As I mentioned yesterday, Governing chose Atlanta as the site for its 2009 Managing Performance conference. And it wasn't just because you can get a cheap flight to Hartsfield.
Georgia is a state that has fully embraced the drive for better performance. Governor Sonny Perdue's pledge to make his state the best managed in the nation has overhauled the way the state looks at the performance of government. (The results are impressive: Georgia has been the most improved state since Governing began our Grading the States project.)
But for Perdue, the keynote speaker at our conference this year, it all boils down to a simple idea. "What is the definition of 'government'? It's doing things on a daily basis to make people's lives better."
The point, Perdue said, is to solve citizens' problems that they can't solve themselves. In his administration, he said, "we don't talk about mission or strategy -- well, we do talk about them -- but ultimately, when it gets down to what the customer wants, they just want their problems solved."
That's why Georgia has adopted a "full-service, Wal-Mart-type retail mentality," Perdue said. That means a true focus on customer service.
Zeroing in on better customer service isn't just about making citizens happy, though. Perdue said an emphasis on problem solving has inspired motivation and passion in the ranks of the people who work for the state of Georgia.
Bigger than that, though, this focus on efficiency and service has better equipped the state to handle fiscal challenges. Perdue, who took office in January 2003, noted that his administration "is going to be bookended by wonderful revenue losses." But there's a big difference between the financial downturn earlier this decade and the current economic recession. "This time," Perdue said, "because of the culture, the attitude, and the workmanlike competence, it's been better. I won't say easier, but better. Had we not put in place the management changes we have over the past five or six years, we would just be adrift out here."