Scott Baradell
Scott Baradell

You've probably heard the expression "Trust the Process." We use it at Idea Grove, in fact, when we talk with clients about our IDEA (ideate, develop, execute and analyze) methodology for project management.

But most folks who aren't NBA fans don't know the source of the term's popularity. In 2013, a player for the Philadelphia 76ers, Tony Wroten, told an ESPN reporter that his team's general manager, Sam Hinkie, had a plan and a process for rebuilding the team, which was then suffering through a 19-63 season.

"They tell us every game, every day, 'Trust the Process.' Just continue to build," Wroten said.

Path to Success—or Excuse for Failure?

The next season, the team won 18 games, then only 10 the following year—one of the worst seasons by any team in NBA history. The team picked up some high draft picks as a result of its poor record—led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons—and has now made the playoffs each of the past four seasons. Through it all, "Trust the Process" became a meme and even a chant by the crowd at 76ers games.

So trusting the process worked, right?

Well, not for Wroten, who washed out of the league before the 76ers ever achieved a winning record and was last seen playing in Spain.

And not for Hinkie, who lost his job during the 10-win 2015-16 season.

And maybe not even for Embiid and Simmons, who appear destined for a breakup via trade after failing to make it past the conference semifinals for the fourth year in a row.

Creating Processes Worthy of Trust

So, what's the point of process—and why should you trust it?

A colleague of mine at another PR agency likes to say, “process saves lives.” And it does, believe me. I’ve found out the hard way.

Until a few years ago, Idea Grove never seemed to find time to create business processes, much less instill rigor in sticking to them. We were too busy with the day to day to focus on our long-term needs. As we've grown, we've seen the need to create a culture that places a premium on process.

The implementation of process has led to major improvements. There are the obvious and expected benefits, like efficiencies, economies and the ability to scale. And there are peripheral benefits too—like getting everyone on a team on the same page in terms of expectations around an activity or task.

Getting on the Same Page

Say you've trained your PR team on media list development. If you don’t know exactly why you're targeting certain journalists for a story, why have a target list at all, right?

But once that training is in place, managers can give more specific direction to their teams when they begin researching the media list by guiding them within the agency’s process. People know what is expected of them, and how their work fits into the bigger picture, because a process now exists.

Additionally, having a process can help soften the blow when it’s time to give a teammate some constructive criticism on a project. Instead of having to say things like, “your media pitch just isn’t very good,” it becomes a conversation about the process used to create the pitch:

  • How did you arrive at this structure and content for your media pitch?
  • Did you use our process for building a customized pitch for each reporter?
  • Did you review all of the marketing material on this product launch, and did you interview a subject matter expert (SME) who could break down the marketing jargon, so it could be removed for the media pitch to be more fitting for journalists?
  • Did you research what the industry analysts are saying about this product category and insert some of those stats into your pitch?

Then, feedback can be naturally inserted into that conversation as you walk through the process step by step.

That said, there are a couple of “gotchas” to be aware of when it comes to process.

When the Process Slows You Down

While it is true that process may save lives, it doesn’t actually save the planet. Meaning, it's not the be-all and end-all of your success. If you have a weak product or service offering, an incomplete strategy, the wrong staffing model, or you underbid a project, all the process in the world isn’t going to save you.

Even more insidious is the common association of process with organizational inertia. Process can be a crutch and a scapegoat. "We have a process for that” is often an excuse for why things take longer than they reasonably should.

I'm reminded of a certain CEO who liked to move fast. He liked to take risks. He drove his team to innovate, integrate and roll out new products quickly.

Once, when he unveiled an aggressive timeline for a product launch, his engineers balked.

"But we have a process for that," they told him.

"Great, your process should really speed things up then," he responded dryly.

Whether or not that was the best moment for sarcasm, it nevertheless touched on an important truth: If your process slows you down, it might be time for a new process.

The real benefit of process should be that once you take the time to create it, it accelerates your workflow so that you can achieve more results for clients, not fewer.

Like Strategy, Process Requires Fluidity

Processes—like your overall business strategy—must be fluid rather than rigid.

It’s good to stick with a process that’s working, but knowing which factors will impact your process is key. You have to stay ahead of those changes. Technology disruption, growth, new employees, new clients and other factors can all warrant a fresh look at your processes.

At Idea Grove, we like to have continued conversations about process improvement. If your team is unhappy with a process, don’t force it—make adjustments. The goals and the structure of the process have to stand up over time and under the weight of change.

Also, continually seek out input from clients on your processes—what they like, what they don't like, what they think takes too long, what they would change if they could.

Ultimately, if your processes don't work for your clients, they don't work at all.

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Scott Baradell is founder and CEO of Idea Grove, a unified PR and marketing agency for B2B and technology clients. He is editor of TrustSignals.com, offering news, analysis and advice on the latest in brand trust.