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Civil Service

Better leadership in the Civil Service: a statement of intent

Leadership Statement
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The Civil Service has achieved a huge amount in this Parliament, helping the Government to design and deliver its programme, and operating services that affect the lives of millions of people. This reflects the hard work, and discretionary effort, of civil servants up and down the country and changes to the way we work as a result of the Civil Service Reform Plan. Overall, the Civil Service is becoming more innovative, more digital, more open and more responsive to the needs of service users. Productivity is rising, performance is improving and trust in the Civil Service is at record levels.

In one sense, this is not surprising. We know that much of the impetus for change in recent years has come from civil servants themselves - dissatisfied with the outdated, inflexible structures, processes and technologies that prevent them from reaching their potential and doing the best for the country.

Leaders as role models

To ensure that the changes now underway become deeply ingrained in the culture of the Civil Service of the future, our leaders must become role models for the new ways of working. They must challenge themselves and each other to improve how the Civil Service operates, and the way we act together to ensure the Civil Service provides the best service it can - to Ministers and the public. There is a real desire for greater clarity about what is expected of all leaders: all the empirical evidence, independent reports and best practice from the private sector show that strong leadership is critical to the culture of high-performing organisations, and the Civil Service is no exception.

So, we made a clear commitment in October’s Progress Report on Civil Service Reform, to write down the behaviours that we expect all leaders across Civil Service grades to exemplify, and ensure that reality matches rhetoric.  Over the past 4 months, you were invited to contribute your opinions on what good leadership looks like, what you value in your leaders and what behaviours need to change.

Now, acting on the results of this consultation, in which literally thousands of civil servants across the country took part, alongside the views reflected in the People Survey and other feedback, we have issued a single, clear statement of what you can expect of Civil Service leaders at all levels. It responds directly to your comments about the positive attributes you are proud of, and to the persistent messages about what elements of our culture need to change.

The Leadership Statement

This statement of intent takes as its starting point the responsibility of the Civil Service for the effective delivery of the Government’s programme and Ministers’ priorities, living its values and serving the public. It then highlights the 3 key characteristics that you have indicated you expect from effective leaders, and that Civil Service leaders promise to live up to. They will be:

  • inspiring - about their work and its future
  • confident - in their engagement
  • empowering - their teams to deliver

Why is this statement more than the sum of its parts?

In drafting this statement, we have listened to what you are saying needs to change. We expect leaders at all levels to hold the Leadership Statement up as a mirror to their own behaviours in a challenging and constructive way, and to be honest about where they are falling short and take appropriate action to address it. They will be given the support, tools and training they need to do so.

But we are going further than this.

We expect you to follow closely how the statement translates into real and observable behaviour change in your leaders. So, meeting the substance behind the spirit of the headline themes will be embedded in the performance agreements and objectives of all leaders.

Further still, the Statement will be supported by a new 360-degree reporting mechanism. For the first time, staff will have the opportunity to assess their leaders and measure their performance against the values set out in the Leadership Statement. Initially, this will apply to the 150 or so leaders in the Senior Leadership Group, but for the 2015/16 appraisal year the entire SCS community will be assessed against a single, robust 360-degree feedback tool, aligned to the Leadership Statement.

The impact of the statement will also be continuously monitored, including through hard data - how it is reflected in recruitment, promotion and talent management practices, for example - and feedback from civil servants through our regular surveys and communications channels. We want you to see that progress and reward will be dependent on showing the leadership behaviours expected.

Lined up behind the Leadership Statement are the critical elements for developing the Civil Service - increased capability in key areas, smarter working, greater transparency, a truly diverse workforce and talent that is properly harnessed and given the opportunity to shine, wherever we find it. Better leaders will make for a more capable, collaborative, confident, efficient and fulfilled Civil Service, delivering better public services.

If you want to know more about the Leadership Statement, what it means for you and your managers, and how it will be implemented, Civil Service leaders will be talking about different aspects of the Statement in the coming weeks, and a series of events and communications will be run within departments.

You can read the statement and find further information here.

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  1. Comment by Micha Nether-Stowey posted on

    Higher managers still do not listen and over manage everything. Basically they dont trust us to get the job done properly so have to interfere in every tiny tiny little bit of work. If you know anything about management then you will know this is destructive. The staff suffer the most .So sorry but the statement means nothing to me or my collegues. The underpaid, undervalued people at the bottom who actually do the work.And please , please do not insult us by saying we are valued as the lack of pay rises, and being stripped of anything of reward value , making us work on things we have no training in, making us do our work in a way that devalues it and making us count everything a 100 times a week says differently

  2. Comment by Adam posted on

    I went onto CS Learning and the self-assessment tool doesn't work - there is a page for it but no actual tool?

  3. Comment by Andrew C posted on

    I'm sure you will have referenced this article - I've just stumbled on it whilst trying to understand more about what "speaking truth to power" means. For me it articulates what "speaking truth to power" is, what it feels like for the recipient and initiator and what are the (often dire) consequences when it isn't part of the organisational culture.

  4. Comment by John D posted on

    It is hard to take in the valuing professional expertise context in the Leadership Statement as a civil servant employed in "a bespoke trading entity, an arm's length body of the Ministry of Defence". DE&S is being transformed by injection of consultants and leaders by-passing existing experienced Civil Servant in many instances and associated pay scales. This is against the backdrop of successive governments eroding CS terms and conditions and regressing pay in real terms whilst attacking the country's public sector, I'm afraid I'm a bit cynical after reading the Leadership Statement as a document.

    • Replies to John D>

      Comment by Paul posted on

      I agree with you completely. It has now become a Job for the boy’s environment with non civil servants employing their colleagues on inflated salaries without competition. The whole structure and ethics that the civil service was built on is crumbling.

  5. Comment by Alison posted on

    I am involved in Learning & Development. Whilst working on a piece of work that identifies if we are supporting the team at the 'front line' of our network it is clear that unless 1st Line Management make an effort then it is irrelevant whether the Senior Leadership Team spend their entire time on being 'better' (whatever that looks like) leaders, the people doing the work are being left to flounder and simply try to do the best job they can before they become disengaged and disheartened and end up just donig the job they 'have' to do until payday. I have had some fantastic Line Managers and I have had some pretty dreadful ones; frankly very few have been 'Leaders'.

  6. Comment by Jeremy Heywood posted on

    Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

    It is good that we are being challenged to demonstrate our commitment to this, and as Alex Aiken pointed out, it is important to stress we are only at the start of this journey. It is important for leaders at all levels to embody the Leadership Statement and actively encourage and welcome challenge. Leadership is not an add-on and the assumption is that the behaviours in the Statement will be applied consistently. This is precisely why we have developed a coherent 360 tool that all senior leaders are required to complete this year (extended to the whole SCS next year) that is built into the appraisal process. This will afford staff the opportunity to assess senior leaders against the values outlined in the statement and enable leaders to consider the impact they are having and reflect on areas for improvement.

    It is also important to point out that this is not just about leadership at the top of our organisation. We want to push leadership at all levels as it is vital to so much of what we are striving to achieve. If we are to continue to deliver excellent public services and build a civil service that is a great employer that values the diversity of our workforce we will be reliant on a strong, empowering and inspiration leadership all the way through the Civil Service.

    • Replies to Jeremy Heywood>

      Comment by Andrea posted on

      I see this statement as an important sign post for us all. It is good that our Senior leaders are pointing us in the right direction.and right that we all take responsibility for the next steps. BUT, whilst we can be reasonably confident that all appointed Civil Servants are fully aware of the statement, I am not sure that is the case for our consultant colleagues. In my Department, many of them don't even have access to the Intranet, so they may know nothing about it! I'm not sure anyone sees this as an issue and so they carry on displaying the behaviours learned outside the Civil Service, which in some cases are very poor. They therefore seem to me a 'race apart' here, strangely exempt from the standards which the rest of us are being asked to apply. It would be helpful if as a follow-up to the statement, consideration could be given as to how to overcome this deficiency and ensure that everyone employed by the Civil Service is treated equally and behaviours are consistent.

  7. Comment by Ruth2 posted on

    I agree with Alex. The Civil Service has been talking about improving its leaders and their leadership capability for at least the last 30 years. Senior Grades and Fast Streamers were encouraged to attend leadership courses at the Civil Service College. Those who did should now be at the top of the tree, but the troops on the ground don't see that. And what have these "senior leaders" been doing to develop their successors? Not so long ago we were told that we were all leaders! As for "surfacing tensions", does this mean letting the staff up to the surface for fresh air or tarmacing over their concerns?

  8. Comment by Alex posted on

    Sorry, but it's just a statement of vague, woolly nonsense, After 28 years in the department (HMRC but I always say Inland Revenue) I've seen statements like this come and go and they're never adhered to mainly becuase they're so vague that it's impossible to, or because the people at the top move & leave so quickly that they can't be held to these promises.
    That's why we have a new statement or suchlike every few years - they always fail.

    And as for silos - I thought it was something that animal feed is kept in for farming. Why on earth do we use these silly terms?

  9. Comment by Pat posted on

    Statements of this sort would only be useful if they are linked to indicators of success (or key performance indicators, if you prefer): that government departments are more productive; that there is less overtime (paid or unpaid); that levels of customer satisfaction (where it is appropriate) remain high; that departments demonstrate their inclusivity (in mine, staff with manageable mental health conditions were steered towards voluntary redundancy and remain unemployed); that the aims of the department filter down to and are owned by individuals. I worry also about the 'working in silos' bit. Essentially, if you look at this more widely, any government department is up for grabs to be subsumed into another department. So then you have the worry about 'terms and conditions' (mentioned by others). Whose will you enjoy?

  10. Comment by Paul W posted on


    Just to flag up to anyone who hasn't been able to access the pink block of text, the Civil Service Disability Network has raised the requirement to provide an accessible version (and that this should have been done at the ouset).

    Hopefully this will be done shortly.

    Paul Willgoss MBE
    Vice-Chair Civil Service Disability Network

  11. Comment by Barry Owen posted on

    Unfortunately Civil Service reform is not being driven by a desire to improve the Service, which I think would be shared by most who work in it, or a desire to recognise the innumerable talented people in the Service, rather than by the highly politicised Cabinet Office which appears to have "another" agenda at its core. Obviously the Cabinet Office would I'm sure agree that as Civil Servants we serve the country not a political party.

  12. Comment by Ken posted on

    This is a well-worn path. Issue a few management words and then sit back, thinking 'job done'. The difficult bit - actually ensuring that managers are properly selected, trained and supervised in their roles - is swept under the carpet. Business as usual!

  13. Comment by Ruth posted on

    I would have like to have seen wording about supporting staff, building and recognising their capability. Another area would be about being consistent and not showing unconcious or concious bias.

  14. Comment by Michael Conneely posted on

    Some one I know who has worked in both the Civil Service and the private sector considered that on balance the CS delivered better. So to maintain deliveries, promote committed internal people not job hoppers or CV builders from outside who may scarper when matters become tough.

  15. Comment by Alex Aiken posted on

    I used the leadership statement in a meeting with a group of colleagues at a Cabinet Office workshop on leadership on Friday. It's part of a regular training programme. The participants were a mixture of grades and roles and it was interesting that there was a really positive welcome for the statement but an understandable desire to see action taking place and the commitments followed through. I reassured them that the new 360 degree feedback, end of year reviews, courses and Civil Service Live were opportunities to test that, but we are at the start of the project.

    They were really struck by the emphasis on honesty, on being straightforward and simply more clear with each other, seeing the read across to performance management. If we can all do this there are tangible benefits for everyone in terms of career progression and productivity.

    The success of the statement - a more empowered, confident and inspiring civil service is surely down to everyone playing their role, from the top certainly but right across the grades, disciplines, departments and agencies, starting with honest team discussions about what the statement means to the way we work and relate to one another.

  16. Comment by Janet posted on

    360 degree reporting? How many, honestly, are going to say anything that is anything other than glowing, as they will be marked down if they do say something that is deemed negative towards their Manager(s)

  17. Comment by Margaret posted on

    Too many times as Civil Servants we are criticised for our ability, skills and professionalism by Ministers & Exec. Management, whose answer is to bring in externals who are deemed to be better in all aspects - Except the critical areas of Leadership, motivation & trust. Not wishing to sound like a dinousaur, but I've been here long enough to recognise this is just another re-work of the values we've always worked to and tried to deliver against. Maybe more thought and effort should be put into how we celebrate & reward the successes and achievements of our hard working, committed teams who continue to deliver, despite their conditions being constantly erroded. Dealing with Suppliers on a daily basis I can confidently say, that Civil Servants are widely undervalued, the Private Sector constantly demonstrates serious inadequacies on delivery and quality.

    • Replies to Margaret>

      Comment by John posted on

      I totally agree with everything Margaret has said.
      Trust in the Civil Service may be at record levels, but trust in senior management is reaching a very low point.
      We have some talented performers working in the department, but seem intent on head hunting successful, (and indeed some not so successful) senior managers from the Private sector, rather than looking from within.
      The one part of the statement that jumps out at me is "we will welcome challenge however uncomfortable". This is commendable, but if you then totally ignore the feedback you receive, (for example on the despised appraisal system), then there is little point in making the statement.
      I’m proud of what I do on a daily basis.
      All I would ask of our senior leaders is to listen to what staff on the frontline have to say, and stand up for them, which includes objecting against policy / timescales imposed by the government of the day if it is unrealistic. In the past civil service “leaders” in my experience have done just that, not followed blindly like lemmings.
      We need to motivate and start rewarding the staff you are expecting to implement one of the biggest reform programmes the department has ever undertaken.

  18. Comment by Tim posted on

    Firstly let be bracket my statement to support its validity – within the Civil Service my grade makes me an none entity however I bring with me 18yrs service as an army officer and including a 2 ½ yrs posting to a University Officer Training Corps as the 2iC Advanced Training Wing teaching undergraduate potential officers leadership I ended my military career spent primarily leading men (no apologies for the gender reference) in the Infantry with a number of years as a leadership, training and human resource expert in the Equipment Support wing - REME.
    I read therefore the leadership statement with cautious interest.
    While I found some of the statements amusing in their ‘woolliness’ especially, after reading statements like ’straightforward’, and ‘resolving ambiguities’. However what really enraged me was the statement about ‘champion both difference and external experience’ – space for an inappropriate adjective – get real
    When you have an application form that limits examples of competencies to the past 3 years how can this service the above, when it leaves individuals who can demonstrate decision making under pressure through experiences such as; being an incident controller on a fatal air crash in 18inch of snow at night during -28 degrees and potentially in the middle of a mine field, but due to the narrow introverted application of the rules has been restricted to one of the lowest grades in the service because they have failed to make the ordering on a new pack of staples sound dynamic enough, as this is potentially the most extravagant experience they have been allowed to have in the last 10yrs service as a civil servant.
    Has the ability and capability of taking command in stressful and demanding situation dissipated so much that this is now what your effective ability level has become, or is this another method of discreetly ensuring those who’s natural leadership capacity and who frighten other with no real ability, but who hold the posting where they enjoy the authority and privilege the post offers, can be side-lined. This week a vacancy for advancement closed without my application, purely because I am no longer going to offer an opportunity to those with no ability to diminish my personal pride and the dignity I owe the memory of so many who willing followed me.
    Cleary as one of the foot soldier I am ‘Inspired’ ‘Empowered’ and by the time this has been read by some ‘Confidant’ of getting reprimanded or marked down on an annual assessment.

    • Replies to Tim>

      Comment by Darren posted on

      I have to agree with Tim, I am also ex-HM Forces. I have given up the last seven years of my spare time and annual leave to achieve a BA Hons in Business Studies whilst looking after a disabled parent. I have also taken on many extra duties which have helped my Department through many transitional stages. Despite excellent leadership qualities gained via my forces training and my determination to continually improve myself, I am also tied to a low grade. I have over the years observed the 'jobs for the boys' culture many, many times and yes I feel you are right that people with natural talent do frighten many in higher positions than themselves. Having said all that, I am adament that I will eventually achieve the grade I know I deserve through downright dogged determination. I must add that I expect very little help to 'develop' from my managers as none have been offered in 20+ years of service despite them knowing of my eagerness to progress.

  19. Comment by Karen Hatt posted on

    This is wonderful rhetoric and it is clear that our leadership are coming up with contemporary new ways of looking at things. I would like to see first line managers empowered to reward and motivate their staff and this needs a budget allocation, however we cannot be seen rewarding our staff from the public purse because there is not enough to go around, so how do we motivate and reward staff who are already working for lower than the private sector wages? We have pride in our work and this needs to translate into feeling valued.

    • Replies to Karen Hatt>

      Comment by Oliver Robbins, Cabinet Office posted on

      Thanks for your comment Karen. I'm glad the intent seems to strike the right note with you, and there is certainly the commitment from the top of the Service to keep the focus on developing leadership capability. But the point you make is of course right: our colleagues' motivation is vital, and some flexibility to find ways to reward and recognise great work is really valuable for leaders at every level. Many departments are of course trying to find ways of recognising achievement when financial rewards have been much harder to offer. The purpose of this Statement, and the work that goes along with it, is to make sure that we do one of the things that is absolutely within our power: lead our people with energy and integrity so that we bring out the best in them and ourselves.


      • Replies to Oliver Robbins, Cabinet Office>

        Comment by Colin posted on

        I agree with you - in that the Civil Service needs to be more innovative in looking for ways to recognise achievement, particularly when financial rewards are harder to offer. But I'd be interested in your views on how that squares with the HMRC approach - where, if my efforts result in promotion, my contract is then withdrawn and a new one imposed under which I have to work longer hours and receive less Annual Leave? I'd say that's a curious way of showing that "my motivation is vital".

  20. Comment by Dave C posted on

    About that People Survey: Did the Dept of Health include patients in the Civil Service survey? Or MoJ include prisoners?

    The MoD included the military in our survey. Up to 44% of responses were military in some TLBs. The military are, of course, on completely different Terms & Conditions: better pay, better pensions, accomodation, etc.
    I'm not saying they don't derserve it; they do, but if you check the results* for question B38: 'I am satisfied with the total benefits package', you will see that 40% of military agree or strongly agree, compared to 26% of civilians.
    The published result is 33% - wildly different from the CS respondents' view.

    *MoD are not publishing the results split by civilian and military; an FOI is required.

  21. Comment by Menna Rawlings posted on

    I like this a lot, and thanks for the opportunity to feed into the process and to comment on the outcome.
    I think there is a gap in the market for this sort of statement, and the very clear sense of mission which has hitherto been lacking for the Civil Service as a whole.
    It's important too that we keep setting our own standards for the sort of behaviours we want to model and see in others. Some of us at Director level across the Civil Service have recently made our own leadership commitment, and said we will do the following five things:
    1. Feel and instil pride and passion for what we do and for public service.
    2. Focus on the positives. Challenge the negatives, especially bad behaviour.
    3. Take risks. Encourage staff to do the same and have their backs. Accept and learn from failure and set-backs.
    4. Role model collaboration and inclusiveness. Get out more. Build networks.
    5. Create space to keep working on these issues, as our contribution to the future.
    These echo many of the ideas in the Leadership Statement, but we developed them ourselves in collaborative way, and thus feel a strong sense of commitment to these sorts of behaviours. It would be great if others could use the statement as a licence to do the same.

    • Replies to Menna Rawlings>

      Comment by Oliver Robbins, Cabinet Office posted on

      Thanks very much for these thoughts Menna. This is exactly the spirit in which we hope people will use the Statement - as a prompt for discussion, self-reflection and personal development. The list of five commitments you've made with your colleagues is a great starting point, I think. I've been encouraging colleagues to start by just focusing on one of the bullets they know in the heart-of-hearts is an area where they've got room to improve, and making a commitment to do something practical that teammates will notice over the months ahead.


  22. Comment by Hugh Neill posted on

    I'd have liked to see 'commitment' and 'accountability'. There is a perception I think that some leaders sweep in, author impossible changes, hold (committed) staff accountable for delivering them and then, having been rewarded for apparently (though not actually?) delivering, slip away into some other new post with no apparent accountability when chickens come home to roost.

    • Replies to Hugh Neill>

      Comment by Dave C posted on

      'Integrity' fits in there as well. I'm surprised it wasn't included.

  23. Comment by David Wellings posted on

    Too many leaders operate in a 'business as usual' comfort zone without recognising the impact this has, or could have on their commands if they truly were inspiring, confident and empowering. Greater transparency has already been identified as a critical element, but equally important is impartiality, which, despite the recent training module on unconcious bias, is a long way from being embedded in the behaviours of leaders.

  24. Comment by Anthony Getgood posted on

    I'm assuming the 360 degree reporting mehanism will be developed to manage performance against leadership (in whichever variation "leadership" is defined).
    I agree with Paul; perhaps replace confidence with consistency in our engagement, which the bullet points support well.

    • Replies to Anthony Getgood>

      Comment by Oliver Robbins, Cabinet Office posted on

      Thanks Anthony, and Paul, for the comments on the importance of consistency. One of the things we found civil servants overwhelmingly cared about was clear, honest, two-way engagement with their leaders. Civil servants seem to accept that we're working in rapidly changing times, but want to feel part of the discussion with their leaders about where we're going. "Confidence" seemed to be the quality that leaders need for this clear, consistent two-way engagement. But Jeremy and the rest of the Civil Service senior leadership do want to be highly consistent about the way we implement and hold ourselves to the values in the Statement. That's why you'll see quite a lot more by way of support to Civil Service leaders at every level in how to develop as leaders, and a real focus on great leadership qualities in the way we appoint and appraise leaders. Thank you for your thoughts and engagement.


  25. Comment by Paul posted on

    Nothing new in there and all good as an aim for leaders. However, whilst I am proud of what DWP does, it is sometimes a bit tricky being inspiring and showing 'pride in, and passion for, public service' when all one hears from this administration is the demonisation of the public sector and civil servants.

  26. Comment by Paul Hardacre posted on

    I think consistency should have been in the Leadership statement somewhere.

  27. Comment by Richard Bolton posted on

    Can't help but be a bit cynical about this I'm afraid. I appreciate the intent to improve leadership capability (which has got worse and worse over the last few years).

    We've got a decent statement of this sort of 'stuff' in the core competence framework that describes the 'how' people should be operating.

    Why spend more and more time creating different variations on the same thing that people are probably really pleased with themselves for producing but is going to be put on a wall and not adhered to in most places?

    Use the one we've got but actually do something to manage people's performance against it please!