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Greene County is located in Southwest Missouri with a population of some 275,174, making it the fourth most populous county in Missouri. Its county seat is Springfield – home of SRC and The Great Game of Business. Due to the success of companies like SRC, Bass Pro Shops and O’Reilly Auto Parts, Greene County ranks in the top five counties nationwide based on economic strength and viability.
“Our business is the public's health, safety and welfare,” says Tim Smith, the County Administrator for Greene County. “But unlike a company like SRC, each of our departments has a different mission. We have struggled to find a way to bind ourselves together as we provide a whole spectrum of almost unrelated activities.” While Greene County might be home to a Who’s Who list of companies who have successfully weathered the Great Recession of 2008, the county itself, like many others across the U.S., has continued to struggle in managing its resources across its various departments. Specifi-cally, the cash balance in the county’s general fund is currently on life support. With tax increases politically unfeasible, the county has looked to the GGOB for other potential solutions.
The idea that a municipal government could learn from a private company like SRC was hatched when Tim Smith met Jack Stack back in 2010 as part of the Greene County Leadership Academy, a series of seminars designed to give county officials and employees a more in-depth understanding of the organization and its finances.
Smith quickly recognized that principles such as transparency and financial literacy weren’t just valua-ble to running a company like SRC, they could also work well in government. “Whether you are for profit or not, you can’t run an organization if you don’t know your numbers,” he says.
The rub, however, is that no matter how much common sense it made for Smith’s organization to adopt the GGOB, it wasn’t anyone’s decision alone to make since Greene County leadership is composed of 20 independently-elected officials. “We don’t have one person at the top who just says ‘Do this,’ and we just drop it in,” says Cindy Stein, the County Auditor.
Despite that challenge, folks like Smith and Stein, who is currently serving as the popularly-elected County Auditor, teamed up to organize a one-day seminar at SRC headquarters in August 2012 to get the GGOB ball rolling. “We had 50 people from the county attend, which we were very pleased with,” says Smith.
Stein kept up the momentum from that seminar by holding the first county-wide Huddle just two weeks later which she treated like a budget study session. “I knew I needed to act swiftly,” she says. “Tim had done all the ground work so all I had to do was push the train through the tunnel.”
The team followed up that first Huddle by adding a GGOB article to The Rotunda, its monthly newsletter, and by holding weekly steering committee meetings. Once a month, the Huddle is used to update attendees on the actual updates to the budget itself while other Huddles are used as teaching sessions. The team also began sending weekly emails to all employees that included a teaching moment from the previous week to help drive greater financial literacy and understanding of the budget.
While many county departments have no direct control over revenue, they did begin implementing a series of MiniGames inspired by Survivor and Family Feud where questions involved specific facts related to Greene County’s budget. “Just because someone’s job has nothing to do with money doesn’t mean they can’t solve a problem, eliminate an inefficiency or identify a new opportunity,” says Stein, adding that the winning department gets to showcase a trophy which has added some friendly competition to the equation.
The team also began a game based on the notion of a “job swap” where members from different departments spent a day with their peers to foster greater awareness of what each department does.
Perhaps more impressively for newcomers to the GGOB, the team began implementing High-Involvement Planning sessions, which are open to the public, along with a change in how the county approached its budget planning and forecasting methods.
“I think we are doing well overall,” says Smith. “But we’re not where we want to be. The task in front of us is to continue to push the game down into the organization more deeply and involve more and more employees at every level.”
- Growing Participation: When Greene County held its first county-wide Huddle, 18 people showed up. After playing the GGOB for almost a year, attendance at weekly Huddles has spiked to about 82 people.
- Opportunity Ahead: Greene County’s General Revenue Fund has more than 1,000 line items – which creates ample learning opportunities for the educational sessions.
- Sharing the Goods: Since many of the county’s 750 employees work the second or third shift, Huddle attendees have stepped up to the responsibility of sharing what they learn with others in their department.
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