Gov. Cox, at X4 Summit keynote, says ‘trust is the currency of government’

The governor discusses what government can learn from business about operating better.

(Office of the Governor) Gov. Spencer Cox, right, talks with Chelsie Bright of Qualtrics, left, and Utah CIO Rich Saunders in a keynote at the X4 Summit at the Salt Palace Convention Center on March 8, 2023.

Government is not a business, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said, but it can be a lot like a business at times.

“Trust is the currency of government,” he told a crowd at the Qualtrics X4 Summit, Wednesday afternoon at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

Cox took part in one of the summit’s keynote events — a discussion called “Bringing Citizens and Governments Closer.” He shared the stage with Rich Saunders, who left the job of director of the Utah Department of Health in 2021 to become the state’s first Chief Innovation Officer.

The conversation focused on how public-sector organizations operate with a focus on employee or customer — in this case, constituent — experience. Cox joked that, as Utah’s CEO, he has 23,000 employees across the state, with 104 people on the board of directors, also known as the Utah Legislature. (The 2023 legislative session ended last week, and Cox said he has 575 bills to review.)

Cox pointed to Saunders’ job — to “aggressively upgrade state government efficiencies,” as the governor’s office announced in 2021 — as an example of where the experience between government and business could cross over.

In his talk, Cox spoke about the frustration the average Utahn would have with the many agencies in state government — which Saunders noted can operate much like separate businesses — and not see how they get things done. When Cox first started in government, he said, even he didn’t know all the specifics, and as an attorney, he was astounded by all the different forms and websites that people have to navigate.

“We owe our people better,” Cox said.

Cox and Saunders touted one success: The shorter wait times at the Utah Driver’s License Division, down from an average of 5 minutes to 3 minutes, 10 seconds — the fastest in the nation, Cox said. The governor’s team shared the win on social media, and promptly received feedback that the online scheduling tool was inaccessible, so they went back to the drawing board and moved the tool to a better location on the agency’s website. The number of complaints dropped 91%, they said.

Before Wednesday’s talk, Cox told The Tribune that the X4 Summit’s theme — “make business more human” — is something he wants to do in government.

“I believe that trust is the capital of governing,” Cox said. “If people don’t trust you, you will never be able to accomplish what you want to.”

“There’s a formula for trust, and that is competency and ethical behavior,” Cox said. He said his administration is trying to fix things where that competency falls short, and added that “we have to be ethical, do things in the right way and for the right reasons.”