What We Don’t Know

Nearly every time I attend a training session, I am reminded how much I don’t know and how much of what I believed to be true is not.  A good education should really teach humility as its first lesson.


The City is training the second round of “Green Belts” this week in an effort to find better ways of doing things.  I believe Albany has been a well-run city for many years, but I also know we can do better.  Some of our processes and practices were developed in response to conditions that existed years ago; and, even though those conditions changed, our corresponding actions have not.


Scott Lasater from the Lasater Institute is helping us use new tools (or at least new to us) to look at ourselves in different ways.  Like almost every other city I know, we have routinely looked at annual performance measures and gauged the percentage change from the previous year.  Drawing conclusions from such limited data can easily lead to wrong answers and incorrect responses.  “Green Belts” in several departments are already evaluating data differently than they have in the past.  Our expectation is that we can save time and money without having to make large investments.


Some may view this approach as just another management initiative that really won’t change things.  As someone who has been through several generations of management initiatives, I can testify that things have changed.  Productivity gains from computers, new software, the Internet, and electronic equipment to name a few have allowed local governments to increase services and offer better compensation to city employees.  I believe the only real hope future generations have for prosperity is to continue increasing knowledge and productivity. 


Changing things for the better will never work if the commitment is confined to a few managers or supervisors who have gone through a training program.  My expectation is that employees throughout the City will have the opportunity to learn more about process improvement and evidence-based decision making in the months ahead.  Interested employees should contact Bob Woods so that future classes can be scheduled.  We have been able to hold down training costs by partnering with other jurisdictions.  Despite severe budget cuts, the City of Salem has sent more than 20 employees to the first two sessions.


I will be glad when the first week of training concludes on Friday because I’m not accustomed to sitting in a classroom for eight hours a day.  Work is piling up in my office, and my wife and I are leaving for a vacation in a couple of weeks.  I also need some time to reflect on what I’ve been learning and to begin to think of how it can be applied to my work.  At the very least, I’ve learned that some of my old assumptions needed changing and that a good dose of humility will do more good than harm.