Getting my Empathetic Gordon Gecko On

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By: Seth Cochran, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Seth Cochran, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. He will be blogging about his experience every month, and you can learn more about him, the other Young Champions, and the program here.

Can you imagine how the process of closing down a factory could possibly help extend healthcare to people in remote parts of the developing world? It sounds like a stretch, right? But this month, I have seen the link materialize before my very eyes.

The earliest days of my professional life were spent in the formal environment of a small private equity group that used large amounts of debt to buy underperforming businesses. After buying the companies, we then restructured them to improve function and profitability. In the fiercely competitive business world, this restructuring meant significantly reducing the workforce and adjusting roles and responsibilities so that fewer people could do more work. I grew up in this environment.

Fast-forward to February 2011. I was sitting in an engineering lab working with a mostly volunteer organization dedicated to extending communications to the far reaches of the world in order to save lives. I was nowhere near my former life in corporate restructuring…or was I?

I have grown close with many of my colleagues here at EHAS. Through several conversations, I learned that couple key people had taken some time away from EHAS and that other important people were trying to work through misunderstandings with each other that were affecting everyone’s performance.

As the information poured in, the situation started to feel very similar to several I had seen back in my restructuring days. Whenever people come together in a collective effort to accomplish something, structural design flaws eventually express themselves in the form of employee dissatisfaction and impaired performance. Nine times out of ten these issues are completely correctable by increased communication and slight functional redesign. There is nothing like an outside voice to catalyze that process.

As my enthusiasm and inner monologue increased on this topic, I realized that the voice proposing all these ideas of how to apply the restructuring experience to EHAS challenges was coming from the Gordon Gecko section of my memory banks. Only this time, Gordon’s steely eyes were perched in wondrous excitement, his greased back hair was disheveled, and he had traded the suspenders and white collar for a turtleneck and a tweed jacket. Gordon was ready to go citizen sector and I was more than glad to help.

So I drafted an email expressing my desire to lead an organizational study and explaining my qualifications. Not only were Andres and the team excited for my help, they wanted to move quickly. So I started working with another senior manager of EHAS to develop a plan that involved a two-tier interview process. I started the interviews in English and we are now doing the first round of analysis before follow-ups in Spanish take place in March. The final output will be a revised organizational structure that the entire team will have input into designing. This, of course, is a dramatic departure to restructuring projects of days past.

What I find fantastic about this month is that a part of my experience that I considered completely foreign and not applicable is proving to be an incredible tool that will help this organization work better and eventually save lives. Go Gordon go.