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story.lead_photo.caption Attendees to Tuesday's conference at the Runge Center got out their cellphones to respond to a survey on the screen before them. They were in the center's auditorium for the Missouri Way training, a three-day conference aimed at improving the leadership of state agency administrators and supervisors. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Missouri government leaders want to improve the way state operations are managed so government runs more seamlessly and its customers — the taxpayers — get better service from all aspects of the government.

Tuesday morning, about 130 of the state's top-level managers, from all state departments, gathered at the Runge Nature Center for the first of what's described as "an intensive" three-day training program that Gov. Mike Parson said is "the first management training program in the history of Missouri's government, for emerging leaders from all departments. It's long overdue."

Parson told the opening session of the program, called the Missouri Way, that Missouri residents "expect their government to perform well every day, (and) we are expected to do no less than anyone in the private sector or the public sector and, with your help, there is no reason why Missouri can't be the example of the future."

Missourians expect state government "to deliver on workforce development and infrastructure — two of the priorities of my administration and your administration," the governor said. "We're going to do that together."

State Chief Operating Officer Drew Erdmann said the program will lead to Missouri government operating as well as any organization, with more transparency, being more "citizen friendly," more efficient, more focused and more accountable — especially in recognizing good public servant performance.

Former Gov. Eric Greitens brought Corrections Director Anne Precythe from North Carolina to change the way the department and its 11,000 employees operate.

But, she told the News Tribune on Tuesday morning, she was looking forward to the Missouri Way training.

"There's always an opportunity for me, as an individual, to improve my skills," she said. "That's going to be a tremendous value for our department and me personally.

"The other thing is this is a solid re-enforcement for my team to see this is happening across the state a statewide initiative.

"All of us doing this together, I think, is the first time the state of Missouri is going to realize we really are the largest employer in the state of Missouri — and we are one entity, instead of 16 different departments that don't operate together."

Natural Resources Director Carol Comer agreed.

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"I have my entire executive staff here today," she explained. "We have tremendous, tremendous individual leadership capacity — but to build that teamwork, not just within the agency, but across agencies, is so critical."

Better management leadership will make "the boots on the ground jobs easier for them to do what they need to do," Comer said.

Parson said he's heard from many Missourians that they want to see change in government operations.

"Change takes hard work and to put others above oneself," he said. "You will have to change.

"If you want to reform state government — if you want to make it better — it will be on your shoulders to do that."

Parson also said: "Anybody can fire anybody; that's the easiest thing in the world to do.

"What's hard is when you go out and motivate people to what the mission is, what it is you want to accomplish."

Parson said: "Employees want to feel like they're a part of the organization (and) the Missouri Way Program is about helping you become better public servants.

"You'll need to keep learning, and try something new."

The governor said his own approach is to listen to people — even listening to those who don't agree with his ideas or policies.

"Leadership is critical to our success," Parson said. "Leaders must embrace change.

"If you're not here (to learn how to change), frankly, you shouldn't be sitting here."

Erdmann said the program will be repeated several times until the department heads and senior staff in all 16 state departments have participated in the program — about 1,000 people in all, during the next 15 months.

And the vast majority of the training sessions will be led by Missourians from the various departments rather than having presentations from outside contractors, he said.

"It's not about (whether) we're going to be ready to continue just doing the same things we did before," he said. "The results that we had from last summer's Workforce Survey highlighted that the vast majority of state employees — regardless of department — basically did not experience good leadership.

"And oftentimes, it's no leadership."

Parson told the managers attending the opening session: "I've had the opportunity to serve in my entire career as a public servant — all the way from an Army private to a sergeant in the Army, to a sheriff, to a representative and senator.

"The one thing I always have enjoyed the most in my career is truly being a public servant.

"At the end of the day, it's just about doing something that's good for somebody else."

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