The Initiative on Government Improvement and the Executive Education program within the David Eccles School of Business hosted a Top Operations & Performance (TOP) Talk on Thursday, May 16, an event that featured Boyd Matheson (host of KSL NewsRadio’s Inside Sources) as keynote speaker, and honored Jonathan Ball (Utah legislative fiscal analyst and Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute senior advisor) as the inaugural TOP Performer of the Year.

Matheson, who has previously worked as Chief of Staff for U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), as the Opinion Editor and Head of Strategic Reach at The Deseret News, as Symantec’s Director of Corporate Communication, and as President of the Sutherland Institute nonprofit thinktank, gave a multifaceted presentation on how governmental entities and private-sector companies alike can simultaneously simplify their approaches to maximize impact while also expanding their vision and offerings to generate growth.

Regarding the former, he recounted a conversation he had decades ago in Japan with a 94-year-old man who left him with a proverb of sorts: “Elephants don’t bite, but fleas do.” The message? The big things tend to take care of themselves, while it’s the little things that often hold us back or propel us forward. To that end, Matheson recommended an approach of leaning into simplicity and avoiding overcomplication.

As for the growth component, he noted that most organizations begin with a commodity, which then yields a product, which subsequently necessitates a service — and that all too often, that’s where everything stops.

“It’s part of the innovator’s dilemma: You get so busy doing the day-to-day that that’s all you do is the day-to-day,” said Matheson. “So you never really progress, you don’t innovate, you don’t move forward.”

The most successful organizations, he explained, operate on two additional levels: experience and transformation. By turning a product or service into an experience for customers, and, beyond that, into a transformational movement, entities can avoid getting stagnant.

Matheson’s final two bits of advice for organizational leaders: 1. Rather than exclusively hiring specialists, institutions “need people who can connect the dots,” people who can look beyond their narrow purview, ignore existing silos, and create solutions through innovation; and 2. Be “radically curious.” Look at your systems and ask questions — ‘Why is it that we do it that way?’ and ‘How long have we done it like that?’ for instance.

TOP certificate course instructors Glen Schmidt, Staci Ghneim, and Kristen Cox each followed with their own presentations, with the latter drawing rapt attention from attendees as she emphasized designing the right solutions for the right people and thus addressing systemic causes rather than offering general solutions that merely mirror the surface-level effects of a problem.

Finally, Ball came to the fore, first being recognized and honored for the impact he’s had in strengthening Utah’s budget and economy with his work for the state legislature, before taking the floor and driving home the practical applications of the theories that the TOP program teaches.

This past Tuesday’s meeting of the legislature’s Executive Appropriations Committee (the body’s top brass who make final decisions on budgets) marked a crucial turning point for accountability in governmental spending, he explained.

Each May meeting of the group typically entails a wrap-up session that includes a recap of how the public’s money was spent. But, “For the first time, on Tuesday, we also talked about how we’re going to better measure the outcomes that we’re purchasing with that money,” Ball said.

There was an acknowledgment, he added, that existing benchmarks for appraising performance of fiscal-allocation decisions were woefully lacking, that too few measurable targets were in existence.

And so, they are taking overdue steps to step up such analyses.

“The whole purpose of why you’re coming to this class is to change the conversation,” said Ball. “We talk so much — at least in my job — about how much money we can spend … but we don’t talk a ton about what we’re buying with that money.”

For those interested in learning more about the Top Operations & Performance certificate program, please contact Andrew Wilkinson in Executive Education or Staci Ghneim in the Initiative on Government Improvement. Registration is currently open for the next course offered Sept. 9-12.

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