How to Learn to Trust the Process

In my previous posts, I have written about the roles of vulnerability, leadership, and acceptance of failure in attempting to innovate within government. In this post, I would like to expand that conversation by discussing why it’s important to have long-term commitment to trusting the process of culture change.

The Philadelphia 76ers are an example of this trust. So much so that their star center Joel Embid’s nickname is “the process.” The 76ers organizational story of embracing the “trust the process” mantra is detailed in The Bleacher Report article, The Definitive History of ‘Trust the Process (TTP).’” The article explores in-depth the strategy employed by the former GM Sam Hinkie, of tanking (sometimes described as losing a significant amount of games each year) so as to be placed in the prime position to draft high caliber players and rebuild the team’s roster. The strategic focus was described by some as “prioritizing wins in the long term rather than the short term.” Hinkie’s view was, “We talk a lot about process—not outcome—and trying to consistently take all the best information you can and consistently make good decisions. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but you reevaluate them all.”

One journalist reflected on Hinkie’s era and the mantra like this: “What TTP meant to me at the start was making the right moves based on the work you’ve put in and the experience you have. It meant continuing down that path many times, regardless of the results.”

The applicability to the task of reimagining the way government does its work is clear. If we only focus on results — efficiency, readily perceptible victories etc., rather than on the process of transformation, we may shortchange ourselves and the work.

A real-world example of this exists here at the Civic Design Lab. As a public-private partnership with the goal of becoming folded into the City of Oakland, we only have a certain amount of time to prove our worth. This likely means that we have to be far more results-focused rather than process focused.

This risk in this is apparent however and made clear by another example – Milwaukee’s declaration of racism as a public health threat.

In making this declaration County Executive Chris Abele stated that, “The resolution isn’t just about a public commitment to taking action, but is designed to foreground race equity in all areas of county decisions. On top of assessing internal policies and procedures to make sure racial equity is a ‘core element of the country,’ the resolution also vows to explicitly advocate for policies that improve the health of communities of color and offer trainings that ‘expand employees’ understanding of how racism affects people.’

The declaration in of itself obviously has the power to radically change the way in which the County conducts its day-to-day affairs. The question is, will it last long enough to have an impact? During a discussion of the declaration on WBUR’s On Point, Dr. Camara Jones, explained the inherent risks (at 32:43)

“Politicians often want a return that is going to manifest in their two or four-year term. Sometimes foundations want to make investments but they want to see a return in three years, five years. We need to be willing to invest in opportunities over a generation and don’t’ expect to see a return until we see the children who are born and grow up in those communities…”

(at 36:10) We have to invest in opportunities, measure the impacts on opportunities then wait patiently…otherwise we will continue to scrap important things because it’s not easy, it’s not low hanging fruit.

Are there things you are working on now that may not pay off until long after the current administration has left or the funders have moved on?

What sort of strategies are you adopting to get people to trust the process?

Brandon L. Greene is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He is the Manager of the Civic Design Lab in Oakland. Brandon is a graduate of Boston University Law School where he was a Public Interest Scholar and Martin Luther King Social Justice Fellow. Previously, Brandon was an Attorney and Clinical Supervisor at the East Bay Community Law Center where he created and lead the decriminalization of poverty clinic. Brandon’s article Depraved Necessities: Prison Privatization, Educational Attainment and the Path to Profit was published in 2013 by SRBLSA Law Journal. His forthcoming articles will be published in the Harvard Blackletter Law Journal and the Berkeley Criminal Law Journal. Twitter: @brandonlgreene. You can read his posts here.

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Brandon, this is a thought provoking question.: are there things you are working on now that may not pay off until long after the current administration has left or the funders have moved on?
Indeed, we have to plant the seeds in all aspects of our life to include the work environment. Thanks for a great article.