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Operation Excellence

In Focus
NAME:Jason Jackson
COMPANY:Nebraska Department of Administrative Services
As Director of the Nebraska Department of Administrative Services, Jason Jackson is building a culture around a mindset of continuous improvement and organizational learning.

It’s not uncommon for successful careers in the United States to begin in the military; for Jason Jackson, his began in the Navy. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, and with years of active and reserve service on his résumé, Jackson’s return to shore-based life left him yearning for the opportunity to continue giving back to his community.

His first foray was into an operational role in a Silicon Valley financial services company. From there, he moved into a leadership role in HR. These were Jackson’s first steps into private sector ecosystems. He enjoyed his work but missed the sense of mission inherent in public service.

“After that, I really craved getting back into the public sector,” Jackson tells The CEO Magazine. “It gives me a sense of purpose.”

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Jackson realized that the altruistic nature of working for your neighbors and your communities was his true definition of job satisfaction. “There’s a sense of reward that is unique to public service,” he says.

Fortunately, an opportunity to do just that came his way eight years ago in Nebraska after Jackson had joined the state government, first under Governor Ricketts as his Chief Human Resource Officer. Shortly after that, he took on the colossal task of leading the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) as its Director.

“Administrative Services are basically the back-office business operations of the state government,” he explains.

Within its portfolio falls procurement, real estate, facility management, vehicle services and state accounting operations. “We’re supporting all the agencies that are constituent-facing, serving the public and doing all we can to enable them to do their work.”

It’s a Mindset 

Having moved over from the private sector, Jackson discovered outdated policies and places where organizational design was lacking. “It impacted our ability to be agile and limited our response to new business developments,” he says. “It also hindered our ability to scale.”

He has overcome challenges with his agility to build and scale through technological innovation and process improvement in organizational design.

“You really need to make the business case for change within the flexibility that the law affords you to shift your strategy.”

How exactly does one go about changing a monolith like a department of state government, especially considering the constraints presented by both legal and compliance complications?

“Through mindset and culture,” affirms Jackson. “You really need to make the business case for change within the flexibility that the law affords you to shift your strategy. Then, and only then, can you build culture around a mindset of continuous improvement and organizational learning.”

Enabling Technology

This mindset of continuous improvement and learning was the driver for the inauguration of the department’s Center of Operational Excellence in 2016.

“It has equipped us with a baseline to confront challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic because it gave us a repository of business and operations management acumen that a state government wouldn’t have otherwise had.”

Technology has been a key enabler to the success of this initiative.

“Coming into the state government in 2016, I encountered an organization that was really antiquated in terms of how it thought about technology and service delivery,” Jackson explains. “Most of our customers’ experiences with the state – and with our agency in particular – would’ve been either person-to-person or a manual, paper-based experience.”

In an effort to streamline customer experiences, the DAS has leveraged technology to create a more intuitive, front-end digital experience. In doing so, the DAS has freed up resources that now allowed it to speed up processes on the back end. As a result, service is faster, more accurate and importantly, scalable for the future.

Jackson’s work in the private sector was helpful in creating these new workflows and ushering in new ways of thinking.

“There are things the government does well that people rely on us for, and then there are things that are generally outside the scope of government,” he explains. “That’s where we look to the private sector to help. We’re less adept at creating our own technological solutions, so we frequently look to the private sector to improve our business operations.”

One such example is a recent partnership with Workday. “They’re now our HR support system. That will enable our HR organization to deliver better customer service and also scale our support with a solution we wouldn’t have been able to create ourselves.”

Such partnerships are common in the private sector, and is just one example of how time spent in Silicon Valley has informed Jackson’s legacy in the public sphere.

Enriching the Public Sector

“When folks have that kind of career trajectory and spend a season of their lives in private service, they can bring that experience back to the public sector. I think that benefits both,” he says with a smile.

“Certainly, the public sector is enriched when we hire leaders that have experience in the private sector because they can bring that mindset of continuous improvement and innovation, as well as that culture of solving for both customer experience and cost,” he continues. “These qualities really enrich our culture and organizational approach by having that experience to call upon.”

This philosophy is something Jackson feels strongly about.

“I would hope that all the leaders out there consider public sector executive leadership for themselves, and then also think about the talent that is currently in the public sector for open roles within their companies. As people transition back and forth between the two sectors, I think it strengthens both,” he says.

“As people transition back and forth between the two sectors, I think it strengthens both.”

Moving forward, Jackson’s priorities for the DAS are to improve customer service and cut down on unnecessary costs.

“We’re going to be laser-focused,” he says. “Public servants often regard their role as more compliance driven – almost like a veto point – rather than acting as a business partner. That was the paradigm shift we tried to create: enabling administrative services to show up as a true, operational business partner to help our sister agencies meet their business objectives, really representing ourselves in a consultative way.”

With his military discipline, private sector chops and public service acumen, there’s no doubt such operational excellence will become business as usual in Nebraska.

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