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Leading in Uncertain Times

Today marks two weeks since Team Lumiata, like many others in the valley, said goodbye to our workspace and went to work from home. I’m finally coming up for air and wanted to share a look back, lessons we have learned, and how we move forward. Suffice it to say that most of us have not seen a crisis of this magnitude and the impact it is having on millions of people around the globe. We may not fully know what lies ahead but what is clear is that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a far-reaching impact on our world. These unprecedented times would demand extraordinary acts of leadership, resilience, and creativity–– from all levels of an organization. For leaders these times are an ultimate test of character, judgment, and competence. We all get to reveal our core.

Leadership principles guide
In mid-February, our head of sales and I were meeting to plan for customer meetings at HIMSS, the largest healthcare industry conference in the U.S. Early reports of COVID-19 community spread had started to emerge. I told Shannon I didn’t see how 45,000 people from around the world could congregate in Florida; the event should not go on and will not go on. Lumiata was one of the first companies to pull out of the conference and helped lead the charge for others to follow suit (HIMSS eventually relented and canceled barely a week before the conference start date). 

In early March, I wrote to the company that we were monitoring community spread in the Bay Area and were immediately canceling all travel, in-person interviews, and may soon move to company-wide telecommute. Five days later, we implemented WFH, one week before six Bay Area counties issued shelter-at-home orders.

I have thought about what led us to make these decisions fast even with limited information and a fast-evolving situation. It essentially came down to having clear leadership principles, and a clear-eyed view of what mattered the most. At Lumiata, we espouse a people-first ethos. That the well-being of our employees, our customers, and our community comes first. In the fog of an emerging crisis, this leadership principle served as our guiding light. The health of the extended Lumiata family and our civic responsibility to help “flatten the curve”, made the decision to cancel industry shows and travel, and to institute work from home, the right and easy call.

Crisis stress-tests culture
Culture is most tested when times are uncertain. In the past couple of weeks, I have asked managers to lean-in more with their teams, and to check in with team members who have recently joined us. I try to lead by example by scheduling daily leadership team standups. We’re up early for 8 am Zoom calls (I’ve built the habit of making french press coffee at home just in time…). We like the daily management standup so much that it’s here to stay.

In our communication with our customers, we paused all regular marketing outreach–– in every conversation, teams make it a point to inquire about our customers and their loved ones’ health first. This simple act of kindness is striking a chord at a personal level. That touch is also here to stay. 

Turning the challenge on its head!
What I am most excited about is that the team has rallied to think about how Lumiata helps combat the pandemic. As New Rochelle, NY was building a containment zone, I sat down with our product team to explore how AI can help. A new Slack channel soon buzzed with ideas. In conversations we have with health plans and providers today, we talk about the Lumiata COVID–19 solution, and how we can help them plan for the impact of the pandemic–– from capacity planning (hospitalization and ICU admission predictions) to risk stratification and care management of the elderly. On April 17, we host a global COVID-19 Hackathon with support from Google and BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners (my friend Aneesh Chopra, former US CTO, and our investor, Vinod Khosla, are among the judges).

We’re blessed with some of the world’s best talent and resources. As painful and unsettling as these times are, they challenge us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to innovate and build solutions to fight disease and improve public health. If we channel energies to drive transformational change, strong teams will emerge even stronger through this time. And for leaders, this time presents a most compelling moment to step up in ways we may not have done before–– with the deepest reservoir of care, ingenuity, and resilience. 

In solidarity with everyone who’s been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dilawar Syed
CEO, Lumiata