The government of Phoenix, Ariz., has been attracting a lot of attention lately. In an international competition to recognize the best-run city government in the world, Phoenix was awarded the Carl Bertelsmann Prize, sharing the top prize of $180,000 with Christchurch, New Zealand. Phoenix was also recognized as the best-managed of the nation's 30 largest cities by Financial World and was the only competitor to receive a straight-A report card in the annual "State of the Cities" rankings. And in a survey of Phoenix residents, the city government earned an 81 percent approval rating.

How many companies would score that high if they polled their customers?

The Vision Thing How does a city government become not just good, but the best? With Phoenix, it begins with a clear vision that employees have embraced. "We are dedicated to serving our customers," the vision statement starts. "We succeed by focusing our attention on the customer. The city exists to serve the customer and our community. Their needs give us our direction and purpose."

Here are some other excerpts:

* We work as a team. Teamwork is the basis of our success. We use cooperation as our first tool in working with others. We view successful performance as a group activity. There is nothing we cannot accomplish together.

* We each do all we can.

* We each have the opportunity and responsibility to develop and use our skills to the highest level.

* We learn, change, and improve. We are open to new methods and we listen and learn from others.

* We focus on results. Each of us knows the level of our customer satisfaction, our response time in delivering services, and the cost of those services.

* We work with integrity. Whenever we make a decision, provide a service, or deal with customers, we act with honesty and integrity. People learn from interacting with us that they can continue to trust us. We treat all people equally and equitably.

* We make Phoenix better. Improving transportation, the environment, public safety, educational opportunities, and other parts of our community is the reason we come to work each day.

Walk the Talk Far from being a dusty document, the city of Phoenix's vision and values statement is put into practice daily. Its employee suggestion program has received national awards for the most dollar savings per employee among all state and local governments. The "working with others " part of the statement is evidenced through "Passport to the City," which allows graduates of the City of Phoenix Supervisory Academy to meet other supervisors and rotate the departments in which they work. And there's more.

The strongest evidence that this approach is working has been the honors the city has received as "the best-run government in the world."

1. Start with a vision--Create a vision with your employees about what you want to be. Not only will this increase your chances of getting there, the process will lead to greater commitment and sense of ownership among your employees.

2. Allow people to connect--"I was amazed at the diversity of work city employees do," says Phoenix's Aquatics Maintenance Coordinator Sylvan Kinney. "The program gave me a greater understanding of other departments."

3. Develop your management team--Include management in learning and development opportunities and programs. They need to stretch and grow as much as anyone.