Cronk highlighted the governor's Better
Government for a Better Minnesota initiative, describing it as both an
internal and external effort to change the culture of state government to
one of continuous improvement and better value. The work is focused on
changing state government to assure that continuous improvement, providing
better services, emphasizing results and performance management are
embedded in the shared culture of every state employee. "We are well aware
that we are but one administration and that we are merely tenants in those
state office buildings. If we're going to have a sustained impact across
the decades, we want to make sure that we set up the building blocks for
maintaining a long-term solution."
"We make sure when good work is happening in
different agencies, we're putting a spotlight on that and encouraging
those agencies to share their best practices with other state agencies,"
He pointed out that state government must now
provide and assess services on the basis of a performance-management
system. "You'll see as we roll out the budget for the next biennium that
we are linking every program activity not just to the statewide outcome,
but also to specific performance measures."
Cronk praised the culture Gov. Dayton has
created among the cabinet itself. The governor looked for commissioners
who are invested in reforming and reshaping how state government is run.
"It's not just about maintaining territorial control," Cronk said. "It's
not about ego. They're taking a cue from the governor and saying, 'How do
we truly think collectively about providing better state services?'" He
said in addition to regular cabinet meetings, the governor brings the
senior leadership team together once every quarter to probe how we can
manage our state better.
An interviewer commented that Cronk is the
closest thing we have to a state planning director. Cronk responded that
the administration purposely did not give the responsibility for state
service reform to just one agency. A planning department would be an easy
budget-cut target for the legislature, he said. "There's a benefit to
creating a culture where we're building capacity within every state agency
to think more strategically about how they're spending their money and how
they're working with other agencies."
Another interviewer noted that one criticism of
the Better Government Better Minnesota initiative is that is that while we
can work really hard on this initiative, from a budget point of view, it
won't make much difference. The state keeps only 10 percent of its budget
for state government activities, while the rest goes out to cities,
counties and school districts. If we could get even a 10 percent increase
in efficiency of state government, which would be an enormous
accomplishment, it would only amount to savings of one percent of the
Cronk responded that there are in fact real cost
savings. If we saved 10 percent, it would be from the general fund, one of
several funds that comprise total state spending. The general fund
accounts for more than half of the total budget.
Engage state employees in reform effort.
In response to a question about whether state
employees are buying into these changes or resisting them, Cronk noted
that there are 35,000 state workers and the commissioners are trying to
keep the spotlight on the good work being done.
"We're not blaming anyone in particular," he
said. "We're saying we can all do better. There are system structures in
place that we need to question. If we're not honoring the work that people
are doing and not valuing them as employees, we're not going to have their
full engagement in achieving some of these reforms."
He said 3,000 public employees in 23 agencies
and 20 counties have been trained through the state's Enterprise Lean
program, which started as a partnership with General Mills. Enterprise
Lean is an initiative for improving organizational performance and results
in state agencies. Using process management principles and methods, its
goal is to help state government work better for both its customers and
employees.The program, he said, encourages rank-and-file employees to
rethink the state's delivery systems and services.
Cronk said he feels the emphasis on continuous
improvement in state agencies could make a significant difference, but
it's not going to be easy or quick. "How do you create a foundation? How
do you make sure that a culture is embedded in all of state government
that will be sustainable long past the tenure of this administration?" he
asked. "That's been the challenge and the real opportunity."
A participant asked what lessons Cronk has
learned from working for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He pointed
out that Bloomberg allows executive freedom and encourages proactive,
innovative thinking. He sees that now in the Dayton administration, but
said it has not always been encouraged in the past. "We must think more
creatively and create a culture of encouraging, valuing and honoring how
we can think differently about our work. It's about hiring good people,
but then allowing them to go forth and try new things."
He added that planning for the state's changing
workforce would be part of this process. The state government workforce is
"not getting any younger." In fact, sixty percent of his staff could
retire in the next three to five years; across all of state government
that proportion averages 41 percent. He called it "a huge challenge" to
try to retain that talent, knowledge and information. It is also a "huge
opportunity" to rethink how those jobs are structured and how the state
can create a workforce geared toward the next generation.
"How do we make sure we're preparing public
service for a new set of leaders? It's really by rethinking how we're
doing our work," he said.
Make better use of state data.
Cronk said agencies are reexamining their use of
available data. The state is working with consultants and private
institutions to analyze whether data is effectively informing
decision-making. "There are lots of new tools and technologies out there
to help us decipher and choose best how to use that data.
Who is responsible for managing this set of data
versus that set? How can we work more collaboratively with our partners
who may be in one of those other silos? It's a new way of thinking."
Cronk said he saw close-up Mayor Bloomberg's
consistent emphasis on data-driven decision-making. "So it shocked me how
fearful some state agencies and state employees were of using data to make
decisions," he said. There was a real concern that the data could result
in an agency's budget being cut or jobs being cut. "There's a sense of
keeping information close to the chest. That's a huge problem when you're
trying to make changes in how state government is run."
"We may have a ton of data but no useful
information. We need to make sure we can use that data to inform our
Keep the Department of Administration's main
service; redesign focus on administrative services.
Cronk said Minnesota's Department of
Administration was created in 1939 to reform and professionalize state
government administrative services. That mission persists, but today it
also includes providing the best value in state services. Administration's
key services are procurement, real estate and leasing.
He said his department is concerned primarily
with the piece of the redesign question dealing with administrative
services within state government. Since his department is a service agency
to other state agencies, his main concern is how the department can most
effectively support those agencies, allowing them to focus on their
mission rather than on administrative services. He concentrates on how to
share services better within state government and streamline processes.
The Department of Administration has several new
initiatives, among which are:
- Enhancing its small agency resource team that provides human
resources and financial services for small boards and commissions that
may not have the ability to do those back-office functions on their own.
- Collaborating more effectively with external public institutions,
like the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and
Universities system, and private institutions, like the Business
Partnership, the chambers of commerce and specific businesses, such as
General Mills. Cronk said such partnerships would encourage thinking
more broadly about the challenges that face state government and improve
the chances of successful redesign.
Cronk said he works closely with Dayton's
chief-of-staff, Tina Smith; Commissioner Jim Schowalter at the Department
of Management and Budget; and Carolyn Parnell of the Enterprise Technology
Office, the state's chief information officer.
"Together we provide the back-office functions
for the other state agencies," Cronk said. "We're working to highlight how
to work more collaboratively across agencies so other agencies can focus
their efforts on providing better, more efficient services."
Break down barriers across agencies.
A questioner asked whether Cronk is working to
improve the efficiency within the current silos of state government or
looking at improving the silo structure itself.
He responded with an example of improving the
silo structure. He said the state recently consolidated its entire
Information Technology staff throughout state government. Now they all
report to the state chief information officer, Carolyn Parnell of the
Enterprise Technology Office. He called it an example of "pooling the
collective resources within state government and breaking down barriers
across different agencies."
Fix state's budget and financial systems.
An interviewer commented that while state
governments are in bad shape around the country, some people think
Minnesota is in good shape, although others are not so sure.
"I walked into a session that led to an
unprecedented state government shutdown," Cronk replied. "My initial
reaction is that we have a lot of work to do on how to create a
sustainable financial footing for our government. To have our credit
rating downgraded was certainly a blow to thinking about ourselves on a
He said the state must fix its budget and
finances in a structural way, because it's not sustainable in its current
form. "We need to make sure we're committed to a long-term, sustainable
financial future for the state of Minnesota"
Work with local government partners.
One questioner commented that people are looking
at state agencies-the state portion of the state budget-but no one seems
to be looking at "the really big stuff" that goes out to the school
districts, the cities and the counties. He asked whether Cronk has a role
in reorganizing or even recommending reorganizing of any local government
Cronk responded that as a member of the cabinet,
he does have a role. His statutory authority within the Department of
Administration gives him some reorganization powers. "It needs to be a
conversation where we bring in a number of partners and work with school
districts and with our city and county partners," he said. "Sometimes
breaking down barriers across county lines works and sometimes it doesn't.