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PPI leadership coaching helping build a better Oakland

Updated: Oct 30, 2023


Good government thought leader Ratna Amin sat down with PPI to discuss her work on Oakland's highest priority problems and how PPI's leadership coaching helped her move the needle.

As a 20-year advocate for social change and better government in the Bay Area, Ratna Amin has an impressive resume on schools, transit, and good governance. In 2022, PPI Principal (and former Oaklander) Ryan Hunter had the privilege of coaching Ratna while she worked to pull together problem-solvers in Oakland City Hall.

"If you care about government working and appreciate what government does, you have to care about supporting the performance of each and every person in government."

PPI: What is your career about? What is the work you've been doing in Oakland?

I love helping leaders in and near government solve sticky problems. I'm a jack of all trades: I've done a lot of work in transportation, infrastructure, and city government.


At the beginning of last year, Oakland's leaders launched three "impact teams" -- Team Clean, Team Housed, and Team Safe -- targeting some of Oakland's most important needs: addressing dumping and encampments, housing people, and reducing homicides and shootings. My role was to organize and facilitate these teams to track metrics to see how we're doing and to run sprints or pilot projects to improve.


What challenges did these teams encounter? What prompted you to seek out coaching?

The teams are doing so much work on the ground. I sought coaching on how to refocus operational conversations to data and learning conversations. One example: team disagreement about what data and metrics they wanted to use across their departments. They had data, but they had friction in sharing it and using it in one document to talk about performance. I knew there were best practices out there for using data to run meetings around government performance and how to structure a pilot or improvement project. But I didn't inherit a toolbox for working with interdepartmental teams to manage performance -- each department was going it their own way. I needed help creating customized tools for the context I was in and the individuals I was working with.

"I knew there were best practices out there... but I didn't inherit a toolbox. People all did it their own way."

What were some of the tools you got through coaching?

I learned essential tools to get at what our systems are producing or not producing. For example, a practical, small feedback loop to plan what is to be done, measure the result, and come back to the group to talk about it.


What I've been trying to do is to create consistency in how we talk about things. Ryan pointed me to the A3 improvement project framework, which has been really easy to customize for a variety of needs. I use the A3 questions over and over again across the teams and sub-teams.


For example, on one Impact Team, I've been able to unite two departments around one framework for performance. One team interacts with the public (in this case, businesses), while the other manages City services (in this case, refuse pickup). But I realized in our work that the customer voice was not in our learning loop.


By focusing these teams on a common goal, they can learn and adapt together. The result is a continuous learning process that can continue without my facilitation. That felt like a breakthrough!

"The result is a continuous learning process that can continue without my facilitation."

I'm still using these tools: Just last week, I used the A3 framework in a one-hour phone call, and we made lots of progress.


What was your experience of coaching like?


It was great! It's easy to feel daunted by organizational change in government: so much has already been tried, and there's so many books and methodologies out there. Coaching let me come up with specific approaches to work with my teams and stakeholders.


I looked forward to our calls, because I could show up authentically with my current issues, and we broke them down and got to next steps within an hour -- plus Ryan shared resources with me that I could look at offline.

"I could show up authentically with my current issues, and we broke them down and got to next steps within an hour."

Where are you and the Impact Teams now in solving problems together?

So many important initiatives in the City are inter-departmental: No one team or department can solve a problem like dumping or violence. It's a holistic, team effort. That makes it a challenge -- but very important -- to share and look at data.


"[Performance management] is human-to-human work."

This is really human-to-human work. We don't have sophisticated, automated data and performance management systems. People really need to be able to speak the same language about data and cooperate for it to become usable for management and the public.


This work -- helping people use data, share data, and get it into digital form --

takes persistence, commitment, and a lot of empathy. If you can push past that place where it gets hard, maybe you can overcome something nobody else has before. For our teams, that meant being a facilitator, coming up with an action plan to improve data sharing, and simplifying processes so they could share with more accuracy.


What would you say to someone who's never had coaching?

Try it! As a professional, you don't have the time to read every, know every expert, or watch every webinar. Coaching is a much more efficient way to get exactly what you need for the job at hand.

If you have little kids, you know that there's a million sleep books, and they all have different advice. It's better to get advice specific to your life and your situation.

Any parting thoughts?


Here's my PSA: We need government to work far better than it does!


I'm sad to see how little we've invested in some of our government employees. They take on new responsibilities all the time without the tools to help them succeed. If you care about government working and appreciate what government does, you have to care about supporting the performance of each and every person in government. That's why I believe in this work.


Interested in exploring coaching for yourself or your staff?



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