In order to counteract the reluctance of state managers to take risks in the development of innovative solutions to old problems, the lack of client orientation in the delivery of state services, and the dearth of public and private sector collaboration, the State of Minnesota initiated Strive Toward Excellence in Performance (STEP). The purpose of STEP is to encourage and facilitate the implementation of creative approaches to service delivery as suggested by the practitioners of social services themselves. Members of the public sector connect with private sector sponsors in order to get their reform effort or new proposal off the ground. The result has been the creation of several important initiatives that benefit the people of Minnesota, as well as a heightened level of job satisfaction among government employees.
This unusual partnership between mid-level government managers and their counterparts in the private sector is making innovation easier to achieve throughout Minnesota state government. A small staff in the State's Department of Administration has been charged with encouraging career employees to suggest ways of improving or expanding the government services they deliver. Good ideas are approved with a minimum of red tape. The ideas' initiators are then given responsibility for implementing them with private sector assistance if necessary. If the idea is successful, the originators are honored in an awards ceremony.
The single driving force behind STEP is the expressed desire of citizens to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of state government. This desire expressed itself via a strong demand for reduced state spending, and an equally strong demand for improved services by the state. STEP has replaced bureaucratic rigidity with a system of risk-taking and flexibility: a state employee has an idea which he or she believes will improve performance in his or her work unit, and when the concept is approved the employee is responsible for its implementation. This program has yielded some 40 pilot projects, initiated in 22 state agencies to improve productivity, service, and cost effectiveness under the program.
Among the most successful innovations was an advertising program that increased sales of park permits by more than 300 percent. Another policy that came out of STEP was a work and training program for welfare recipients which improved their competitive advantage on the job market.
STEP differs in important ways from many previous attempts to make government more effective. Prior efforts have often been adversarial, focused on cost reduction, and imposed from the top down. Such efforts, often recommended by ad hoc groups with little understanding of the history of details of government operations, provoke resistance among public managers and also undermine both their self-esteem and public image.
STEP, in contrast, is a voluntary partnership usually initiated by a mid-level public manager. It is focused on quality of service rather than on cost, and it is designed to create long-term change.