Greene County Saving Money Using Adapted Business Model

Feb 7, 2017

Greene County employees are playing a game and saving money in the process.  KSMU’s Michele Skalicky tells us about a business model the county has adopted.

Each Tuesday, Greene County employees gather for what they call a huddle session.  There’s a presentation and usually information about finances during the 30 minute meeting.  This particular week, Becky Borthwick, associate circuit judge, talked about a typical day in her courtroom.

It’s part of The Great Game of Government, adapted from the Great Game of Business model, created by local businessman Jack Stack, which emphasizes open book management techniques.

Greene County Auditor Cindy Stein came up with the idea of adapting it for government when the county was struggling financially and looking for solutions.

"We had tried cuts and more cuts and more cuts, and that really wasn't digging us out of the hole that we were in.  We had demands that exceeded the revenue that was currently coming in, and so we thought, 'why not try what was the Great Game of Business?'" she said.

That was in 2012 after the recession, she said, and the county wasn’t coming out of it like officials felt it should be.

Trysta Herzog said the program works by incentivizing employees to work more efficiently and having them “buy in” to the organization.

"And to realize that they can make an impact on that bottom line by assessing their everyday tasks and the resources they use within the county," she said.

According to Herzog, the business model they've adapted is like a game.  For example, she said they might challenge offices to save paper and will create a game board to show their progress, including a goal that's illustrated in that game board.

Since the program was implemented, Stein said employees are working to more accurately project their budgets, which gives the county commission more money in cash reserves to use for employee enhancement such as raises.  All county employees are invited to participate in the program.

At first, Stein wasn’t sure the program could work for government, but she said Jack Stack was convinced that it could.

"And if Jack thought that it could and we needed help, we were willing to go the distance and prove that, yes, it could work," she said.

According to Stein, Greene County is one of the first governments to implement the program at the level it has.

She said numbers show that the Great Game of Government is working.  Before it was implemented, the county’s cash reserves balance was well below what was needed at about $2 million, according to Stein.  But it soared to $10 million after the model was adopted.

And she said they now have reserves to complete maintenance work that had to be deferred because there was no money to pay for it.

This year in the budget, the county has been able to set aside more than $300,000 for merit increases for employees.  Herzog said they wouldn’t have been able to do that if the employees themselves weren’t finding those savings. "Being able to identify how much product they're using, for instance, in janitorial and realizing those numbers don't quite add up--what are we doing that's wasteful?--and then scaling that back so that we're using resources appropriately," she said. 

The county’s been recognized nationally for its efforts to save money through the Great Game of Government.  It’s been named a semifinalist in Harvard’s 2017 Innovations in American Government Awards Competition.

"I don't even know if I can describe how big of an honor it is," said Stein, "because it is such a select few that get acknowledged each year."

Stein said they’ve made it through the first two levels, and they hope to hear this month if they’ve made it to the third.

If they’re successful, county officials will travel to Boston to learn how to help other organizations by “expanding what’s working well in government to other governments,” according to Stein.  They’ve already helped other local entities, including City Utilities, the City of Springfield and non-profits, see how the Great Game of Government can help them.

Grand Prize winners will be announced in June and will receive $100,000 to develop a replication plan .