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Boyd Matheson headlines Eccles School of Business’s TOP Talk

Through its Initiative on Government Improvement and the Executive Education program, the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business hosted a Top Operations & Performance (TOP) Talk on May 16, an event that featured Boyd Matheson as the keynote speaker and honored Jonathan Ball as the inaugural TOP Performer of the Year.

Host of KSL NewsRadio’s “Inside Sources,” Matheson previously served as chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), opinion editor and head of strategic reach at the Deseret News, Symantec’s director of corporate communication and president of the Sutherland Institute nonprofit think tank.

PHOTO CREDIT: David Eccles School of Business

Boyd Matheson

Ball is a Utah legislative fiscal analyst and Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute senior advisor.

Matheson gave a multifaceted presentation on how governmental entities and private-sector companies alike can simultaneously simplify their approaches to maximize impact while also expanding their vision and offerings to generate growth.

Regarding the former, he recounted a conversation he had decades ago in Japan with a 94-year-old man who left him with a proverb of sorts: “Elephants don’t bite, but fleas do.” The message? The big things tend to take care of themselves, while it’s the little things that often hold us back or propel us forward. To that end, Matheson recommended an approach of leaning into simplicity and avoiding over-complication.

As for the growth component, he noted that most organizations begin with a commodity, which then yields a product, which subsequently necessitates a service—and that all too often, that’s where everything stops.

“It’s part of the innovator’s dilemma: You get so busy doing the day-to-day that that’s all you do is the day-to-day,” said Matheson. “So you never really progress, you don’t innovate, you don’t move forward.”

The most successful organizations, he explained, operate on two additional levels: experience and transformation. By turning a product or service into an experience for customers, and, beyond that, into a transformational movement, entities can avoid getting stagnant.

Matheson’s final two bits of advice for organizational leaders: First, rather than exclusively hiring specialists, institutions “need people who can connect the dots,” people who can look beyond their narrow purview, ignore existing silos, and create solutions through innovation. Second, be “radically curious.” Look at your systems and ask questions—‘Why is it that we do it that way?’ and ‘How long have we done it like that?’ for instance.

TOP certificate course instructors Glen Schmidt, Staci Ghneim and Kristen Cox followed with their own presentations, with Cox drawing rapt attention from attendees as she emphasized designing the right solutions for the right people and thus addressing systemic causes rather than offering general solutions that merely mirror the surface-level effects of a problem.

PHOTO CREDIT: David Eccles School of Business

Jonathan Ball

Finally, Ball was recognized for the impact he’s had in strengthening Utah’s budget and economy with his work for the Utah Legislature, before taking the floor to drive home the practical applications of the theories that the TOP program teaches.

The May 14 meeting of the Legislature’s Executive Appropriations Committee (the body’s top brass who make final decisions on budgets) marked a crucial turning point for accountability in governmental spending, he explained.

Each May meeting of the group typically entails a wrap-up session that includes a recap of how the public’s money was spent. But, “For the first time, on Tuesday, we also talked about how we’re going to measure better the outcomes that we’re purchasing with that money,” Ball said.

There was an acknowledgment, he added, that existing benchmarks for appraising the performance of fiscal allocation decisions were woefully lacking, and that too few measurable targets were in existence. The legislature is now taking overdue steps to enhance such analyses.

“The whole purpose of why you’re coming to this class is to change the conversation,” Ball said. “We talk so much—at least in my job—about how much money we can spend … but we don’t talk a ton about what we’re buying with that money.”

To learn more about the Top Operations & Performance certificate program, contact Andrew Wilkinson at in Executive Education or Staci Ghneim at in the Initiative on Government Improvement. Registration is currently open for the next course offered Sept. 9-12.