Martin Gathuru: Director of Operations - East Africa, Bridge
Leading with questions, overcoming operational constraints, and making data-driven decisions at scale
About our Guest
This episode’s conversation is with Martin Gathuru, based in Nairobi, Kenya. Martin is a professional Engineer with vast experience in Construction, Project and Facilities Management. His work has spanned roles at a range of companies in the region including the Co-Operative Bank of Kenya, the National Oil Corporation of Kenya, Andela, Nova Pioneer, and Penda Health. He most recently joined Bridge, a community school network, as their Director of Operations for East Africa.
Everyday Leadership in Action
Here are a few highlights from the conversation with Martin:
Lead through questions to bridge technical gaps: Martin once worked for a non-technical manager who oversaw a team of engineers. This manager skillfully led the team by leading with questions. He made sure everyone’s technical work was aligned with the project’s bigger picture by requiring them to explain clear and logical answers to his questions. This approach can be used broadly, since no one can be an expert in everything. Simple questions and prompts such as “Walk me through the process” and “How are we measuring success?” can be powerful and effective questions to ask as a manager. This is particularly relevant for individuals who grow into generalist roles rather than specialists.
Use new operational constraints to drive innovation and efficiency: Martin’s team of 36 staff across 6 teams now only has 10 days, compared with 2 months previously, between each school term to prepare over 100 school locations for their new semesters. This includes activities such as building maintenance and repairs, school material distribution, and other mission-critical preparation ahead of school re-openings. This has forced his team to challenge their previous assumptions and innovate around what needs to happen by Day 1 of the semester and work backwards to make the most of their resources and timelines.
Data-driven decision-making is highly reliant on agreement and trust in data quality and underlying assumptions: Martin spends time in his weekly team leadership meeting aligning on data sources and what nuance might be missing. This is true for him at Bridge, and was also important during his time at Penda Health, where data was used to determine where to open up new locations for their medical care network. While the full information will never be available, its vital to have the team onboard around why and how a data-driven decision is being made to make sure everyone is aligned moving forward. This is especially true in startup environments where there is often a lot of gray areas.
The Everyday Leader is a podcast featuring conversations with leaders from across Africa’s companies, organizations, and governments about their experience managing teams and projects throughout their careers.
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