This is the second in a new series of Q&A articles where we interview healthcare industry trailblazers who brought their talent and experience to Innovaccer to help our customers accelerate innovation and digital transformation.
Sonali Damle joined Innovaccer in April 2021 as our Chief People Officer. Her creativity and passion for empowering others to achieve the unimaginable has been a driving force in Innovaccer’s success in attracting top talent. We spoke with Sonali to learn her story— how her love of meaningful experiences and innovative ways to bring out the best in others was the perfect fit for Innovaccer.
Have a question for Sonali? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I currently live in Houston, Texas, with my husband, two children, and our dog, Ecko, who we adopted in 2020 during the pandemic. He’s our “Covid dog,” and he’s been so much fun!
I’ve lived all over the world. In the U.S., I’ve lived in New York, New Jersey, California, Washington, Georgia, and now Texas. My family has also lived in Asia. We love to travel together, and we’re all into adventure sports. I scuba dive, my husband flies, and both of our kids fence. We’ve been skydiving and gliding together—we enjoy learning about cultures and people. As a family, we choose to celebrate with experiences instead of gifts.
We’ve traveled all over the world, but one of our most memorable family trips was when we explored our new home state of Texas. We had family visit, and we each picked different cities and landmarks. My niece picked a desert town called Marfa, which is known for art, and we saw an unexpected freestanding Prada store smack-dab in the middle of a highway with nothing else around. Marfa is known for that, as well as Region 59 and UFOs—who knew?
Oh my goodness, have you heard our cofounders’ (CEO Abhinav, COO Sandy, and CCO Kanav) story? It’s out of this world impressive and inspiring. When I first heard it, I wondered how these three young men, who weren’t from the U.S., were able to tackle U.S. healthcare, which is so nuanced.
They took a problem that many others attempted to tackle without much success and defied the odds to make it happen. Their willingness to take the risk, their audacity to dream, and their humility to learn every day is a rare combination. I feel lucky to be part of this magic!
As Chief People Officer, my job is to make sure our people are successful. It’s a fast growing, hyperscaling company, or as Reid Hoffman refers to it, “blitzscaling.” Keeping up with what people need to feel empowered—to be able to feel that they can thrive and succeed here—is challenging because we’re moving so quickly. And it’s challenging not only for new people, but also for those who have been here from the early days. There’s a need for someone to come in and help or drive programs and initiatives that will empower “the audacious.”
I came from a culture that had a lot of focus on talent. It was a very people-centric culture. When I started here, I had a list of things I wanted to achieve and was asked in a board meeting, “But for whom are you doing this? Do you know who can be successful here? Do you know what it takes to thrive at Innovaccer?” So, I had to figure out what the success DNA for Innovaccer had been to date. When I did, we came up with the goal: to entice, attract, and empower the audacious to achieve the unimaginable.
And each word of this goal relates back to what has been the success mantra at Innovaccer. “Audacious” represents the founders’ story, which is bold and unimaginable. They talk about taking moonshots. They had the audacity to dream big, and we continue to dream big. So we need to attract people who are like that, admire that trait, and want to have that trait.
My job is to inspire my team to find these people, entice, and empower them to pull out all the stops, remove roadblocks, and do so while Innovaccer is scaling rapidly. We need to find ways to get us there in an agile way by putting something out that’s workable and continuously refining it steadily and systematically. And we’re doing it.
My team is the role model of servant leadership. Their collaboration with each other, hunger to do better for everyone every day, to learn, be service-oriented, and do whatever it takes to help get to the finish line is what makes working here so energizing. The camaraderie is contagious. They exhibit the traits that we want to hire for!
We have four pillars: talent acquisition, business partnering, learning and development, and one that’s not very typical in the HR world: change and transformation. In fact, we want to change the narrative to be “people-first” and call ourselves the PX (People Experience) team.
Is there such a thing as a typical day? I have three things I try to do routinely. The first is to align my hours with our team in India. There are some nights when I’m awake to meet their morning work hours and some nights when they meet my hours. I’ve been very diligent about that. Two nights a week, I schedule meetings to ensure I connect with the team during their hours, and on the other nights, I block my calendar to have working hours for my time zone. .
The second thing I do is schedule a standing lunch break every day. And finally, I handle a couple of informal connect calls when I’m walking Ecko. I get the added benefit of getting more steps in when walking while chatting with someone on the phone. I try to spend at least an hour every day connecting with a team member. It’s important to me to make time each day to chat with people, especially as we’re transforming ourselves every day at this pace.
On average, my morning starts with calls with the India team, and then throughout a given day, there are usually two or three big initiatives that I’m working on. Even though we have more than a dozen initiatives going on, two or three projects will take priority at any given point. And before you know it, it’s time to hit the sack. There isn’t a moment of boredom, and yet, there’s flexibility to spend some time on things that matter outside work. I value this.
We hold ourselves as accountable to our people as we do our customers, investors, and the patients we support. Our people are hungry to make a difference. While we come from many different worldviews—engineering, medical professionals, past companies, geographies, tenures, and experiences—there’s one thing we have in common: we all thrive on big challenges. The leadership here is focused on making this a differentiated superpower through initiatives and training, professional development opportunities, and recognition.
If you want to have a role in perhaps one of the last sectors with a major digital disruption, that’s changing the world in a purpose-driven space and that gives you energy, passion, and purpose for yourself, Innovaccer is for you. Beyond that, you have an opportunity here to build something.
I would say it’s a good fit if you have the appetite for it. You get to work with colleagues who have amazing grit, hustle, and perseverance to get results, come what may. And honestly, this is an opportunity to learn what it’s like to build a company. You can see it up close and personal.
Innovaccer is a company that’s humble. We don’t get everything right, but we try really hard. At the same time, Innovaccer has heart. People care about each other, and the bonds are strong. I think it’s pretty amazing. You should join if you want to fast-track your learning of what it takes to build a company from scratch to being a unicorn in six years. This is just the beginning of something truly special.
Being a mom and having a global career has built resilience in my family. My daughter is incredibly independent and a national-level competitive fencer. My son is a freshman in the U.S. Air Force Academy. I feel my husband and I have raised two really amazing kids. Doing that while having a busy career is something that makes me walk stronger every day.
It’s a big work in progress! However, I feel people are starting to recognize the need to work on professional development and coach the people they work with. The mechanics of doing this is being taken seriously, even though everything is so busy growing the business.
I think people have seen the value of putting in the effort and that receiving feedback is an act of caring. Why would you put yourself out there to give feedback unless you cared enough for the person to grow from it? We’ve moved the needle in that area and are turning a page, but there’s still more work to do!
My best experiences have been when my supervisors have walked by my side and have been willing to invest in building a trusted relationship. I’ve had amazing mentors like Allison Sagraves, who I worked for in my first job after business school. Her openness to new ideas and relentless curiosity, her own career as a senior executive in banking, her educational accolades, and her personal story as a mother of three children gave me a great role model from the get-go!
Fast-forward to today, where the tables have turned and I have a boss (Abhinav) with a newborn who makes me think harder and do better every day with his immense hunger for knowledge and ability to always be a step ahead! I am on point to keep up my learning, work side by side with my team when they need it, and be a servant leader. It really is about the people you surround yourself with. As I say, interview for skill but always hire for attitude.