“Strategy is about making choices. The only way to be lean and nimble is to make choices. And you have to make those choices because your ambitions can be infinite, but your resources are not.”
Vik Krishnan is the General Manager of Intrado Digital Workflows, which includes the organization’s Healthcare (HouseCalls Pro), Education (SchoolMessenger) and Utilities businesses. Vik’s experience in the healthcare industry spans nearly 20 years. He was the Co-Founder and first CEO of CipherHealth, a digital patient engagement company. Through his work at Bain & Company, the Boston Consulting Group, and other boutique firms, he has spent years advising providers, payors, and the pharma industry on strategy and performance improvement. Vik has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a Biomedical Engineering degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
You’re now the GM of Intrado Digital Workflows after several other roles within the company. What initially got you interested in tech and healthcare?
My interest in healthcare and tech stemmed from a very young age. Unfortunately my mother had cancer—and she did recover—but I have very early childhood memories of visiting her in the hospital. All of the tests, the machines, the procedures made me walk away from that experience with an interest in medicine and biotech. I would say to your second point on tech, even though I’m interested in the clinical side, I never really wanted to be a physician. I think it’s a fine profession, but I can be a little impatient for results and I didn’t think that college followed by med school followed by residency was going to be the right thing for me. But in tech, the pace of innovation is just so fast. The ability to disrupt and, unfortunately, sometimes be disrupted quickly is so high. That appeals to me.
You’ve got a great background working for some of the most well-known consulting firms as well as being a startup CEO. How fundamental would you say those experiences were in giving you the knowledge and experience to step into this this type of role?
Well, they were definitely fundamental, but they were also very different. If I were to contrast, I would say I’ve been really lucky to be part of some great institutions like Bain, BCG, and Harvard Business School. Those three places all had something in common, which is that they were filled with truly exceptional people. And I always thought of myself as an imposter, wondering How have I gotten into this place? Somebody probably made a mistake. But what they give you is a lot of structure, a lot of guidance frameworks, and support. So those are things you can learn and take with you anywhere you go. And if you contrast that to a startup, that structure and support and guidance doesn’t exist. You can have an advisory board but it’s not the same. And the thing that stands out is that being a startup CEO in my experience can be really lonely. You can’t overanalyze everything because you may not even have data. You may not have anyone telling you that you’re right or wrong. You have to find ways to fill the void. And I did it with a combination of good judgment, gut instinct, sometimes irrational optimism, and maybe sometimes actually having some data. But learning to do that is actually a skill set you can take with you too. And I think it’s really the combination of those that I’ve always tried to leverage in everything I’ve done since those experiences.
One of the great things about a startup is they are naturally very nimble. But you’re now overseeing 500 people as the GM at Intrado. How do you keep an organization nimble at that scale?
It’s really about focus. It’s about having strategy. I would say that strategy is about making choices. The only way to be lean and nimble is to make choices. And you have to make those choices because your ambitions can be infinite, but your resources are not. I think whether you’re running a startup or whether you’re running a big company, I don’t think leaders often sit down and specifically write out “what is our ambition” in a simple-to-understand statement with some tangible metrics. So I’ve tried to do that, and I think any leader should do that. It should be bold. That’s why it’s called ambition. And it should be multiyear. It’s not just what I want to be in the next three months, but where you want to be in three years. And if you do that, you can translate that down into a framework. What do I have to be really good at? How am I going to win—to actually succeed—at this ambition? Where am I going to win (what geographies, what channels)? You can’t be good at ten things, right? Because that’s limitless investment. But what are the three that you really have to be good at to win? That’s how you be nimble. You focus on things that matter, then you de-emphasize things that don’t. If you can get that and figure out, well, now I’ve got an ambition. I know how I’m going to win and I know where.
How are you keeping everyone aligned with the strategy and moving forward in the same direction?
I like to think about it as once you’ve got your strategy and you’ve got your goals, you’ve got to break that down. It’s what I call an achievement model, an accountability model, and an enablement model.
An achievement model is just some basic math. If I want to get from here to here, what are the pieces of activity that are going to get you there mathematically?
The accountability model identifies who is specifically owning those blocks of achievement to go from here to here. How are they being measured, both in terms of activity and output?
And then an enablement model. You can give numbers to salespeople and commercial people, but they have to be supported by product, by marketing (and sometimes by me directly stepping in).
You have to get those three things right. It’s a three-legged stool. If one of those legs is missing, you’re just going to be disappointed and be kind of failing every year.
Once you’ve got that all in place, what you need to do is put some systems in place because what you want to do is be able to manage the business but also take a step back and think a little more long term. So once that is set up, you need to do is measure it. You can define the KPIs, but I like to go a little further and make sure I have a system of dashboards in place. Perhaps it’s in a CRM. I’ve got it in my CRM. That gives me fresh insights on how we’re executing against that plan, how are we executing against those KPIs. Both leading and lagging indicators. The benefit of that is you don’t have to call a meeting all the time to get the pulse of what’s happening. You’ve got the data. The second thing I like to do is actually block off chunks of time on my calendar to just think. I don’t want meetings at this time. Monday morning is one of those times. There are times on Tuesdays that I just don’t want to take a meeting. But that has to be quiet time to actually think. And for me, I ask myself some forward-thinking questions. I try to analyze some forward-thinking ideas. You got the strategy in place, and that’s great, but what I would say is if you put that in place and you’re not taking quiet time to think and you’re just reacting all day long, then it’s really the business driving you instead of you driving the business.
You’ve had a quick rise to being GM of Intrado – What do you attribute that to?
There’s a few reasons. One being, I have a multitude of experiences. I have run a company before running this business here, albeit on a smaller scale, but I did have some experience doing that. I would say more broadly though, if I were to self-critique, I think anybody who works with me would say that I’m not afraid of expressing an opinion. I also want that opinion to be rooted in some fact or evidence, not just “I feel this way, this is what I think.” I’m not afraid to put up my hand and actually say that “I’m going to own this. I volunteered to own this, and I’m willing to execute it through and own what happens, good or bad.” Finally, what I try to be in business and what I try to be for my initiatives and achievements is the kind of person that doesn’t make it all about me. It’s about the business, and I’m really pleased to lift others up if I’m succeeding at something and even let others take the credit for it because I think real glory comes from not trying too hard to actually get it.
What would you say is a misunderstanding of the role that you’re in now?
Years earlier in my career I may have had more of a hierarchical view of what being a leader of an organization this large would be like. And I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it has turned out not to be my style. What I’ve learned in order to be successful here you need to be able to operate at multiple levels at the same time in the course of a day. When you think about being a leader and managing this many people, you’ve got to understand where people need coaching and structure and guidance and also where you just need to back off and let them do what they’re doing. It’s got to tailor your approach. In a single day, I might write my own sales collateral or marketing collateral in a PowerPoint deck. Later that day, I might have a detail-oriented, strategic meeting with an investor. And later that day, just for the fun of it, I may lead a sales pitch to a prospect and let the sales team observe my style, and we might even record it. Those are all very different levels to be operating at, but that’s my style as a leader. And that’s probably not what I would have thought I would be doing as a leader if you had asked me ten years ago. If I wanted to lead every sales pitch all day long, which would be impossible, practically speaking, my team is not going to grow and shine.
What are you really excited about the work you’re doing at Intrado?
Within Digital Workflows, we manage and automate mass inbound and outbound communications and engagement workflows in a variety of verticals. In healthcare, which is about 60% of our business, we have a leading-edge patient engagement platform called HouseCalls Pro. We already serve over 10,000 healthcare institutions and manage over 1 billion patient communication workflows per year. We’re the market share leader already, and we continue to innovate new workflows to help our customers and their patients. We’re growing and I’m excited about that. On the education front, our brand is known as School Messenger. That platform links parents and students and their schools and educators, both for emergency and non-emergency communications and workflows. We serve over 63,000 schools in North America and are decisively the market share leader. We also continue to innovate there with new offerings and features, including many new workflow automation and safety features that can bring what we do on-premise into the building and connect schools with first responders. We’re also a robust player in the utilities business and are making strides there.
I’m excited about all of that, and what I do—I spend my time innovating on a product or a commercial approach and fundamentally driving growth in the business.
Do you have a favorite quote?
“Some birds aren’t meant to be caged”
Ellis “Red” Redding from The Shawshank Redemption.
It’s not in the context of actually physically being imprisoned in a jail, but I’ve been in a lot of roles where I just realized quickly that the place isn’t working out for me, and I just need to spread my wings and fly away. And that’s fine; that’s the best thing for the place and the best thing for me too. That quote has always stuck with me.
Do you have a favorite book?
I’ve always liked dystopian books. Books written that try to predict the future. Books like 1984 and Brave New World are among my favorite books. And what I find interesting about them is what they predicted right about society, or at least what they construct about society. But even what they got wrong can still be instructive. And I think the more you read, the more you fundamentally understand people—both the person who’s writing the book and what they’re writing about people. It just gives you a broader context of what it’s like to really just be a person, to work with people. I think that’s a core element of being a leader -- having high EQ, and just interacting with people and listening to them and hopefully not living in some dystopian world.
Do you have any parting advice for others that are leading large organizations or aspire to be in the position that you’re in?
Whether you have the ambition to be there or you’re already running a larger organization, just remember it can consume you. If you’re executing a plan to be a leader or you’re running the business, just know that you need to make sure you’re running it and that it’s not running you. And actually, it may not sound like the best advice, but what I would say is please, please make time for your family, your hobbies, and whatever else you value in your personal life. Because if you don’t have some balance and joy outside of work, you’re not going to have any joy in work, and that’s going to affect how well you perform as a leader or as somebody who’s trying to get there.