Sonal Patel: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team

It’s extremely important to hire well. Be mindful of adding team members that reflect the company culture. In our case, we look for those who demonstrated high integrity along with a servant-leadership mentality for putting customers first and leading others by example.Once hired, retaining talent requires a similar effort in creating an environment where they […]

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It’s extremely important to hire well. Be mindful of adding team members that reflect the company culture. In our case, we look for those who demonstrated high integrity along with a servant-leadership mentality for putting customers first and leading others by example.

Once hired, retaining talent requires a similar effort in creating an environment where they are empowered to do the right thing (integrity) and rewarded for performance.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sonal Patel, the Chief Customer Success Officer for Lyniate.

In this role, she leads the customer-facing services divisions of the company, which include support, implementations, training, and professional services for all products globally. She has nearly 30 years of experience in healthcare, with the latter 25 in the IT vendor space. Her background includes working as a medical technologist in the Baptist line of hospitals in Mississippi, followed by 10 years with an LIS vendor (Antrim/Sunquest/Misys). Sonal joined NeoTool/Corepoint Health in 2005 and was key to growing that company to the point of merging with Rhapsody and rebranding as Lyniate.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I went to college knowing I wanted to be in the healthcare field to help people. My bachelor’s degree is in medical technology, which allowed me to work in the clinical laboratory for the first five years of my career.

After completing my master’s in health administration (MBA), I moved to the vendor side of healthcare and joined a laboratory information system company called Antrim. During my tenure, I served in various capacities including implementations, consulting, training, support management, and QA leadership.

In 2005, the CEO of NeoTool, Phil Guy, recruited me to join his new start-up. I had first met Phil in 1998 when he came to Antrim as a turn-around CEO. It was a leap of faith, and then a lot of hard work to grow NeoTool into Corepoint Health and beyond.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

My most interesting and entertaining story is now Corepoint folklore. When I joined NeoTool, we had an office in Montrose, Colo., because the founder, Dave Shaver, lived there. I went to visit the office a couple of weeks into the job. During the week, the founder said I could use his truck instead of renting a car (save some money as a start-up). He left the truck at the airport for me.

The first night, I was driving around the VERY small town of Montrose to find something to eat. I finally picked a place, got seated and before I ordered dinner, two police officer flanked my table to ask if the truck was mine.

Note that Montrose does not have a diverse population, so as a young brown woman, I was already an anomaly. When the police escorted me out of the restaurant, I instantly became the talk of the town. Did I mention that Montrose was small?

Come to find out, the co-owner of the truck, founder’s wife (Judy), reported the truck stolen because she did not know that the founder had hired me and let me borrow the truck for the week.

After a few minutes, we were able to clear up the situation, and since Judy felt extremely guilty, she invited all the Montrose office employees — three people including me — to her house for dinner.

Dave apologized profusely but he hasn’t been able to live it down.

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?

A funny mistake is just not coming to mind.

Unfortunately, in healthcare and management, mistakes are not so funny when dealing with people. I recall mistakes that have taught me difficult lessons at a cost, from loss of trust to the loss of life.

I really don’t like making mistakes, but they happen to the best of us, and hopefully, we learn and grow through the experience.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers.” What are your thoughts on the best way to retain great talent today?

Hiring and retaining talent is a great investment. For a healthcare software company, our talent is our best and most expensive asset. Therefore, we invest heavily in this area.

First, it’s extremely important to hire well. Be mindful of adding team members that reflect the company culture. In our case, we look for those who demonstrated high integrity along with a servant-leadership mentality for putting customers first and leading others by example.

Once hired, retaining talent requires a similar effort in creating an environment where they are empowered to do the right thing (integrity) and rewarded for performance.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

At Lyniate, we begin with aligning everyone with our mission and values. Once everyone understands that we are all on the same team moving towards the same north star, then we introduce strategic plans. We have a three-year plan, which was then further refined to a one-year plan. We use the one-year strategic plan to create goals and objectives for the company, each team, and each team member. Finally, we reward everyone for their individual performance towards meeting their goals and objectives with annual bonus potential.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team.” (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)

  1. Know your team members’ strengths and weaknesses

a. This information helps with setting employees up for success by making sure there is a good job fit.

b. During my time at Antrim, we had custom code at customer sites, so I thought it would be a good strategy to assign customers to a support representative. I started with assigning 20 to each rep. In working with one of reps, I discovered that she was great at building rapport, especially with our large, complex sites. To help her be less frustrated, I adjust her site assignments to five large, complex sites vs. 20 sites total. She was happier and her teammates were happy to handle the rest.

2. Know what makes your team tick to determine reward mechanisms that keep them motivated and feeling valued.

a. I’ve used a variety of rewards including money, food, game nights, a personal note of thanks, words of appreciation in a company meeting, etc.

b. As a way of recognizing the completion of a certification, we use a company-wide announcement. While chatting with one of my employees, he asked me NOT to do that when he finished the certification, because he did not want all that attention. It allowed him to complete the certification without fear of the announcement.

c. Instead of the public announcement, I sent him a personal note, which he appreciated.

3. Know if someone is not the right fit for the company.

a. The employee either creates a negative work environment, brings down morale, or creates chaos with toxic behavior.

b. Let me share an experience with a toxic employee I had at Antrim: The person was brilliant. She was able to complete tasks accurately and faster than most. However, she had a tendency to stir the pot and create issues where there were none.

c. I coached her and put her on performance plans. She was smart enough to do exactly what was needed to get back into good standing. Then she would do something else.

d. After two years of this type of cyclic behavior, I was exasperated. To bring it to an end, I asked for her resignation.

4. Know how to measure team effectiveness.

a. I am not big on doing metrics for metrics’ sake. However, I do believe the numbers tell a story. When we identified the behavior that we wanted, then we defined the measurement of the outcome desired.

b. At Corepoint Health, we built a world-class product and company that was customer-focused. We then needed to determine how best to measure its effectiveness.

c. In healthcare, the KLAS organization reports unbiased vendor ratings. We did not participate until we felt we were ready, which was in 2009. That year and every year thereafter, the Corepoint Integration Engine ranked №1 for its category. It currently holds the highest score for any software product that KLAS evaluates for its annual report.

d. Every year upon receiving this award, we rewarded the entire company to reinforce the behavior.

5. Know how to empathize with your employees (and customers).

a. Any time I work with employees or customers, I try to put myself in their shoes. When I’m coaching my team, I tell them the same thing.

b. This method has served us well over the years. Whenever there is an issue, we try to empathize and ask what would be the right thing to do.

c. For example, we had a dedicated and loyal employee who was going through a hard time personally. They were unable to concentrate at work, which resulted in other employees feeling like he was not pulling his weight.

d. We worked with him to figure out how he could balance his responsibilities. In the end, we had the employee take some extended time off to deal with the issues. It resulted in a negative PTO balance, a risk we were willing to take to preserve employee well-being and team cohesion.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Hire right and do not live with the mis-hires.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am a strong believer in education. I immigrated to the U.S. when I was young, primarily because my father wanted to give me the opportunity for a better education. I am fortunate to have been able to get the opportunity and education.

I think education makes people more open to ideas, and open to new or different ways of doing things. I have observed that each generation — with education — continues to evolve to be more open and accepting. I hope this would apply to their personal and work worlds.

Our world could use this right now.

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

“The imperfections of the moon make it more beautiful.”

My father said that to me while I was still in college because he saw that I wanted everything to be perfect. I am still a stickler for doing things right. However, I’ve had to learn that sometimes it is perfect to do things not so perfect. Getting something done in a not-so-perfect manner can be a beautiful thing and it is better than not doing anything at all.

Thank you for these great insights!

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