The Young & Ambitious
In an interview with Indian healthcare's one of the youngest women healthcare leaders, we explore more about Manisha Kumar, General Manager, Columbia Asia Hospital – Sarjapur Road (Bangalore)
Being a young leader brings with it a unique set of pros and cons. Ms. Manisha, in just a span of 10 years, has reached great heights in her career. She has been instrumental in commissioning and launching the largest Columbia Asia hospital in India and turning it operationally profitable in span of 11 months.
She has extensive experience in business start-up and growth, P&L management and profit enhancement: having deep expertise in turnaround strategy, with strong result orientation, commercial acumen and ability to manage diverse teams. As an MBA from Indian School of Business, she has helped and mentored many female students from her B school as well as female employees in her team and workplace to take on bigger roles at work and bigger leaps in life with grit and confidence.
What does leadership mean to you?
To me, leadership is about behaviour: as a leader, one has to set objectives, create and foster culture, build and align people and deliver results. In today's digital age, where companies rely on strategic innovations to re-define and reset their competitive advantage constantly, and majority of the incoming workforce comprises millennials who challenge the conventional narrative, it is all the more important for leaders to have a transformative vision and a forward-looking perspective.
No longer can a leader use command and control and rule with an obvious hierarchical authority – he/she needs to get into the trenches with the teams and understand the vantage point of the person below to lead by example. This is only possible if one has a strong foundation of self-awareness – including a willingness to alter his/her behaviour as need be.
Secondly, a fierce ambition and consistent result orientation is needed to drive a culture of high performance. Ideally, concentrating efforts basis priority of tasks, efficient energy management and smart delegation would lead the team in the right direction. Very crucial for the leader here is to act as a "liberator" by continually challenging while supporting and empowering the team rather than not posing either to the team and taking a backseat as an "abdicator".
Finally, in the fast-paced tech world we are in now, acquiring a digital maturity for self and the organisation is important. It is about continuously learning and aligning the organisational strategy with the changes in technological landscape of the industry.
What challenges did you face in your career? How have you overcome those?
Entering the hospital industry from a non-medical, management background wasn't easy. While on ground learning was important and something I aggressively worked on in the first few months, I had to face scepticism and work doubly hard to get buy-in of the key stakeholders and clinical teams. Healthcare delivery organisations have been one of the last on the transformative curve and have now started adapting to technology and professional and corporate management styles. I joined the industry at the beginning of this turning point, hence also had to evangelise this change for other co-workers to embrace. What helped was investing lot of on job time into thorough subject matter learning – hospital is a very intricate place with ample to learn on all facets of clinical, operational nuances as well nitty gritties of functioning of parallel processes to a common output. Having this subject matter knowledge, coupled with management expertise helped me build confidence with my peers. It also helped to take new initiatives as early goals for myself and share them with the team – hitting those goals early in my tenure helped to prove credibility with the team.
Another challenge that I faced, and is commonly faced by many young leaders was that of transition – shifting from co-worker to boss and leading those who are older. In addition to proving my work intellect, it was important and thus helped to value the experience of the others on the team. Empower and delegate to them and do regular one on one meetings to add value and resolve issues. Giving and asking for objective feedback, maintaining honesty and consistency in interactions and putting team success before self-success helped me bridge this gap very smoothly. All in all, humility is a key virtue –to be one of the people and keeping organisation before self is what wins credibility and trust.
Your journey from starting up your hospital (in your current organisation) to leading to where it is now has been quite exciting. Tell us more about it.
To sum up the experience of launching a new hospital in 3 words – it is "Planning, Detail Orientation & Teamwork". One of the most essential aspects was to understand the market we are entering. Here, doing a market research study was a great insight. It helped us gauge the competitive landscape, understand preferences of potential customers in the catchment area, preferences of influencers along with our competition's and our own existing brand perception. It determined disease profiling and demand sizing of our market, as well as helped in devising marketing strategy, pricing for the hospital and taking key decisions for the Medical program.
Setting up of a strong medical program with the right set of clinicians, equipment and infrastructure was most key in ensuring success of the hospital, and that is where more than half my time was invested. Devil is in the details – with all the planning and framework creation, thinking through the minutest details determined successful implementation. Each and every process needed to be thought through to the last mile – as even the smallest of things like delay in procurement of storage boxes, missing to have a dustbin in a room or a Lan cable for connection can hold up operations of that area.
Hiring the right people precedes this. And next to develop a process of induction, training, orientation and supervision, a new hire must go through to get into a role – success of this person in this role really depends on ensuring the quality of this process. Hence, spending as much time with people on this as possible gave the best return on time invested at this point. It helped to work side by side with people on tasks and get in the trenches with them when needed.
Starting off on a positive note, with a strong medical program and processes, we have been able to successfully position our hospital as the preferred destination of domestic and international patients for super specialty care. We have expanded our patient base manifold and were able to run hospital efficiently to achieve profitability within 11 months of operations.
What changes should the industry bring in its functioning to support careers of women more aptly?
It is important to not underestimate one's own potential and accomplishments. Women are often held to higher standards and expected to do better to prove the same point. In turn, many women shy away from internalising and acknowledging their own accomplishments and asking for their right in terms of role, designations, remuneration and so on. Women leaders should overcome need for perfection and be confident in representing their achievements and asking for commensurate rewards. Confidence begets credibility and this has to start with the women themselves.
One advice you would give to other women leadership aspirers to take better control of their lives/careers.
Address unconscious bias: there is often unsaid unconscious bias in organisations that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. It could be in hiring, promotions, or in delegation and recognition of work. All employees must be taught how to manage this unconscious bias and as a culture it should start from the top and leaders must walk the talk.
Organisations should have a clear strategy to drive women leadership – this should be embedded into the culture and all employees should embrace it. While HR can do its bit to propagate this agenda through initiatives, its success would depend on how the entire work force imbibes and works towards it.
Remove stereotypes; women are often judged and measured against higher standards. For instance, women employees can often be seen as competent or liked but not both. Organisations must make room for diverse teams and create an inclusive culture to root these out. Provide mentorship opportunities to young women to help build their confidence and give them career direction. Provide flexible work environment to high-performing women employees, and give opportunities to women to return to paid workforce after breaks on account of maternity, other personal reasons etc.