Jerry Ash: The Disruptive Professor

HR for Indie Entrepreneurs

For several weeks I’ve been searching for an HR professional to become Head of Intellectual Capital (IC) for The Company of One Plus (TCO+), which operates using a socially responsible, self-managed, profit-sharing business model.

The company is designed to disrupt the command and control model of management we’ve been subjected to for a couple of hundred years.

I’m not just looking for a manager. I’m looking for a cheerleader and a coach.

Let me tell you why.

At mid-career I gave up my successive freedoms as a university professor, journalist, politician and entrepreneur to work as a VP for a hierarchy representing the most powerful of all hierarchies — a hospital association.

Hospital association boards are composed of hospital administrators who represent the special interests of themselves and their institutions, not necessarily the goals and objectives of the association they govern. They are largely not about self-improvement, but self-interest. In many cases they are competitors with one another.

First thing I knew I was CEO of a hospital association out West.

And suddenly I was a lobbyist representing the largest, nationally maligned hospital over the issue of healthcare cost containment as well as a scattering of struggling frontier hospitals across a vast area of the desert.

In addition to the cross-town rivalries on the board, I had to contend with a competing rural hospital association with a board serving the special interests of small rural hospitals. Its board was composed of a sizeable number of my own board members.

Their rivalries were exceeded only by their jealousies and I (being still of independent mind and a small town guy) admit I did more for the smalls than the bigs.

After being the monkey in the middle for seven years I sensed my time was growing short.

A head hunter visited my office to ask if I knew of anyone who would be a good candidate for the position of executive director of one the country’s largest organ procurement organizations (OPOs).

Well, I said “How about me?” Next thing I knew I had changed saddles.

But the ride seemed familiar.

Again I was at the mercy of the whims and fancies of a board of governors that were there to represent the best interests of their institutions.

As well as their transplant surgeons and their proprietary patients who were waiting for a donor. Not only were the board members hospital administrators, they were cardiac care physicians and transplant surgeons. And then there were the geographic divisions from one end of the state to the other.

Believe me, they talked altruism but underneath it, you must know they were all business. Healthcare can be ruthless.

In spite of it, I found my new responsibility the most rewarding of my entire career.

I quickly realized that, even though my title was Executive Director, my new charges needed no direction.

Which was good since I knew absolutely nothing about organ procurement, let alone transplant.

My guess is I was hired to administrate using my communication skills and experiences as a former politician and moderator of another type of dysfunctional governing board.

But what I really inherited was 60 of the most heroic human beings on the face of this earth.

Most of them were organ procurement coordinators who were passionate about their work and willing to stand by a prospective donor day and night for days on end until the family agreed with the doctor that the patient was indeed brain dead. The time had come to pull the plug and retrieve the organs.

They were both premier medical professionals and social workers.

In my mind, my job was not to serve the board but to act as a buffer between the board and the work. Instead of being commander-in-chief, I was there to be the enabler. To shield a passionate workforce of courageous nurses who wanted more stress than they found in the trauma center. That is to say, to shield them from the micromanagement of the governing board . . . and me!

Most importantly, my mission was to listen and learn from those who did the work and to help them make their dreams come true.

Two of the procurement coordinators were men with EMS (Emergency Medical Services) backgrounds.

I was particularly interested in their ideas because my first impression of the OPO was that it was a 24/7 operation with an office went dark at 5 p.m. And my second revelation was that the service area centered on a few major hospitals where the transplants took place.

The tragedies that lead to transplants happen most often at night. And tragedies occur everywhere, not just the inner city.

My EMS guys had a great idea. Why couldn’t our OPO have a communications center just like EMS? It could and we would.

Soon we had all the hospitals networked with trained coordinators in each of them. We were the first OPO in the country to have such a center.

That was 25 years ago and today the OPO has grown from 60 to 300 brave souls who have boosted organ recovery and lifesaving transplants exponentially.

I didn’t do that.

THEY did.

So there you have it. The reason why I’ve developed a business model to provide friendly places where people have the freedom to reach their ultimate potentials with the help of leaders who coach, not command. Where people are passionate about their work — unrestrained and rewarded in kind.

You can do that.

And the world will be a better place.

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