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NEW @ THE ACADEMY

Meet our Fellows: Peter Hutchinson (‘08)

Peter Hutchinson has a long history in the Minnesota public sector. In 1975, Hutchinson served as a Deputy Mayor of Minneapolis; he's served as the state's Commissioner of Finance, the superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools and even ran for governor on the Independent ticket in 2006. Most recently he was Accenture's lead strategist for its state, provincial and local government practice, focusing on the financial and operational concerns of top decision makers in government, nonprofit organizations and education.

Here is a recent interview with Peter:

  1. What do you enjoy most about the work you do?

I love working with courageous public leaders who know that doing things a little bit better won’t be  good enough if they are going to win the ongoing competition for public support. They know they must either transform what they do and how they do it or lose their credibility with the public..
 

  1. How did you get involved in public service and what motivates you to continue your work?

My mother was a member of the League of Women Voters. Every election she would go to her assigned polling place, record the results, and go to the nearest pay phone to call them in. I went along and was in charge of the coins she needed for the phone call. That experience got me hooked on elections and government.
 

  1. What advice would you give someone entering the Public Administration field?

Remember this: You’re not crazy, it’s the design. Every organization and every system produces exactly the results it is designed to produce and none other.  You can change the people, the budget, and the technology but if you don’t change the design you won’t change the results.

And then remember this: Stay a cucumber. When you are new to an organization you are like a precious cucumber fresh from the field. While you are still a cucumber you can point at ‘ the way we’ve always done it’ and ask why?  Soon enough, in the brine of that organization’s design, you will become a pickle. Stay a cucumber as long as you can.
 

  1. Looking at the present and into the future, what do you think a public administration “Grand Challenge” is or might be?

Public trust in our public institutions is at an all-time low. Public trust is the source of legitimacy for our public institutions.  The loss of trust threatens our sense of community – it raises the level of Pluribus while lowering the sense of Unum – it promotes self-interest over the interests of the community. Politics is one part of the cause.  But so is the fact that too many governments are trying to serve 21st century citizens using mid-20th century tools and processes.

Over 100 years ago a revolution in public governance ended chaos and corruption in government by embedding into our public organizations new organizational DNA that emphasized control, hierarchy, supervision, and centralization in order to instill honesty, fairness, equity and fiscal discipline.Civil service, central accounting and finance, competitive low bid purchasing, auditing and many other reforms were manifestations of this new DNA.That revolution worked.It restored confidence in government and has served as a foundation for a over a century of progress for our country. And that’s the problem.Bureaucracy, as that DNA is called, worked so well and is embedded so deeply that most people in government don’t recognize it and as a result government is losing the competition for legitimacy and public support.

Government’s legitimacy depends fundamentally on its ability to meet and exceed the expectations of those it serves. Over the last 100 years rising levels of education, economic well- being and technology have served to raise the expectations people hold for all organizations – including government. People want higher quality services, delivered faster, customized for them, and at low cost.  And they want results. The DNA of bureaucracy keeps organizations and the people in them focused on processes more than outcomes, on low cost more than highest value, on doing things right more than doing the right things.  As technology has continued to advance, and people have experienced the power of Amazon, Smartphones and the Internet, they want to know ‘why can’t government be like that?’.  Government can’t because its DNA is in the way.  Government cannot perform better than its DNA will allow.  If we want better performance from government – and people do – government needs new DNA not a lobotomy . (These ideas were first developed by David Osborne and Peter Plastrik in Banishing Bureaucracy.
 

  1. Reflecting on your career, is there a highlight, a greatest accomplishment or a funny story you’d like to share?

This story means more to me than any other. It’s about leadership and is the centerpiece for our chapter on that subject in our book The Price of Government that I was lucky enough to coauthor with David Osborne.

I was out visiting schools in Minneapolis where I served as Superintendent when I happened upon a second grader who gave me the best job description I've ever had. She was in a classroom of pretty diverse and excited youngsters. When I was introduced, the teacher told them I was the superintendent and asked if anyone knew what a superintendent did. Hands started shooting up, the students anxious to respond. One little boy said, "I know, he's in charge of super Nintendo!" (Don't I wish?) "No," said the teacher, "he's the leader of our schools. Who knows what a leader is?" Over in the corner was Andernetta. She looked like she was going to jump out of her skin if I didn't call on her. Her answer stopped me cold.               

 "A leader is someone who changes things to make things better" (her words).   

I was dumbfounded.  I felt like I was learning about leadership for the first time.

I hustled back to a meeting of our school leaders, over 100 principals and other administrators. As I ran in I shouted that I had good news and bad news.  The good news – “I have our new job description.”  They loved it.  The bad news – “The 2nd graders and their friends and parents and the members of our community already know.  And they want to know if we know. So let’s get on with it!”

  1. If you could make a soundtrack to your life what is one song that would need to be on your playlist?

‘For good’ from Wicked and ‘I want to break free’ by Queen
 

  1. What was your first job?

I raked sand and cut grass at a golf course.
 

  1. What is your favorite time of the year and why?

Thanksgiving. It brings our whole family together and reminds us how lucky we are.
 

  1. What is the best part about where you live?

I live in Minneapolis, right on the Mississippi River, in an historic area. It’s beautiful and I can walk or ride a scooter anywhere I need to go. But the best part is that my two daughters live with 3 blocks..
 

  1. What is your pizza order?

Anything as long as it includes fennel sausage.
 

  1.    If you could have a dinner party with anyone in history, who would you have dinner with and why?

John Marshall. As our first and longest serving Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he had the job of filling in the details of the design for our country that the founders sketched in the Constitution. I would love to compare our governing institutions today with what he imagined over 200 years ago. I’d also like to talk with him about the 27 changes we’ve needed to make to the Constitution and why, get his sense of why they weren’t made in the first place.

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