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Civil Service

Consulting on our Leadership Strategy

In the Talent Action Plan we committed to developing a comprehensive approach to leadership in the Civil Service. Today Civil Service Group is launching the consultation process and I would encourage you all to engage with this. We want to hear what you have to say.

Sir Jeremy Heywood at Civil Service Live 2014

The commitment to a comprehensive approach to leadership responds directly to the voice of civil servants who have made it clear that elements of our culture need to change, whilst also recognising the need to build on those aspects of our culture and leadership that are rightly valued. The leadership strategy will include a single, clear leadership statement that makes explicit what we expect of all Civil Service leaders and how we will hold leaders to account. Such a statement needs to be based on a shared vision bringing in thoughts and ideas from people across the Service. I would like to start this conversation today.

Building on what has already been learnt from last year’s People Survey, the workshops on Civil Service 21 and reviews of wider evidence, we are working to test out the key themes that have emerged. These include:

  • having the courage to challenge others, speaking ‘truth to power’–and welcoming challenge oneself;
  • encouraging innovation and fresh thinking rather than minimising risk and maintaining the status quo;
  • empowering people to deliver outcomes within a clearly defined ‘space to operate’;
  • showing rather than hiding a real passion for public service and the values of the Civil Service;
  • collaborating with colleagues across departmental boundaries rather than competing or protecting silos;
  • being more open, including to ideas from outside;
  • valuing differences and avoiding “group think” or unconscious bias;
  • caring more about nurturing and developing talent and potential; and
  • caring less about grade.

Over the next fortnight, I would encourage as many of you as possible to share your views on the key themes identified above. In particular, it would be helpful to have your comments on the following:

  1. are the themes outlined above, those which need to be addressed in a leadership statement?
  2. are there other themes which should be added or existing ones removed?
  3. what would you regard as the most important characteristic of Civil Service leaders?

If you have any other thoughts about the leadership strategy, please feel free to comment below or send them directly to the Leadership Strategy Team:

All of your comments will be analysed and tested out further with representative groups of Civil Servants in focus groups and workshops. Findings will then be used to inform the content of the statement and supporting implementation plan. I expect the statement and implementation plan to be launched in November.

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  1. Comment by Mike posted on

    how about helping people achieve the net grade to be leaders with a clear route to SEO for eg and fairer competition for those who work hard want the next grade but are bypassed by cliches or only if your face fits, I joined the Home Office to develop skills and experience for SEO but in 6 years I have not had any opportunities despite my repeated requests in PDR's to line managaers etc.

  2. Comment by Anonymous posted on

    What does good leadership look like in the Civil Service? As soon as I come across an example I will let you know.

  3. Comment by Pete Pitman posted on

    Sorry, programme!

  4. Comment by Pete Pitman posted on

    I.C.E. when subjected to heat tends to melt.
    Based on the comments above there are a lot of problems and this Strategy is unlikely to address them. A simple suggestion: a leader in each department or agency asks for half-a-dozen volunteers from the lower grades in their area to explain what they see as the problems and hopefully, offer some suggestions for improvement. This works very well in the program "Undercover Bosses".
    Gradeism is rife - when I worked in the private sector it didn't matter who did a job as long as it got done.
    Every where else I've worked the company structure looked like a piramid, in the agency I now work for it looks like the tower of Pisa - top heavy structures do tend to topple over.

  5. Comment by KFC posted on

    Talented and dynamic people don't work for the civil service! They either leave or die of frustration!

  6. Comment by KC posted on

    There is too much focus on London and Whitehall and none on the regions. Take my Department - MOJ. The news pages on the Intranet are all about what is happening in Petty France and with Ministers. There is very little, if anything about the world outside London even though 90% of MoJ's staff and work is outside of the capital and is focusing on community justice and public protection.

    Also, most people could probably not name their director or senior leader. We see our Senior Manager who is based in Birmingham but our Director (who covers the entire North from the Cotswolds to Hadrians Wall) has never been to our office - if people passed him in the building they would probably not recognise him and security would try and escort him out! Senior Leaders need to be identifiable, personable and visable. Given that people can talk to their relatives the other side of the world via Skype and the department has invested god knows how much in video links there is no longer any excuse for not being able to put a name to a face of a senior leader.

  7. Comment by DG posted on

    Hear, hear! I agree with promoting a more positive image of the CS and refuting some of the criticism and downright myths perpetrated in the media!

  8. Comment by JS posted on

    Others have already talked extremely eloquently about the flaws of the performance management process, and our counter intuitive pay and progression processes - so I'll simple agree that they need rethinking.

    Something I think our leaders need to do much more is defend and speak up for the Civil Service. I appreciate there's a fine line between being perceived as politically partisan and speaking against change/reform. However I'm sick to death of the negative stereotyping of Civil Servants in the media and the misinformed perceptions that we're overpaid, underworked, gold-plated pensions etc. It would be nice if some of the enormous amount of money we spend on comms could go towards promoting a more positive image of the Civil Service, and if our leaders could just occasionally refute some of the criticism in the media.

  9. Comment by David H posted on

    There are three questions above about the leadership themes.
    1. Are the themes OK?
    2. Are any missing?
    3. What the most important characteristic of management?

    1. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It must be the Mrs married me! The themes look fine it is really the way that they are interpretted that may make a difference. Experience says that by the time they have been through three tiers of management the interpretation will have completely changed. The vox pop of the people survey is tainted by the attitude element of the performance reporting and the slip by senior management in saying they used it to decide office closures and that no one believes its anonymous.
    2. Good effective governance and inetgrity are missing from the list. The processes in place are not fit for purpose and abused to such an extent senior management decide what reality they want and the processes confirm it. Whilst a lack of governance is known nothing is done about either the lack of governance or the err's it creates as the integrity to address it is not present. The Jasper Carrot joke about why does a dog lick its balls, because it can! comes to mind. It is demoralising to see fraud or incompetence covered up and continued costing millions.
    3. What is missing in senior leadership today is integrity, stability, knowledge and understanding of the core tasks the Civil Service is to deliver. It seems more and more of the SCS posts are filled with fixed term appointments with "bright and able" career butterflies who flutter off from responsibility having scored another tick on their CV. It seems to be expected that loyalty can be purchased from these staff who are generally egocentric. It does diservice to those who are loyal and whose diligent service is taken for granted.

  10. Comment by Scaredtochallenge posted on

    Cabinet Office employee
    The first step to solving the problem is admitting you have one.
    Have we a single 'leader' who will admit they or their style of leadership might be the problem?

  11. Comment by Phil B posted on

    Home Office Employee
    Reading the news this morning about Asylum again. It is not surprising that Immigration is a mess. For several years now under UKBA and now Home Office, cuts are being made to staffing at the lower levels. These staff are the foundation that keeps the Home Office afloat. Staff have to make decisions without the right tools, being told to reduce the time to conduct an asylum interview means that terrorists will get through. Staff are flogged to meet unrealistic targets. We are asked to complete staff surveys year in and year out, why? Nothing changes.

    A new broom comes in and he/she wants to flex their muscles so they re-structure, why?? For what benefit?? If its not broken why fix it. Staff are never given a chance to embrace changes before a new one comes along so how does anyone get any work done effectively. Stop crisis management, think about the impact of the changes, will it work long term, have you factored everything in the planning, what if's etc.

    The upper echelons keep whipping those that do the work and make decisions without the working knowledge they need to ensure that their decision is the right one. They work in their Ivory towers without meeting those at the ground level trying to work with broken equipment.

    I want to be proud to say I work in the Home Office. I cannot in all honesty say that, things just get worse. Cutting staff to save money leaves those left behind to pick up the slack and carry on. It is not humanly possible to do more for less unless you are a robot. Staff cannot do more than is physically possible within their normal hours. So why is everyone surprised that there is a backlog? How can 1 person do the work of 5?

    As for the moderation process, I am all for a fair and equitable way of measuring performance not the one we have. Being compared to someone who does not do the same work that I do and who gets more opportunities than I do does not give me level pegging on where I end up in the ranking. This system supports inequality and promotes bias on every level.

    Senior Managers vote for their favourites and no matter what your performance if your face doesn’t fit or you dare to raise concerns you end up in the bottom 10%.

    There is no such thing as equality across the Home Office or fair and open communication. It’s all about watch your back.

    The Civil Service does not practice what they preach. They say they want to employ a diverse staff but discriminate anyway and they get away with it. So what message are they sending out, it certainly isn't " working in the civil service is rewarding and good for your health".

  12. Comment by Mike H posted on

    ‘Being more open, including to ideas from outside’ - does the Civil Service really want innovators? Go for promotion and you’ll find all the sift panel consider is whether applicants can answer a dubiously worded competency based question, using the ‘STAR’ format, fitting in as many of the current ‘buzz’ words as possible. People who think and express themselves differently from this model are overlooked regardless of how experienced or qualified they may otherwise be. There’s more to ‘nurturing and developing talent and potential’ than promoting those who are simply good at playing the game.

    Overall I’d like Civil Service leaders to be honest, courageous enough to acknowledge when things aren’t working the way they envisaged (e.g. PMR ranking system), and unafraid to change course when this is required.

    On the subject of change - can somebody call a halt to the never ending round of re-organisations that we’re subjected to? New structures take time to bed in, bringing in change after change doesn’t mean you’re making improvements!

  13. Comment by Tor posted on

    I've been around the civil service for around 15 years and feel there are some dinosaur managers at all grades - not just SCS. If Sir Jeremy wants to see genuine leaders, we need to recruit these, not managers. Tackling behaviours of anyone in a leadership role who manages and doesn't lead is vital.

    To add my bit to the PMR debate - if you're given a pen picture, by your departemnt, of what a box 3 'under-performer' looks like, and you don't have anyone who meets that, then it shoudl be so. At the recent MYR, I was asked to identify numbers of potential box 3s, to which I replied 'none'. I was then asked by my SCS 'leader' that I mark my 'lower' box 2 as a box 3. I explained what i had done and stated being the bottom 10% of a high calibre box 2 is different to not meeting objectives. Did he want my 'lowest 10%, or my box 3s as they were different? Needless to say, the repsonse I got back was that they are one and the same.....guess i'm to expect a box 3 at the end of this year for not complying with policies on PMR...

  14. Comment by Phil posted on

    "encouraging innovation and fresh thinking rather than minimising risk and maintaining the status quo;
    empowering people to deliver outcomes within a clearly defined ‘space to operate’"

    These are fine words, but the PMR process works against this, since delivering outcomes is no longer enough if your line manager doesn't like the cut of your jib or the way you achieve a given result. Guided distribution does not encourage risk-taking or fresh thinking or innovation or collaboration. It encourages that oldest of Civil Service values - covering your own back.

    If these fine words are to mean anything, managers will need to be given a much less bureaucratic and less cumbersome performance management system which would free up more time for productive work and for personal and professional development. And managers should have discretion over box markings so that, if somebody doesn't perform to an acceptable standard, they can take robust action and be supported in doing so, but if everyone in a team or business unit is performing to an acceptable standard or better, everybody can get on with their work in the open-minded, collaborative, dynamic and courageous fashion described in this proposed leadership strategy, without having to look over their shoulder and work in a climate of fear and blame.

  15. Comment by John O'Groats posted on

    As a new comer to the civil service during the last year, I've past my probationary period and missed out on the end of year appraisal as I was considered still under training during my probation. However the remainder of my colleagues who have been in the service for some time were experiencing some anxiety as it was that time of year where they were required to write up their PDR.
    I am now at the point where I have been asked to write my own mid year appraisal but to write it in the 3rd person. If this is a self appraisal then surely this should be written in the 1st person and the line manager extracts the required information in order to write thier assessment of my performance in the 3rd person and once agreed by self and him that the content is agreeable then it is uploaded to Adelphi. It seems to me that being asked to write it in the 3rd person and is agreeable with my line manager he will then upload it to Adelphi. Isn't the line manager supposed to write up the appraisal in the first instance once discussion points are agreed, that why he is paid more money than me. After that then I will subject to being placed either in the top 20%, mid 70% or bottom 10 % within my peer group. Surely if I or my peers have met all their performance objectives and there is nothing that separates them except for speed and accuracy is the same why is it that a manager must someone in each bracket? Being placed in the bottom 10% is derisory, degrading and does nothing for moral. It also suggests according to HR Policy and Guidance :- Performance Management that the individual(s) require some additional help to bring them up to the same standard as their peers even though they have achieved the required standard.
    This system needs burying with the dinosaurs that concieved it. What happened to common sense where someone just comes to work, does their job, meets the standard and achieves their objectives, goes home and forgets about work. Some people may not be ambitious and want to go further in their careers and are happy doing what they do, rather than being pushed into something they don't want to.

  16. Comment by Ed posted on

    As a digital comms guy, I'd like to see 'leading by example' added - I'm sure this principle applies to most other areas and it certainly applies to digital comms. It's all very well, 'caring', 'empowering', 'encouraging' etc etc. HOW ABOUT DOING??? From a digital POV, progress in Departments is happening at a snail's pace because digital leaders from the very top down to Grade 7 don't DO. If they aren't going to be the digital advocates they say they are, guess what? other staff follow their example.

    • Replies to Ed>

      Comment by Ed posted on

      Case in point, SCS who blog and don't reply to comments.....

  17. Comment by Hilda posted on

    Under each of your questions I have provided my response:

    1.are the themes outlined above, those which need to be addressed in a leadership statement?

    I agree that 'Caring less about grade' is an important theme. For me, good leaders should be truly apporachable in order that colleagues, whatever their grade, feel entirely comfortable to engage with them without fear. Unfortunately, I think some people still fear those of higher grades (largely because of the behaviours of some people in the higher grades) and therefore hold back in sharing their thoughts and ideas. The best leaders I know actively work to connect with others on a personal level thus removing any fears and openning opportunities for others to feel able to engage with them.

    2.are there other themes which should be added or existing ones removed?

    I believe in the power of 'authentic listening' and that this should be added as a theme. If an individual or group of individuals give feedback on an issue, leaders should not dismiss it if they don't agree. The individual/group gives that feedback because it is real to them and is geniunely impacting them. Good leaders recognise this, take the feedback seriously and respond to it directly. Bad leaders who dismiss it simply prolong the pain of their staff and the negative impacts this has on performance.

    Demonstration of consistent integrity should also be added as a theme - I acknowedge that all members of an organisation should act with integrity but my point is that if members of an organisation do not believe that their leaders have acted with integrity then the leader's ability to engage others is seriously undermined or lost completely.

    3.what would you regard as the most important characteristic of Civil Service leaders?

    Vision and the personality to be able engage the hearts and minds of others in order that they want to achieve that vision too.

    I did just want to make one final comment, which is that for the leadersip statement to add any value, leaders need to clearly demonstrate to all how they have demonstrated the themes within it.

  18. Comment by TB posted on

    Following on from the last comment on the need for a fresh leadership strategy, there is a general consensus that "culture eats strategy for breakfast". So, a new leadership strategy without changing the existing culture will fail, to be frank.

    For some people, the civil service culture was set in stone in 1853 when family appointments were replaced with entrance exams. However, the early 1980s was a further moment of cultural change when permanent secretaries lost certain key roles to ministers, a cultural change that paved the way for the Next Steps strategy of agencies and devolved units in the 1990s.

    So, what culture is now needed for a 21st century civil service? The private sector focus would start with creating value, so the public sector parallel could start with creating ... what?

    Because it is what we _create_ that defines our work. Some answers will be flippant but telling (creating chaos), some too abstract (creating change), but a good answer will be concrete enough for everyone to get behind it (creating a walk on the moon) which starts by connecting staff to community-based outcomes.

    Of interest, this is how the culture at the World Bank was changed in 1968, curiously to be more hierarchical but it also became much more effective -

  19. Comment by Anon posted on

    Whilst a drive for leadership at the top is very welcome it does very little to address the frustrations of those trapped at the bottom. The civil service promotion structure is prohibitively process focused and does not allow for promotion on the basis of potential, even if you do get a top 10% box marking. Specifically:

    (1) Requiring jobs to be advertised at stage 1 and 2 before they are available on promotion means that very few jobs actually become available as a promotion opportunity.
    (2) Jobs at stage 3 are also open to individuals from other departments already at that grade. As the competency assessment process requires you to demonstrate experience of rather than capacity to perform at a certain level, the process is skewed to individuals already at that grade, rather than those who have shown potential to perform at that grade. Given that that the grade structures is so ridged you are caught in a chicken and egg situation – you can’t get promoted because you don’t have experience of performing at that grade, but you can’t get that experience because you have to be a certain grade to do the tasks that demonstrate it. Essentially you can only get promoted if the applicants already at that grade are of such poor quality that they are unqualified.
    (3) There remain far too many opportunities that are given to individuals without the proper process having taken place, or with the process having been purely a façade.
    (4) There remains a culture of blocking people’s attempts at promotion (ie: not signing of the 6 weeks notice). Despite there being no rule written down and clear advice from HR that this isn’t the case, in two departments I have been told that I cannot apply for a job on promotion because I haven’t been in post for 2 years. In both cases I was in roles where I did not have enough work to do and had been saying this for more than 6 months.

    Why should I stay in an organisation that keeps putting me in the top 10% of performers, but doesn't let me progress?

  20. Comment by Kevin White posted on

    Jeremy, thanks for this statement. Reading the comments it is clear how many colleagues find current pressures and changes (including the new performance management process) difficult and unwelcome. I guess it will always be like that. Having been around for a while I cannot remember a time when there hasn't been a debate about performance management systems. I do think the current system is an improvement on previous ones (I would as an HR Director!). But the main point I wanted to make was to agree with the emphasis on developing a fresh leadership statement. That may not solve today's problems, but a clear and concerted focus on leadership is essential for the longer term health and success of all organisations. I am keen to help with this.

  21. Comment by M Cairns posted on

    In the beginning was the Plan.

    And then came the Assumptions.

    And the Assumptions were without form.

    And darkness was upon the face of the Workers.

    And they spoke among themselves, saying, "It is a crock of sh*t, and it stinketh."

    And the workers went unto their Supervisors and said, "It is a pail of dung, and none may abide the odour thereof."

    And the Supervisors went unto their Managers, saying, "It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it."

    And the Managers went unto their Directors, saying, "It is a vessel of fertiliser, and none may abide its strength."

    And the Directors spoke amongst themselves, saying one to another, "It contains that which aids plant growth, and it is very strong."

    And the Directors then went onto the Vice Presidents, saying unto them, "It promotes growth and is very powerful."

    And the Vice Presidents went unto the President, saying unto him, "This new plan will actively promote the growth and vigour of the company; with powerful effects."

    And the President looked upon the Plan, and saw that it was good.

    And the Plan became Policy.

    This is How Sh*t Happens.

  22. Comment by CB posted on

    A leader has vision. A leader is inspirational, motivational, an outstanding communicator and creates an organised and inclusive environment which harbours success.
    To my mind the themes you have identified above are generally managerial skills and attributes not leadership.

    I have met very few 'leaders' in my organisation. I know of hundreds of managers though.

    You have your work cut out. Good luck.

  23. Comment by H posted on

    The most recent Civil Service News e-mail linking to this item was detected as spam by HMRC e-mail - does anymore need to be said!

  24. Comment by John Drake posted on

    Although mature in years I am not a long serving Civil Servant, but am often concerned about the feeling of helplessness that permeates through some lower grades.
    There does appear to be a genuine desire to encourage staff engagement, the question is is there is any point? Do senior manager's manage/lead or are they unquestioningly keeping a low profile and doing what looks good on their PDR's?!!
    Stop apologising for our public service roles and setting us up for politicians with limited intellect.

  25. Comment by anon posted on

    I worked hard over last five years and applied for promotion and guess what they promoted the regional managers son who had one years service and was not trained in all aspects of the role the whole system is corupt and there is nothing you can do about it

  26. Comment by unhappy yappy posted on

    Senior management need to listen and act, not listen, ignore, wait and then regurgitate good ideas as their own.
    Support good quality research, and not reject, re-write and publish.
    Stop bringing in faceless managers to mis-manage already functional processes.

  27. Comment by Sue posted on

    Two areas I think should be included are:

    1. Giving clear direction
    2. Use Plain English - There's still far too much fancy vocabulary used when a few simple words would do.

    Also under the valuing differences area mentioned, I would hope this would include valuing staff who don't necessarily want to progress further up the chain, but simply want to come to work and do a very good job whilst they are here and then go home and forget about work.

  28. Comment by Hugh posted on

    Following Civil Service values and our policies would be nice:

    Its no use having policies and values if those responsible for them have no idea whether they are being implemented. I asked our HR team if they'd done any monitoring to that effect; they said they had not, and had no idea whether those who were tasked with implementing the policies had any appropriate qualification. That speaks volumes.

  29. Comment by TB posted on

    I write as an interested and well-wishing outsider who periodically comes into a department for project-type work, in my 50s with a public sector background in local government.

    For myself, I chose to do a 360 self-review some years ago and what people candidly said back had me take a long look in the mirror, but I am sure it was worthwhile. But nothing can force people to really listen and take feedback to heart.

    Deeds speak so much more than words. I still recall a council leader speaking at a large TU meeting, admitting that they had cut a service too hard (libraries) and were going to reinstate some cuts. The room almost gasped.

    So, consultation. Look at all those exercises in the last 12 months and itemise to all staff where feedback has been taken on board and made a difference. And, if the best that can be found for all year is "we changed box 3.4 to be drop-down" then find a mirror and start looking hard. Then, go back to the feedbacks and see what you missed first time. And do it. And tell people you have done it.

    Final observation from outside: the CS is very compartmentalised - grades, departments, fast-tracks, pecking order (DCLG at bottom, FCO at top) as stated above. But also all-of-the-above verses HM Treasury. Sort that one out and it would be a day well spent.

  30. Comment by Neil posted on

    We have no confidence in the Senior Civil Service and it should be scrapped or only for people who have worked their way up through the ranks - why should people with little experience be recruited straight into these roles in their twenties? Just because of what school they went to or who their father was. And scrap the knighthoods too as all it does is enforce the elitist view. Its a good idea to promote more women but unessary as the best person for the job should always be selected, which is what we do down here near the bottom anyway. My line manager, CSO and team head are all women so there is no discrimination here.

  31. Comment by Adam Powell VOA posted on


    I would like any leadership statement to make clear the difference between leadership and management. To use an analogy, In a hypothetical situation where a team are venturing through a jungle, a manager organises the team so that cutting through the jungle is done most effectively, to gain the best speed through etc, while the leader is at the top of a tree pointing out which direction to cut through to get to freedom!

    In the Civil Service this translates to the following: a leader must clarify the values and direction that they want their department to move towards. This requires vision, foresight and character ethics. Implementation of this should ideally be delegated to managers.

    Peculiar to the civil service a conflict may arise, in that ministers determine the direction departments go towards. In this sense much of the leadership function has already been realised before the nominated leaders are free to act. This may cause challenging situations where a leader feels that a particular direction is the most in line with the goals and values of their department, but has been prescribed an alternative direction by their respective minister that they must follow. An example might be that a leader desires better customer service of their department, but a ministerial priority of austerity means that such a direction may not be realistically achievable.

    When situations such as the above arise, a leader in this situation may resort to being more of a manager. They will be focused on ways to maximise results and will not be deciding, or empowered to decide, on matters of direction that conform to the values of their organisation. This may disempower those working under the leader. To continue the jungle analogy: The team witness both their leader and manager working hard to cut through the jungle faster. However, should one or more of the team dispute the direction they are cutting through the jungle, they may ask their leader for clarification. Yet as the leader is disempowered to decide direction they may respond by focussing on the management issues of cutting through the jungle faster. This circumstance would leave the whole team disillusioned that that hard work they are putting in is actually leading to the right outcome.

    I believe that any effective dialogue about leadership in the civil service needs to address this contradiction in a pithy and concise way, such that a realistic leadership role is defined. Do our leaders have real power in deciding the direction their departments take? If they do, then an achievable goal of this leadership strategy could be to inform all who care to investigate that their leaders really do have the power to decide on direction and lead as a leader should.

    Thanks for your time.

  32. Comment by Exhausted by the same old stuff from the SCS Cabal posted on

    Nothing wrong with the statements expressed, but the real difficulty here is the willingness and ability of our most senior leaders to recognise that they themselves are the biggest culprits of not living these behaviours. They get to the top of the tree and their record of career 'success' reinforces their belief that how they behave is right, so it becomes beyond question to them. The Civil Service generally has a poor culture of leadership - the most senior leaders are the epitome of success in that culture and are therefore the epitome of the problem. Until the people at the very top recognise this and make real changes to who they are and how they intrinsically operate, exercises like this will just be another in a long line of failures - superficial attempts to mask the undesirable traits that our senior leaders possess (the traits that got them to where they are in the first place, which is why they refuse to question them).

  33. Comment by David posted on

    In answer to the specific questions raised at the end of the article:

    1) No. That's just pretentious, meaningless, business-school waffle to be blunt.
    2) (a) Make our procedures as streamlined, efficient and effective as possible, so we deliver the high quality of service the public expects and deserves.
    (b) Incentivize staff to be more productive and positive by paying them good wages and improving or at least protecting their fringe benefits. The Civil Service should be a prestige employer that attracts and retains the best, not the poor relation of private enterprise.
    (c) Do more to tackle poor performance and inappropriate behaviour at EVERY level.
    3) A good leader is the kind of person you would follow into battle, someone inspirational possessed of courage, honesty and integrity. Such people are admittedly rare, but we should do more to seek them out and put them in positions of authority.

  34. Comment by Positive feedback posted on

    Introducing 360 degree reporting on all staff will alleviate many of the grumbles of powerlessness received in answer to your question. Currently there are some really terrible leaders, however there is no mechanism for the department to know this, particularly if the individuals are good at managing their upward appeal. Moreover, many leaders probably don't realise that they aren't perceived as good leaders - 360 reporting would provide this valuable feedback loop.

  35. Comment by CMG posted on

    caring less about grade!

    Sounds like we will be asked to work out of grade and we shouldnt expect to get paid for it.

  36. Comment by Bob P posted on

    Leadership, to me, is about gaining trust of staff to want to do their best. Motivating them and providing the tools, techniques and time to do their role. Not being seen as elitist, i.e. leaders must be willing to roll their sleeves up too and do their best for each and every individual. Creating opportunities for staff for development and (dare I say it) "enrichment". Creating a positive and inclusive culture. However there are business / financial constraints and leaders also need to manage within these lines, the borderline between "money" and "staff" is a difficult one to walk.

  37. Comment by Andrew Fawkes posted on

    Leaders should be aware of two things:

    1. The difference between leaders and managers: leaders drive change whilst managers implement processes.
    2. The one facet that all leaders share: followers.

    If any leader can answer 'yes' to the questions, "am I driving change?" and "would I be prepared to follow me?", then they're probably doing a good job.

  38. Comment by Tina posted on

    I wholeheartedly agree with colleagues comments above. Sadly I remember hearing such comments about performance management, leadership, gradism etc. from staff 33 years ago when I joined the Civil Service. Is it any wonder the service is in the demoralised state it is in when every time opinions are asked for nothing ever happens (except maybe the person who does the asking gets a big fat bonus and promotion) Can you imagine a company in the private sector never changing how they do things for 33 years? Well, no. They'd have gone out of business a long time ago.

  39. Comment by Paul Farr posted on

    This is doomed to fail. Our current leaders (and I speak from the Home Office) seem to be incapable of showing genuine leadership. The number of times they have simply transposed bizarre Cabinet Office guidance into Home Office policy without questioning its effectiveness indicates that genuine leadership - and speaking truth to power - is something that they are simply incapable of. The key example mentioned here by others is the forced distribution Performance Management which many departments are now using. And yes, I fully understand that in the Cabinet Office's view this is guided distribution - but if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and looks like a duck then it is probably a duck.

    The keypoint about this Performance Management system is that there is no evidence that it delivers any increase in Home Office capability and goodness knows I have asked the Home Office to provide such evidence many times. Worryingly, there is considerable evidence that BME staff, disabled staff and older staff fare less well when awarding bonuses and identifying weaker perfromance. In the face of this, you would assume that a good leader wouldn't touch it with a bargepole. But not so in the Home Office - the leadership from the Home Office is to carry on regardless. I despair.

    So I'll take this consultation seriously when our leaders provide some (any!) evidence that they do actively challenge rather than just accept.

    • Replies to Paul Farr>

      Comment by Gareth posted on


      Spot on. What you say applies to Ministry of Defence "leadership" too.

      If Jeremy wants us to speak "truth to power", here it is: the PMR system is garbage. The reasons for that have been recounted a million times on other CS blogs just like this. Another truth is that the "leadership" either diagrees with that, in which case they wouldn't know the truth if it slapped them across the cheeks, or they agree but can't change it, in which case they are unable to lead.

      WHichever, it is a terrible indictment of CS "leadership".

  40. Comment by Greg posted on

    There are two obvious omissions - and this all continues to peddle the myth that leadership is some kind of generic skill-set that is the same regardless of the situation its users find themselves in. While there may be common threads between the skills and behaviours of a first-line manager managing 20 junior Agency staff in an operational team, and the Perm Sec, what is required of any given leader is to a large extent context-specific. I find it hard to accept that there is sufficient commonality to avoid a single common leadership statement being so bland as to be useless. I'm open to being proved wrong.

    The gaps:
    1. (already mentioned once) is an understanding that we work in a political environment and that the ability to influence, assess, shape and deliver policy in the service of the government of the day is critical across most if not all of our key functions. The more we leave policy to "Policy people", the more we struggle to implement it successfully.

    2. (not mentioned anywhere I could see) is business knowledge. If you do not understand the operation that you are leading, your judgement will be poor. If you do not know about the mistakes made in the past you are likely to find yourself repeating them. An effective leader either works to understand their business in detail, or has the humility to bring those who do into decision-making.

  41. Comment by The truth posted on

    So the civil service wants comments on a Leadership Strategy. I think this must be welcomed and I believe people appreciate having the opportunity to share their views.

    However, what do you want this strategy to deliver. The comments so far demonstrate that it is disingenious to approach issues of culture and behaviours in isolation of the policies and practices. May I be so bold as to take some artistic license with a famous quote "Law and order [or in this case policies] exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress [and progression]".

    The civil service is heamouraging diverse talent, recent reports convey the CS culture as a 'bear pit', policies that are known to unjustifiable disadvatange minority groups and severely damage staff morale are defended and promoted, managers at very senior levels are told to defend policies in desperate need of withdrawl - in essence because that's just the way it is, are top leadership programmes continue to promote management clones of what has gone on before. Where difference (ways of working, background) appears it is celebrated but then quickly dismissed

    Mr Fraser you talk a good game but your actions imply you are not serious about this agenda. So if your serious take action and get rid of these poorly considered HR systems, encourage a collective vision of HR rather than the silo working that results in a belief you can issue an inspiring Leadership without dealing with the rot within the other systems in operation

  42. Comment by Losing faith posted on

    Please address the following:

    I was under the mishaprehension that the new Performance Review marking was somehow reflected in ones pay award.

    Could someone high up please be aware that somehow my pay award was equal to that of someone who had received a 'not met' marking even though I almost excelled (but not quite). I received exactly £0.00 pay rise as I am on my Maxima. Same as last year. This system is fundamentally flawed could this be looked into.

    • Replies to Losing faith>

      Comment by Buster Friendly posted on

      Pay maxima? I've been looking up at my band maxima, from the bottom, for twelve years: according to European law- to which the employer is a signatory- progression from minima to maxima should have put me in your position in 2007. Of course the employer has fiddled and finally destroyed progession, so now I am without any hope of my ever-decreasing pay improving. If I were to go for promotion, I would be in the same position on the the next rung of the ladder, that is assuming that a fast streamer with an eidetic memory for competences ( which is all that seems to be required, never mind ability or experience ) didn't get the nod first. Good leadership? The ship is sinking, and senior crew- having run us into the iceberg in the first place- have stolen the lifeboats and left the rest of us to swim through the sharks.

  43. Comment by HMRC employee posted on

    Good luck with "collaborating with colleagues across departmental boundaries rather than competing or protecting silos". This can be a real problem with some mangement as they can be obsessed with who gets the 'stats' and protecting their post rather than looking at the bigger picture. May help to stop the empire builders though past history has suggested you may be banging your head against a brick wall in trying to achieve this aim.

  44. Comment by poor performer posted on

    Surely i'm not the only civil servant to belive the performance management system is divisive and does not encourage team work -but the opposite. In my opinion there should be no box markings or top and bottom 15/25% of performers. It is a degrading system and not an appropriate way to appraise/ manage adults - or anyone - it's total disrespectful and brings about the worst in managers as they look and create reasons to place staff in the bottom percentage so they can meet targets. In my experience it doesnt motivate staff to be strong leaders but encourages a training ground for bullying and discrimination and senior managers seem to enjoy and misplace their power. These managers are the true poor performers - It's shameful.

    • Replies to poor performer>

      Comment by disappointed posted on

      You most certainly aren't - the performance management policy is very divisive, corrosive of teamwork and will ultimately fail - which is why private sector enterprises have abandoned "forced ranking"-type systems long ago.

  45. Comment by David Sangster posted on

    firstly it is always good to be able to input to thinking and this opportunity is welcomed; i admire anyone who is prepared to say what they think and be prepared to be 'shot down' as Sir Jeremy has here. The leadership strategy appears to be premature as the other side of the election i am expecting radical surgery to the army of public servants given the ongoing size of the deficit and reticence of government to raise taxes

    that being the case i would like to see the following on the agenda for discussion:
    1) why we have two civil services - an SCS with its own performance management, remuneration scheme and trade union and the rest of us at Grade 6 and below - integrity comes from common ground and the continued existence of an SCS feeds the 'them and us' culture that has been criticised throughout the responses here; 2) a fundamental review of Britain's broken political system - can we really continue to accept parties elected on a minority of the votes inflicting their vanity projects and dogma at the tax-payers expense with no mandate? 3) we need to distinguish employee performance (which should be measured against the role) from objectives which should be set at the level at which they can be achieved -this would create a collaborative ownership of success/failure rather than a blame culture driven through guided distribution

  46. Comment by Jon posted on

    I think the main problem with the performance management system is how it is implemented rather than the system itself (though how sustainable is 10% requiring improvement each year?). It has led to perception driven judgements rather than evidence based judgements, hence some rather unsavoury behaviours . As this system will be instrumental to delivering the leadership statement, I offer the following suggestions to make it work:

    - no line manager or counter-signing officer to be allowed to sign off any objectives or performance marking unless they have been through a robust 360 degree reporting themselves, where all people in their directorate can feedback as well as people the individual nominates. Failure to complete this and have an action plan in place is an automatic box 3.
    - no line manager or counter-signing officer to be allowed to sign off any objectives or performance marking unless they have attended training in this within the last 12 months. Failure to complete this and have an action plan in place is an automatic box 3.
    - set up a proper whistle-blowing system

    It is about time we put managing performance on a much more professional footing. If that sounds onerous, many high performing private companies will expect their senior managers to be spending half their time leading people and developing talent.

  47. Comment by Home Office employee posted on

    As much as I am personally supportive of this central work and think it's really important, I agree with many commentators above that there is nothing we can do, when (not if) the message is re-interpreted on its way down from the centre (the LIONS point). Attempting to be the local team member who encourages their team to lead by example on the behaviours you want to see has been career limiting, to say the least. No one had my back in that particular PDR panel, so supporting this work came at a direct personal cost to me. To say I now think twice about how much to lead by example (when that is meant to be a core competency as well) would be an understatement.

  48. Comment by Pete Vowles posted on

    I think this is a fantastic framework and really resonates with the leadership reforms we are developing in the Department for International Development.

    The themes are spot on, taking the current framework (based on Future Engage Deliver) a step further. Combined, they start to genuinely illustrate what good looks like (a desire to be externally focused and challenged, passion, objective etc ).

    We could potentially add/ integrate:

    - a willingness (demonstrated desire) to be open (and talk) about policy failure as a means to improvement

    - a commitment to 'how' policy will be implemented/ delivered

    To make this really stick, a key challenge is how we use 360 feedback and people surveys to meaningfully capture this (and incentivise it further). The annual (and fairly static) people survey feels quite outdated these days. I wonder if there are ways to learn from the private sector to generate a more targeted and live data stream on how we are doing so we can benchmark within and between departments real time to improve performance and job satisfaction?

    But, fantastic, and I'd be happy to engage further in this as it evolves..

  49. Comment by Keith posted on

    The last time we spoke "truth to power" on this blog (concerning PMR) it was totally ignored.

    Why should things be different this time around?

  50. Comment by Jo Esson posted on

    I think it would be useful to have something included in the list which makes it clear that leaders should be seen to display and espouse the values that they expect of the rest of us. This includes the need to take comments such as these seriously, and respond to them.

  51. Comment by David Webb posted on

    Sir Jeremy,

    Thank you for the post. The key themes quoted sound fine, but are there any people in the leadership cadre who don't think they are doing all those already?

    I’d like to suggest two others:
    (1) respecting the taxpayer;
    (2) simplifying and speeding process.

    Commitment from our leaders to follow these two might bring about the rapid demise of the current performance management system, a catastrophically expensive killer of teamwork, motivation, loyalty, and business agility.

  52. Comment by Ade posted on

    The public service has a problem with Whistleblowers so in your first point of what you would like to see in the statement of good leadership about “having the courage to challenge others, speaking ‘truth to power’–and welcoming challenge oneself”. Wouldn’t it be better to ‘have the courage to receive challenge and use it to speak the ‘truth to power’?

  53. Comment by The Disgruntled Goat posted on

    Jeremy, it is all well and good espousing these views and values of leadership on your blog and in your ‘Talent Action Plan’; but actually changing the entrenched culture within Civil Service leadership on the ground and in the real world is another matter. Do you really think by spelling out what makes a good leader (qualities that should come naturally to the said individual), to those who are incompetent and not fit to hold leadership positions (often the majority it seems, I hasten to add!) will make a blind bit of difference?

    The gradeism that still exists in today’s modern Civil Service is, quite frankly, nauseating; and something which I believe holds it back incomprehensibly, particularly when juxtaposed against the ever changing fast paced private sector business world. It breeds a culture of petty elitism at all levels and in senior positions, a sense of self entitlement where individuals with stoked egos feel absolved of responsibility or accountability. In some extreme cases they can develop a “god complex”, often seeing as those below them as lesser human beings, “the great unwashed” if you like, whose intelligence or point of view is of lesser importance or substance than their own. This aloofness and lack of downward communication can induce an unintentional or self creating stovepipe management structure, which stifles lines of communication, holds back talent and breeds contempt and apathy for those at lower grades which have to deal with this unjust system throughout their careers.

    When I joined the Civil Service some 15 years ago, I presumed (rather naively) that hard work, endeavour and intelligence would lead me on to better things. My father at the time, who was a Civil Servant, was rising up the grade structure; so in the folly of youth I decided I would follow the same career path. Having worked in the same local, regional department during my Civil Service tenure I have now realised that hard work, endeavour and intelligence count for very little. Quite to the contrary, what I have found is; that to get on one needs to exhibit the behaviours of sycophancy and nepotism. When I look at my own leadership structure, I have observed that it is run by a cabal of self serving individuals, intent on maintaining the status quo, a management gravy train, where if your face fits and they let you aboard; the sky is the limit.

    To add a positive note (as it may appear that my observations may come across as negative), I feel that leaders at all levels would benefit from greater accountability. Currently, employees at lower grades within the hierarchical pyramid are held to account by way of a PMR system which places them into distinct categories, performers and non-performers. This is based on the opinion of the person or persons directly above them in the pyramid; but why not the other way around?

    I would like to see a two way reporting system, where staff can comment and grade their immediate managers (and the organisation on a whole), with those leaders and senior leaders who do not meet the required standard facing penalisation by way of restoring efficiency procedures or possible demotion. This needs to be a tangible and quantifiable process, with equal merit placed on both sides of the reporting structure, rather than a token gesture. Only when there is a fair and transparent reporting system in place, where everybody is held to account within the organisation can there be true fairness.

    • Replies to The Disgruntled Goat>

      Comment by Andrea posted on

      I welcome the fact that the Civil Service continues to recognise that there are elements of its culture that need to change. To provide a healthy platform for this, something needs to happen to address existing damage as a result of poor leadership experience. There are a lot of Civil Servants out there who are suffering from disillusionment. Wikipedia defines this as: 'a feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be'. I note the comments made by 'Disgruntled Goat', as a good example of this. These are people who have worked very hard for many years, but have lost confidence and impetus because they have apparently reached a ceiling. Something needs to be done to provide them with a new stimulus in a way that recognises their loyalty and value to the organisation. The PMR process, which attempts to address this, doesn't always work because offering personal 'development' to those of us with many years of experience, can sometimes just appear patronising and demotivating.
      So, may I suggest you add the following theme to your list:
      'Tackle existing disillusionment and negativity resulting from poor leadership experience, by finding new ways to motivate, build confidence and inspire ongoing effort'.

  54. Comment by Nick Pett posted on

    Jeremy, I wholeheartedly welcome the key themes that you mention above. I am particularly keen on the idea of showing passion for public service and civil service values; there are plenty of people working in the civil service now who seem to have forgotten about this. We are in the service of the taxpayer and we should be incredibly proud to have been selected to be in such a position. We in public service should reflect every day on what we ourselves would expect, as citizens, in terms of service and performance from our bureaucracy, and strive to meet that target.

    I also welcome the comments about challenge, diversity and openness. On that note, I would like to invite you, if you haven't already, to sign up to the UN Women "He For She" programme, and to do so publicly. As a senior figure in one of the largest organisations in the world, and as a man, you have a vital leadership role to play in this newly launched endeavour. Once you have signed up, I would then encourage you to advocate for this movement, and to publicly sign up to actions that you will take to break down barriers to equality. I do not ask you to do this as an alternative to a commitment to equality overall, but because this is one valid part of the larger change that is required. I would finally encourage you to advocate for this across the civil service, particularly the overwhelmingly male senior civil service. Your potential influence is significant, please use it.

  55. Comment by Veronica Olsson posted on

    I agree with the previous comment.
    More needs to be done to start an adult conversation about how as we move to be
    more professional
    more innovative
    more risk averse
    and develop leaders who can cope when things go wrong and learn positive lessons from that experience
    and then how our leaders then challenge government to reward our people without making them feel like second class citizens. Our leaders need to be strong enough to challenge the political agenda that is selling Civil Servants short. Frontline staff hear and see the customer experience daily; they know where things are going wrong – put more in place to listen & value their voices.
    You talk about departments working cross government and challenging the silo mentality, then I think we need to look seriously at how all our convoluted governance arrangements have developed to protect the status quo, they are not designed to challenge it, in fact they create blockers to helping innovation gain pace.
    Finally, when you think of leaders who are you thinking about? SCS is only a small (all be it influential) part to the leadership tree. Leadership development need to develop leadership skills regardless of grade.

  56. Comment by Sarah Indge posted on

    Regarding the theme: 'caring more about nurturing and developing talent and potential', don't assume that the only talented staff are the ones in the fast stream/graduate schemes and don't make the rest of us feel like second best.

  57. Comment by Name withheld due to fear of victimisation posted on

    You say: "having the courage to challenge others, speaking ‘truth to power’–and welcoming challenge oneself" to which I would add:

    "Leaders should avoid introducing LIONS and challenge others who do so" (LIONS are Local Interpretation Of National Standards)

    I am thinking particularly of the so called "guided" distribution Performance Management system. Our senior management have made it quite clear that it will be a forced distribution. I have learnt (but of course there is no documentary evidence available because it was all done by word of mouth) that in the last performance year, one junior manager was told that unless they made one of their team a Box 3, they themselves would be one.

    It is bad enough that the Civil Service persists with this demoralising system at all. Even worse that the slight glimmer of hope offered when it changed from forced to "guided" is being overriden (presumably because senior management don't want the hassle of justifying why there are say only 7% in Box 3 rather than the required 10% - 15%).

    If the top people in the Civil Service want this to be a forced distrubution, they should have the guts to say so, openly and in writing to all staff. But if "guided" is to mean something other than forced, then individual depts/agencies and regions within them shouldn't be allowed to change the National Standard.

    • Replies to Name withheld due to fear of victimisation>

      Comment by Mandy posted on

      Here, here, Sarah 🙂

  58. Comment by Confused posted on

    Would Sir Jeremy like to explain what the phrase speaking 'truth to power ' is supposed to mean. Once again we have a blog full of typical civil service senior management speak

  59. Comment by cad posted on

    If you want less bureaucracy and more efficiency then scrap the PMR process in its current form. I dread to think how many staff years this is costing across the civil service for virtually no pay back.

  60. Comment by Hass posted on

    I think that a leadership statement also has to make reference to respect. Too often I think that leaders at the top respond to perfectly valid questions and concerns from staff with an attitude of "well this is the way it is/is going to be so get used to it", which gives at least a hint of disrespect for the people actually delivering the services that allow these top people to earn their bonuses.

  61. Comment by BIlly D posted on

    Given the recent announcement on another cap on wages, I can't take any of this seriously to be honest. There comes a time when Senior Managers really do need to get real. But of course, they are on big wages so are largely fireproofed from these things. They should also stop pontificating about diversity given the recent findings from the Milburn report. Only 6 fast trackers in 2012 came from a working class background so all this talk about diversity is comtemptible. I wonder how many Senior civil servants went to private school? As per usual all power is invested in the cosy club.

  62. Comment by Poor and miserable posted on

    Please add the theme:

    'Caring More about low pay for lower grades'

    Certain grades haven't had a pay rise in over 6 years and are struggling on wages barely over minimum wage. Getting poorer as each year goes by as cost of living rises. Low morale as a result of this seems to be taken so casually by management. Can this please be taken seriously and addressed finally?

    I can't believe this wasn't a common thread taken from last year's People Survey!

    • Replies to Poor and miserable>

      Comment by John MacDonald posted on

      Probably because PCS recommended that their members didn't complete last year's People Survey, as with 2011 and this year.