving load, how are you going to know that and be able to get them the help to work through it? Well, if you are able to let down your guard a little and talk about what is going on in your life, maybe they’ll feel comfortable with saying something to clue you in and you can talk to them about your employee assistance plan. But that connection won’t happen unless you’re able to expose a bit of your personality from outside of work. I make a point of talking about what is going on in my life at a high level with my employees and colleagues — folks know that I’m in a never ending project of sanding cabinets, that I’m stressed out about our forecasting accuracy, and that my life partner was in a major accident a couple of years ago and that changed our lives dramatically. In turn, I’ve had employees come to me to talk about their stress as new managers and feeling overwhelmed with their workload. But that doesn’t happen if they feel they aren’t seen or are anonymous.
3 — Micro-Wins. When you’re looking at a complex project, particularly when you’ve have setbacks or failures, it is essential to celebrate the wins and measure how far you’ve been able to come. Not to be a pollyanna, but to seriously acknowledge that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In the medical device industry development cycles often are 2–5 year endeavors, in pharma 8–12. Given that, you need to break things down to give yourself (and the team!) a pat on the back for the mini successes throughout. When we were going through COVID, I was at a company developing a test and we had so many small things we needed to celebrate — supply chain was horrible, so being able to place an order and actually have it delivered: Win! Working through a bajillion versions of surface chemistry to find the right combo that would give us the accuracy we needed to get FDA approval: Win! Figuring out how to tune the sensitive micro-electronics so they could detect the particles once they had detected COVID: Win!
4 / 5 — Trust & Communication: Building trust and communicating about uncertainty is essential. You shouldn’t communicate every little twist and turn that happens on a daily or perhaps even a weekly basis. I think that twice a month doing a general update that includes high financials ($0 in, $15k out, $2.25k remaining) is a respectful thing to do for your employees. It helps them not be wasteful and keep an eye on the urgency of say getting to profitability, it helps you have measured transparency and keep them in the loop, and makes it easier to have a difficult conversation when the times get tough.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’
It is a call to try, because even if you fail, you’ll learn something from the failure. Whereas if you don’t at least try, you’ll learn nothing.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Please follow me on LinkedIn, https://www.linkedin.com/in/atripati/
Subscribe to my website newsletter at www.arvitatripati.com
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Arvita Tripati of Korio Clinical On 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.