As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Krishna Kutty.
Krishna is a strategy and operations executive with 17+ years of experience. She supports clients across North America with strategic planning, business and operating model re-designs, product strategy and innovation, and transformations (digital, functional, operational), as the Managing Partner & Co-Founder of Kuroshio Consulting Inc., a boutique management consultancy based in Chicago.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. 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 am a strategy and operations management consulting executive, who leads large-scale transformations for client organizations. I left industry to become an entrepreneur because we recognized a niche — where organizations were paying enormous consulting fees that resulted in reports that garnered dust because they were not rooted in the organization’s context or environmental constraints, and so could not be implemented effectively or efficiently. Having lived experiences (and not just having to lean on theory), my business partner and I felt there had to be a better way to pragmatically support organizations with their strategy and transformations, and so we set up our own consulting practice. We now offer a range of advisory services, with recent engagements entailing designing digital engagement and virtual care strategies for hospital systems, advising pharmaceutical, financial, and automotive organizations on how to accelerate their product strategy and innovation initiatives, and developing corporate strategic and organizational effectiveness plans in the oil/gas sector.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I didn’t quite understand the level of complexity (legal, operational, and emotional) associated with running a consulting practice across North America (we have entities in both Canada and the US). Clearly my initial thoughts about entrepreneurship were based on the philosophy of go big or go home! I believed at the time that we would figure it out on the go, which I would not recommend in hindsight. Let’s just say there were more than a few stumbling blocks initially — but now I have surrounded myself with a talented team who help us navigate the complexity. I have been fortunate to be able to lean on top-notch corporate attorneys and accountants, who provide sound advice around proactive risk mitigation.
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?
I am incredibly grateful to Nicole-Ann Poitras. We have known each other for more than two decades. She is a stalwart friend and now is also part of our consulting family, as Kuroshio’s Communications & Marketing Practice Head. Very often women adopt a “scarcity mindset” that can lead to rivalry because they believe that there can only be one seat at the corporate table, but this has never been the case in our relationship. Nicole and I have developed a deep bond over our similar life experiences (specifically around being female minorities in male-dominated environments — Nicole as a woman of Cree-Métis and English descent and myself as a first-generation immigrant woman of East Indian descent) and profoundly want each other to succeed, in whatever path we choose (both personally and professionally).
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Kuroshio Consulting’s vision is to be recognized by clients across North America as their trusted advisors for impactful, innovative, and sustainable strategies (corporate and product) as well as transformations (digital, functional, and operational), and this vision is rooted in our core values of strength through diversity, radical accountability, and value delivery. We action this by offering our services on a sliding scale to socially focused non-profit organizations. We are especially passionate about organizations that provide services to persons with disabilities, senior citizens, high-risk youth, and animal rescues. We also encourage our consultants to serve on Boards of mission-driven organizations they are passionate about and to engage in philanthropic activities, and we support their time commitment and financial contributions to these organizations and activities.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
As management consultants, we leave behind lasting value with our client organizations by facilitating client learning, while they undertake transformations. We help them deal with their immediate concerns (usually by diagnosing the problem and designing strategies that alleviate the problem) but also help them learn approaches, frameworks, and tools needed to cope with future challenges (that is, to adapt). We do this with strong client involvement throughout our consulting engagements. Kuroshio Consulting also ensures that our client organizations’ can effectively implement the designed strategy holistically. We don’t employ a philosophy of getting in the door with a client and becoming a permanent fixture on their premises; we believe in transferring knowledge to our clients to empower them.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
As our consultancy advises clients across a number of industries, I will narrow this down to the healthcare sector. Due to COVID-19, the almost overnight need for hospitals to transition to delivering care on a virtual basis was a tremendous disruption. Digital engagement and virtual care strategies are what our healthcare clients are most focused on, not only to get them through the pandemic, but also as an anchor for a sustainable future. An example we have seen was the exponential rise in telehealth services. While telehealth services are a safer option to reduce potential infectious exposures, they can also reduce the strain on healthcare systems by minimizing the surge of patient demand on facilities while maintaining continuity of care.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
As a result of this disruption, we pivoted to help our healthcare sector clients make sense of how to transform their organizations. We have designed new business models and authored business cases on how to leverage digital engagement and virtual care to reduce cost pressures while increasing patient and community outcomes. For example, our approach to digital and virtual care strategies includes full consideration of Social Determinants of Health (SDoH). SDoH is increasingly at the forefront of health systems’ digital strategies as up to 80% of an individual’s health is determined by behaviors and the social and environmental conditions in which one lives, works, and plays.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
There is significant complexity in designing and implementing successful digital engagement and virtual care strategies, not to mention the sheer number of products that are getting pumped into the market. For example, you have to navigate how virtual care is reimbursed by payors, the requirements for integrations of new technologies with existing ones such as EHRs (electronic health records), and incorporating SDoH considerations in initiatives, all while continuing to run a health system during a pandemic. While the transition to digital fronts is not new, the rapid pace at which the pandemic has forced the healthcare sector to reinvent themselves was the “aha” moment.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
I think that there is still a long way to go to regarding getting the best outcomes from digital engagement and virtual care strategies, but the pandemic has put a spotlight on the fact that this transition is inevitable, imminent, and has to be done quickly.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?
Due to the pandemic, and the desire of health systems to pivot to virtual quickly, a hospital system (with multiple locations) worked with a technology vendor to rapidly roll out a telehealth pilot. The immediate need of providing direly needed telehealth services was addressed, but as they were in crisis mode, they hadn’t taken a step back to consider how their pilot technology would integrate with their EHR (electronic health record) system and other existing solutions, while ensuring seamless navigation for a better patient experience. A month or so ago, they were ready to look at scaling, and they reached out to us in order to conduct an assessment and help them develop a detailed business case. Unfortunately, we uncovered that there would be significant challenges and costs associated with scaling across their hospital network (causal factors included non-standardized workflows and different data models across locations). This story is interesting because health systems are very much in their infancy with respect to virtualization and can learn a lot from other industries who have already gone through transformations; lessons learned should be leveraged to keep the momentum going post-pandemic.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
Great leaders maintain focus while augmenting as needed during disruptive periods. Leaders need to be nimble to stabilize the organization in meeting immediate priorities, without losing sight of longer-term goals, core values, and purpose. During disruptive periods, it is important to consider augmenting your leadership team with transformation specific expertise, if you haven’t already. We have seen an uptick in the number of organizations requesting Board-level and C-level augmentation from our transformation experts to help them adapt.
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?
It must start with self-care; as a leader if you aren’t being disciplined with how you approach your mental and physical health, it will be difficult to empower your team to do the same. For the team, approaching conversations with empathy for their situations (e.g. increased responsibilities for eldercare or childcare) and adjusting goals/objectives to reflect shorter time durations (i.e. for tangible and quick wins) for this junction in time (e.g. if they have been moved into a new role to support operations due to pandemic conditions, expectations need to be adjusted accordingly), are the best ways to boost morale.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Adopting a continuous learning mindset will allow organizations to recalibrate during periods of turbulence. This includes keeping a pulse on the shifting priorities of your customers and other stakeholders, the competitive environment, and building a culture of innovation (where innovation is technological change, business model change, or some combination or both) in your organization.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I have seen several failure modes when faced with disruptive technology, and the top three follow.
- Extrapolating a strong business case for the broad deployment of the disruptive technology after a line trial or proof of concept in a very narrow setting, which is not indicative of the rest of your organization.
- Thinking you can drive a culture of innovation with the disruptive technology (and no other efforts).
- Prioritizing investment in the disruptive technology, without a firm rooting in customers and solving for experience gaps in their journeys.
Without a clear understanding of the organizational context and the impacts delivered by the disruptive technology (e.g. to reduce your costs, to grow your market share), simply expecting the technology to fix all your problems is unwise.
Ok. Thank you. 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 pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
The five most important things business leaders should do to pivot in the face of disruptive technologies, are as follows.
- Shift your perspective
- Ensure that your teams are looking at the problem that the disruptive technology is helping solve from diverse angles — customers, employees, investors, stakeholders, regulators, etc.
- Adopting new perspectives will help your organization analyze impacts more clearly.
2. Invest in experiments
- Disruptive technologies will continue to materialize. Build your internal capability to be able to withstand impacts by investing in potentially disruptive innovation initiatives now (even if they are risky and may not deliver short term returns). This should be incorporated as part of your corporate disruption readiness strategy.
- One of your experiments could turn out to be your next competitive advantage.
3. Explore external options
- Determine whether you have the talent to deal with the disruptive technology in-house. If not, exploring joint venture partnerships or mergers may be the right path forward.
- Sharing or transferring risks to partner entities when you don’t have the skill-set in house, should be explored.
4. Focus on solving your customer problem
- Don’t implement disruptive technologies without considering the impacts of implementation on your customers.
- Our product strategy experts help organizations develop a deep understanding of the problems to be solved first, before actualizing.
5. Leverage data to identify patterns
- As leaders, we have the tendency to look for opportunities within our industry or market but fail to factor in the fast-paced nature of innovation on a global basis, the way that our customers view them.
- Utilize data to generate insights on global trends and across adjacent/ancillary industries to identify patterns and predictions for potential disruption opportunities.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.” — Victor Hugo
Lead with integrity and be open to change. Disruptive technologies don’t usually allow for long lead-times to plan and to chart a precise course of action. Having led transformations for over 17 years, as long as you don’t lose sight of your north star (your vision, your values, and your long-term objectives), you have to be open to pivot — if you don’t, you are executing blindly, when you should be focusing on delivering value and outcomes. I have met chief transformation officers and chief information officers who tend to be so focused on planting one tree that they miss the fact that the forest around that tree is burning. I would encourage leaders to not be so myopic to thoughtlessly follow a technology trend (the shiny object chase), that they miss the reason they started the transformation in the first place.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow me on LinkedIn where I share insights. You can also check out our website, for perspectives from team Kuroshio, along with publications in which we have been featured.
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kmkutty/
Website URL: www.kuroshioconsulting.com