https://civilservice.blog.gov.uk/2015/03/03/experience-the-best-teacher/

Experience: the best teacher

John ManzoniI want to take this opportunity to follow up on a particular aspect of my recent Civil Service World interview - the importance of experience.

As I’ve said before, the Civil Service contains some of the brightest, most intelligent people I’ve ever met. I see this every day, in our ability to grapple with complex issues, formulate policy solutions, and provide sensible and well thought out advice to our Ministers.

I’d like to see more of that greatness translating across to delivery too. Activities like managing contracts and running programmes are the foundations of successful delivery. We could be even better at these if we added more experience into the mix.

Experience gives you confidence

Experience is what gives you the confidence to make difficult decisions - not because you understand the problem in theory, but because you’ve been there, done it, and seen what does and doesn’t work. From that experience stems confidence, leadership and judgement.

It’s also key to being able to estimate the time, effort and resource required to get a project over the line - something we systematically underestimate. Too often things take more time or money than planned - greater experience helps us make better predictions.

This does not mean the end of the so-called “generalist". Large, complex organisations like the Civil Service need a cadre of generalists in the most senior positions – people who’ve spent their career moving around, seeing the whole. They need that range of different perspectives, so that they can pull them together to make informed, well-rounded decisions that affect the whole.

But alongside those generalists, we need more delivery professionals too. Career planning and clear paths are key to making that a reality. There is no reason at all why we can’t create career paths to train world class delivery skills. We have the best sweet shop in the country in terms of opportunities, and the best raw material to work with.

We need to take our talented young people, and build experienced leaders with excellent judgement and confidence who can transform, lead, motivate, and deliver all at the same time.We need to give them the opportunities, early and often, to work out what their career anchor is, and when to step outside it to learn about other areas. From formal schemes such as the Major Projects Leadership Academy and the Commissioning Academy, to the new Corporate Fast Streams, we’re starting to give people the opportunities to develop deep delivery experience right from the beginning.

So, in considering our future leaders and the skills they will need, my steer is that we should start to value depth of experience as highly as its breadth.

93 comments

  1. Comment by Neil Sutherland posted on

    This is revolutionary thinking, in an organisation which has gone to great lengths to eliminate experience from the attributes we value. It was the understanding of the value of experience that underpinned the notion of annual increments - now finally consigned to history. That decision may have been correct, but the idea of valuing experience requires a reversal of many years of entrenched thinking at the top.

    • Replies to Neil Sutherland>

      Comment by John Ridley posted on

      I agree with Neil Sutherland, but it's not just annual Increments, what about the top increments being removed for E1's. This as much as said to all experienced E1's that their experience was not valued.

  2. Comment by John Harris posted on

    Nice to see someone recognising the value of experience in the Civil Service. This should be considered when lengthy, expensive recruitment processes are undertaken, which often fail to attract the 'right' people.

  3. Comment by Gail Warrander posted on

    At last, some recognition... I have come in from 20 years in the private sector and manage complex programmes mobilising finance from and working with the financial and business private sectors in DFID. I've recruited people to do the same from investment banks. It's been a battle - right from CS not appreciating the need for hires, to the CS competency interviewing being biased to CS and not fit for recruiting specialists, to the problem of security clearances for people who have worked as consultants and don't have references for that period. When they arrive, the starting contracts, review systems and promotion all favour long term Civil servants, policy work and general competencies and not the ability to deliver on time and on budget complex, innovative and effective programmes. Internal audit and corporate support functions don't value the past experience of the hires and insist on a set of often less qualified external consultants to validate their/our work (poor vfm) which is de-motivating. Ultimately staff leave as their experience and technical skills are not valued and see no career path. The Talent Management system and SCS is geared to generalists. We have a cadre system in DFID which does something to recognise technical experience but has its limits - with remuneration and career ceilings.There is no recognition of expensive areas/those where there are skill shortages. All this definitely needs a review and I'd be happy to help.

  4. Comment by H posted on

    Juts wonder why it has to be talented YOUNG people - why not just talented people?

    • Replies to H>

      Comment by Val Hollylee posted on

      So they can pay them less than talented older people.

    • Replies to H>

      Comment by Not on the scrapheap yet posted on

      I totally agree with H. In my Department (DECC) there's far too much emphasis on young people and not enough recognition for people like me with 25+ years experience in the Civil Service.

  5. Comment by Chris Armstrong posted on

    Why just talented young people. With there no longer being a set retiremnt age and people often changing career later in life, why restrict the development to young people?

  6. Comment by Richard posted on

    I have been in my current grade for 10 years now but I am only halfway through the pay range.

  7. Comment by J posted on

    I have found experience is constantly undervalued during recruitment. You could be the most experienced at your job, have successfully occupied temporary promotion opportunities; you could have scored highly in end of year assessments and be well recognised by management as the go-to person with leading knowledge and competence in a subject field but when it comes to interview for promotion within the area of expertise, experience doesn’t count unless you can put this across successfully.
    For some people it appears that no amount of coaching is going to improve their interview technique. I have seen many, many less competent members of staff snatch away promotions from really experienced staff simply because they are really good at talking the talk at interview. I have seen experienced members of staff become disillusioned as they are told repeatedly that they should be easily capable of advancement within a field and yet the fail to articulate what is necessary at interview.
    To encourage the value of experience I would argue for the introduction of a weighting at interview that can take into account management reports on an individual’s suitability, experience, expertise and competence. I know this is probably not going to happen, but from my perspective until it is experience will remain sorely undervalued.

    • Replies to J>

      Comment by Laura posted on

      I could not agree more with J and many of the posts here. I have recently had first hand experience of this. I have been in my post for 10 years and am one of the most experienced members of staff in my department. I consistently get excellent appraisal markings, am regularly told I am more than capable of moving up to the next grade (and beyond), and have been on temporary promotion for the last 6 months. However, I recently missed out on permanent promotion due to adjudged underperformance at a competency based interview. I have the skills, knowledge and experience, but I just somehow failed to articulate that using the right buzzwords on the day. Experience and positive appraisals and recommendations counted for nothing in the recruitment process. It is completely demoralising and leaves staff feeling disillusioned with the Service which is consequently at risk of losing its most experienced staff. Most galling of all is that, on a departmental level at least, senior management don't seem to even care if we stay or go!

    • Replies to J>

      Comment by Tony posted on

      Wholeheartedly agree with J's comment above: https://civilservice.blog.gov.uk/2015/03/03/experience-the-best-teacher/#comment-41821
      Too often selection is not about an assessment of your experience or the opinions of those you have worked for previously, but is based on a superficial judgement of your performance in front a group of total strangers. We are led to believe this supports "fair and open" competition.

    • Replies to J>

      Comment by Rich posted on

      I cannot recommend J's comment highly enough, especially the last paragraph:

      'To encourage the value of experience I would argue for the introduction of a weighting at interview that can take into account management reports on an individual’s suitability, experience, expertise and competence.'

      Please can CS Jobs and those responsible for HR Policy look into this comment and respond? To be clear, whilst I dont think you should disadvantage external applicants, internal exercises should definitely use the last three year's PMRs to help form a picture of competence.

      What is the point in getting great report after great report proving you can do the job only for a 45 minute interview with people unfamiliar with the role you are applying for finding you wanting?

      Being able to spout the competencies means nothing compared to those of us who have always embodied the values of the CS and show this every day. I have heard of countless instances when recruiters ignore the person overperforming (sometimes on TP), recruit someone useless (ususally in their own image) and then realise they have massive problems.

      It costs a lot of money to carry out recruitment exercises and yet there seems to be little data looking into how effective the process has been and whether staff stay in post. There is even less information regarding the impact poor recruitment can have on morale, staff sickness and departures.

      The PMR system is unwieldly, inconsistently applied and there are far too many competencies. It needs to be simplified.I understand that there is a review but as per usual no one in my team has had a chance to influence this or share their experience. Sure we need high standards across the CS but not a homogenous mess reciting meaningless competencies.

      On a final note, I have project management qualifications, a degree, vast experience in accounts, contract managament etc but am told the CS lack in commercial awareness and acumen. I'm not one of the 'young' people that John mention and can't move to London. No progression or opportunities for me then. Unless you are young and in London there is very little for us to do other than keep ploughing on doing high level work at lower grades and being patronised every now again. It is high time the CS actually walked the walk, I hope John recognises this and realises that there is real talent outside the Senior Civil Service at all ages.

  8. Comment by Keith Spamer posted on

    More than 300 years of experience, evidenced by very high performance at the Official Receiver's office in Hull was thrown on the scrap heap in the name of cost cutting, a decision made by very senior managers which has proved to be flawed. The costs of closure significantly exceeding the so called savings.

  9. Comment by Martin Jones posted on

    I would tend to agree with Neil. For years now the civil service has failed to recognise the value of experience, not just with the scrapping of annual increments which by their very nature rewarded you for the knowledge you built up through experience but also through the reporting & promotion systems that are now in place that have put "self-promotion" at the top of the agenda & a culture that only values ambition (which by it's very nature is a selfish & self-serving state of mind) & not commitment to the business, colleagues, values etc. I fear to change the current status quo would be somewhat like Don Juan tipping at windmills as it would require such an enormous change in the culture currently entrenched within the civil service.

    • Replies to Martin Jones>

      Comment by Michael posted on

      Martin, while I hear what you are saying and agree with your comments (I find it easier to demonstrate my technical skills than to phrase an anecdote from the top of my head to match a competence geared question), just one inaccuracy: It was DON QUIXOTE who was TILTING at windmills. Quixote, a man who imagined he was a knight of old, and thought the windmills - machines - were giants, would probably be judged technologically backward by a sift panel before being asked about competences!

  10. Comment by Dj posted on

    Unfortunately, the days when experience, diligence and conscientiousness were attributes considered to be positive qualities are long gone.

    What remains is a void where opportunities to progress live only in the imagination, poor performance is tolerated and career progression is a combination of who you know and luck.

    Experience counts for nothing, if those who should should embrace it, treat it with disdain.

    • Replies to Dj>

      Comment by Disenchanted posted on

      I totally agree with DJ and I am certainly not the only one
      Experience, diligence and conscientiousness count for nothing. No one is interested in finding out the level of experience or skills individuals have’ Poor performance is not only tolerated, in some cases, these are people who seem to be more thought of. People skills and good manners does not appear to be a requirement for career progression, who you know and the ability to "produce" a good application seems to be the way to get on
      The majority of people I know don't feel valued and the latest survey results demonstrate the disgraceful way some people behave. There seems to be very little respect or appreciation

  11. Comment by Mary Franklin posted on

    So why are jobs being advertised externally when there are experienced staff within the department who can ht the ground running in these jobs? Even when advertised internally, those same experienced staff who have been doing an excellent job for years are excluded from applying, whilst individuals with little experience but who have passed training courses can apply.

  12. Comment by Anonymous posted on

    Experience, ability and qualifications are just some of the things the Civil Service ignores. It is more about what you are not about your talent.

  13. Comment by Peter Francis posted on

    In my opinion too often experience is not recognised and valued. Every decision, action, communication made should be underpinned by experience using wisdom and good judgement. Unfortunately we have dumbed down using defined processes to identify solutions so experience never has the opportunity to mature, build confidence and influence future decisions and actions....short but sweet...must get back to my process map.

  14. Comment by AE posted on

    I was promoted into the new area of Project Management, keen to learn a new skill, however that proved to be a big mistake as only contractors with 20 years plus of experience were seen as able to do the job and there was no transference of skill. Having sat for the last 6 months doing and learning nothing I moved on to a role that I was experienced in and in turn I lost all my pre-modernized terms and conditions whilst also taking a huge drop in salary. I may not be young and therefore not worth the investment, but I have also witnessed young, very talented people being sidelined and subsequently moving on. Experience generally gets the job done quicker and with todays pressures this seems to be our main focus. Training and investment in people takes time and this time most organisations can ill afford to lose. Striking a balance between experience and development will be a tough task but I hope your message filters through.

  15. Comment by Guy Incognito posted on

    If experience is valued why do you insist on using the insane competency framework for hiring? I worked for two full years as an angency contracted employee but then failed to get taken on permanently when the recruitment campaign was shipped out to some expensive third party company who just read 'competency framework' answers and then decided you weren't good enough to do the job you've been over-performing at for two years already.

  16. Comment by Joanne Harrison posted on

    There appears to be a complete contradiction in this article...speaking of valuing experience in the Civil Service and then ending with the focus on developing 'young' talent. Apart from the obvious potential for age discrimination, I am concerned that actions across Civil Service contradict the views expressed above. People with experience are being 'cut' from the CS in the attempts to drive down costs, and I can see the damage that this is doing to the services provided. If experience is to be valued so much then there needs to be a demonstration of valuing the experience already in place, and then also nurturing new talent, irrespective of age.

  17. Comment by J Clease posted on

    I would agree that developing specialist knowledge and know-how / experience may help us to get better at commissioning projects - particularly in the contracting phase. However, we should not expect this to be a panacea - Kahneman's theory of the "planning fallacy" predicts that even experienced professionals such as those being proposed will tend to underestimate the time, effort and resource required to get a project over the line. We may need additional tools to support staff in estimating such things - for example by providing framing examples of how long similar tasks actually took. This issue is discussed in his book "Thinking, Fast and Slow".

  18. Comment by Richard Sutherland posted on

    I completely agree Neil. For so Many Years than I care to remember all Senior Leaders have done is talk about moving staff around to build up their skill set and not listening to the the very vaild argument that you cant take all the experience from a team as that team's knowledge becomes diluted. I accept the movement of staff is important, however in my experience this has never been done in a very sensible planned way so as not to overtly effect the skill set and knowledge of any particular team.
    Experience is not valued enough and it is quite refreshing to finally hear someone in a senior position deliver that message

  19. Comment by John Ridley posted on

    It's not just experienced leaders that bring much to the Civil Service, It's the experienced E Grades also. Where I work there are a few of us who have worked for MOD for 20yrs or more, in my case 39yrs, some of us have stayed in the same post for many years bringing continuity to our Unit.

  20. Comment by Jean Naven posted on

    Do we not need to take ALL our talented people, not just young ones, and what is the definition of young please?

    • Replies to Jean Naven>

      Comment by Michael posted on

      I agree consideration of talent should be age neutral - in the West generally we are younger at 50 than our grandparents were. (Declare interest - age 55, 27 years E grade or equivalent in MOD.)

  21. Comment by Amy Farrah-Fowler posted on

    "We need to take our talented young people, and build experienced leaders with excellent judgement and confidence who can transform, lead, motivate, and deliver all at the same time. We need to give them the opportunities, early and often, to work out what their career anchor is, and when to step outside it to learn about other areas." Clearly, the emphasis here is on the Civil Service being proactive and working in partnership with individuals to build careers, rather than leaving it to those individuals to identify their talents by themselves and push themselves forward. I'm not sure anyone would characterise me as young (as least as measured by birthdays), but can I hope that (after thirty years of not doing so), the Civil Service will now take me and give me opportunities? Or should I conclude that the Civil Service is already doing just that with its talented people, and I just don't have any talents that it needs or wants?

  22. Comment by C Carter posted on

    Lets not forget that we have some talented older people in this organisation who haven't had this opportunity previously and would I'm sure be up for this. There's a lot of emphasis on the young, and on apprentices, but we shouldnt overlook those that aren't quite as young but have the experience that is being valued in this article.

  23. Comment by Technical SEO posted on

    I agree with the sentiment - experience should be both valued and rewarded. Unfortunately the lack of pay progression means organisations across the civil service are haemorrhaging high performing experienced staff.

    I've been in a highly technical role at SEO level for 5 years now, but I remain firmly fixed to the bottom of my pay scale. If someone were to join the organisation tomorrow in the same grade, we would be on the same pay. That doesn't seem quite right if we want to value experience.

    Equally, I have excellent performers in my team, who I know are looking for careers elsewhere because they don't feel they're being remunerated for their experience and excellent performance. I can see why, but have no way of offering any recompense.

    It doesn't and shouldn't always come down to money, but in the current climate of 1% pay rises and increased living costs it will continue to play a significant part in staff feeling valued for their experience.

  24. Comment by Andy posted on

    I completely agree with Neil. Linking in with other recent thoughts about actually listening to colleagues who do the job perhaps we could use experience to avoid the disasters brought about by career climbing or empire building individuals who don't know what they are talking about but somehow seem to get promoted and move on just before the chickens come home to roost from their "wonderful new idea" (or new broom syndrome) that will be of massive benefit. I'm afraid that I'll only believe it when actions speak louder than words. Cynical? Perhaps. After the best part of 30 years I've seen it and picked up the pieces too many times.

  25. Comment by Dave Tomley posted on

    As a Civil Servant with a Profession it's nice to see this approach start to be re-introduced.

  26. Comment by Matt Smith posted on

    It's just a pitty we don't pay for experience, I am currently 10 years in to my post and still 1 off the bottom of my pay scale and at current pay rise it will take 17 years to reach the top of the pay scale.

  27. Comment by P Jary posted on

    Very refreshing to read. Experience is key to success in so many ways and yet we seem to focus purely on results and delivery without caring how we get there far too often. It is important that people have the right experiences though - practice does not make perfect - you have to practice the right things. That is why it is so important that we grasp talent management, career management and knowledge management so that good practice is shared and exploited adn people get the right experience.

    One small point though - I have always had a great distaste for the term 'generalist' and how it can be used in a dismissive way. I am a specialist business and change manager and it's about time that this was recognised as a function across the civil service. As we are so often told, change is the only constant.

  28. Comment by Phil posted on

    The Civil Service stopped rewarding experience many years ago and Government policy is not to reward experience. In consequence, I cannot but see this ‘leadership’ blog as anything but another fluffy ‘in a perfect world’ statement. I have vastly more experience than some of my co-workers, I am consulted on a daily basis for my views and assistance yet my pay is essentially no different to a new joiner. How many more meaningless CS blogs do we have to suffer about how much experienced workers are ‘valued’ when in reality nothing is further from the truth. If you want me to be engaged and feel valued for my experience, pay me more. Oh no, sorry, that’s “unaffordable”, isn’t it?

  29. Comment by Mark Ifill posted on

    Surely it depends on the type of experience, in terms of progression and applying for jobs its all about satisfying competencies. If your role/experience does not involve commerce or project management your just building years of experience but nothing else.

    What about talented older people in the department? Everyone cannot do fast stream, everyone does not have a degree or can do online tests.

  30. Comment by Jonathan Spencer posted on

    Experience, when valued, underpins a quality of life in itself when there is a sense of purpose and accomplishment that is returned from service. It is by moving around, not restricting scope and opportunity - within the Civil Service and beyond it - that enriches diverse career experience. It is important to recognise it, and vital we make use of it.

    My return to the Civil Service was based on the experiences and skills it had previously given me. But perhaps more so, from the years away, I felt I had something to contribute and return with. And not forgetting how we often excel when we enjoy - and experience fits - what we are spending most of the week doing.

  31. Comment by Tom Lynch posted on

    I've personal experience of the frustration in trying to influence those revising 'guidance', when they don't appear to fully understand the underpinning legislation, or be aware of previous policy. How much knowledge simply disappears when older practitioners depart the scene?

  32. Comment by Hugh Neill posted on

    Those inclined to be bleak might say that experience has (in large part) taken voluntary exit/redundancy (VE/VR)where it had the option, tired of being told to bring its masters solutions, not problems, and of being labelled change resistant where it could or would not. They would say we have encouraged a culture of deceivers: those who - like the tax avoidance experts - look for loopholes in the target driven paradigm in order to show they have ‘met their targets’. Others might say that a number of difficult, self-serving, change resistant, narrow minded old-guard civil servants were happily washed out of the Service by VE/VR. Most would probably agree that some babies were washed out with the bathwater. I only walked in the entrance door to the Civil Service at 50+, a battered refugee from the private sector. I felt like the uncivil servant, so strange was this new culture to me. I understood why governance and accountability were more important in the Service than in my past SME life, but it seemed to me that – as with knights of old – an excess of clanking governance, intended to protect, might yet impede agility and put its owner for a fall. A good friend, a retired G6, prepared me by saying that “the problem with the Civil Service is that it tends to adopt lessons from the private sector about 15 years after the private sector has dismissed them as not working.” An interesting observation.

    Many years back, I read Suetonius’ biography The Twelve Caesars. In it, he describes Julius Caesar as a brilliant strategist: a man who preferred the counsel of older, experienced and more cautious generals to that of younger, more ambitious, and rash younger ones. I’ve always deferred to the idea that whilst age does not guarantee wisdom, the odds are in its favour. It is the challenge of leadership to pick out the wise ones from the old fools and deceivers. I’m not sure how well we‘ve been doing on that in recent times.

    We really must ensure we identify, nurture and listen to the seat of our corporate experience and integrity, encouraging it to feel safe in speaking directly and honestly, however much its words might be unwelcome or inconvenient. In history, it is perhaps this quality more than anything that distinguishes the great leaders from the great dictators. A good Roman does not tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to know.

  33. Comment by Martin Gross posted on

    A commendable view, but why does it always have to be focussed on 'talented young people' when there are plenty of talented 'not quite so young' people in the civil service (or new to the civil service) who would equally benefit from this exercise within their own career path?

  34. Comment by Old codger posted on

    Is it just me, or does this read oddly? It strikes me that we are saying experience is highly valuable, and then ignoring the already experienced in favour of people who have to be trained to become experienced.

    • Replies to Old codger>

      Comment by T posted on

      It's most certainly not you - regretfully with experience comes AGE just as salt comes with pepper and fish come with chips – it is a well known fact to the minions of this world- one can only assume that little experience has been gained by the originator of the article if he is unable to see that the most experienced within the CS - are those that have supported the departments over many years building as SME's in their own right. My only question is - at what age does one assume you are not within the 'Young Talent'? I’m 46 and do not consider myself old at all, but feel within this selection of bright young individuals I am nothing more than a dinosaur ready to be put out to pasture! Note to all though – have you noticed that this is one of two articles this month that is specifically targeted at young talent? Perhaps the policy makers and ministers need to be looking at their own age vs. experience and let us know if they are also to be over looked for the proverbial younger model? Let’s hope the less experienced electorate has more wisdom than us old folk when voting at the forthcoming elections and put us all out of our misery!

      • Replies to T>

        Comment by Michael posted on

        From my experience of some of the war graves I have visited, it may be tempting to answer 'we'll only count in war'. There are many known to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who in terms of age would make the present PM and his Deputy look like brats! (Wasn't Churchill 65 when he first became PM in WWII?)

        • Replies to Michael>

          Comment by Michael Conneely posted on

          Churchill was in his sixties when he became PM in 1940 but in his wilderness tears of the 1930s he had a useful rest which gave him the vigour needed for WW2.

  35. Comment by Adrian Davis posted on

    I find this very encouraging. I'm a Civil Servant who has specialisied in supporting Project Delivery (I'm an expert planner and scheduler) for over 10 years. For my carear to build on my experience, we really do need to see project delivery established as a profession in the Civil Service. Quite rightly that needs to start with the top tier of civil servants. By placing SRO's in charge of major programmes who are geniune leaders in the Project Profession I hope we will see SRO's encourage and grow professionalisation in Project Delivery in the lower grades.

  36. Comment by Adam posted on

    Superb that we have the values, lets have the will to act on them.

    I see LEGACY PROCEDURES are the do or die test for this. Do we let the experienced senior staff leave without passing their experience on?

    Presently - yes. From what I can see in my department.

    Ideally - no! Give those leaving a lighter workload to free up time to teach others in the department. It is cost effective for the Civil Service to pass on valueable lessons from senior to junior, rather than the junior having to reinvest the wheel when the time comes!

  37. Comment by Garry Hunter posted on

    In my sector of the organisation, Experience is one of the most important attributes to keeping the ever diminishing human resources informed and motivated to continue producing levels of service vital to maintain peace and harmony within our Prisons.
    The Experience is so valued by this Government that it will be getting another 0% pay rise this year and likely for the next five or six years to come. Whilst at the same time, taking on more responsibility and risk.

  38. Comment by A Shaw posted on

    While I applaud the sentiment, I have watched the Civil Service downgrade, devalue and punish experience for thirty years.
    Experience is expensive and career limiting because experienced people voice concerns, object to lunacies and point out pitfalls; universally dismissed by administrations of all stripes as 'failing to see the vision'.
    It is usually a desire to see that vision realised as efficiently as possible which drives most experienced voices to express their concerns. But it is easier and cheaper to vilify those raising legitimate concerns and roll out a broken product, leaving staff and the next incumbents to sort out the mess.
    I would love to work somewhere where experience was valued, although the irony of needing to target ''our talented young people'' is not lost on me. I was young once, young people are valuable, but there might just be a case for seeking experience amongst those of us who have already had the opportunity to gain some.

  39. Comment by Paul Goater posted on

    I am half way up the pay scale for my grade. I am a compliance officer with more than 12 years experience in the same job. I have mentored colleagues new to the job who earn more than me because they have been in post longer. I have never had a performance marking anything less than good. My job is important and necessary, my performance markings show i am good at it and I carry valuable experience which i share with people new to the role. Why must the only option open to me for a modest pay rise be to move to a different job that after 2 years of training i may not like or may not be as good at?

  40. Comment by Richard Sutherland posted on

    Here Here A Shaw. It sounds like you have come across the same attitudes that i have been faced with in my career. Experienced staff raising legitimate concerns are seen as a nuisance and labelled as 'negative' and in some cases blatantly ignored. This is why I moved on by changing departments (19 years of experience lost by that department simply because they chose not to listen or properly value that experience) rather than sort out the mess of rolling out a broken product (or product not fit for purpose) despite clear evidence that this product was a step backwards for the team that was expected to use it but as this product was from an idea from someone in the upper echelons of the organisation no one was prepared to properly challenge the roll out of it. Lets hope this new found message to value experience is properly embraced by all of the civil service as I am sure this can only help to improve the quality of services that it provides.

  41. Comment by M Hart posted on

    Some fine sentiments in this Blog Mr Manzoni. Will the CS put its money where its mouth is? - I shan't be holding my breath. Gail Warrender's comments particularly struck a chord with me. From being in a team of four, I'm now a team of one carrying out the same level of work, and it is only my knowledge and experience gained from twenty years in the workplace prior to becoming a civil servant that enables me to manage on my own. Has there been any recognition of this by the CS - no there has not! My career has stalled working in the CS, and I'm contemplating my future as I type.

  42. Comment by Tony Dudman posted on

    It is not just in recruitment that experience is undervalued. There is no scope in the (appalling) new performance management system for valuing experience either. I have been in the Civil Service for 39 years total and in the MOD for 35. In that time I have had extensive line management responsiblities (in one post 73 staff as a HEO) but my qualifications qualifications do not stack up with the supposed bright new things coming through the doors nowadays. While I personally may now be looking towards retirement, there are others in a simialr position to me who are getting passed over for advancement in favour of those who lack experience. It is in my view a sad state of affairs that you can rise through the grades all to easily these days without any staff managment expertise..

  43. Comment by Terry Johnston posted on

    There was a phrase in the recently published Civil Service Leadership Statement about championing difference and external experience. I immediately questioned this - asking why don't we champion internal experience as well? And in my experience we don't. Nor do we support those experienced people when they want to further their careers. The sift for most jobs is geared to those who can write an example that hits all the buzz phrases in 250 words. Those who have built expertise in a field over many years often find it hard to reduce their most effective (and often complex) examples to a few terse paragraphs. I also echo those who experience the sidelining of informed and constructive criticisms of flawed or unprepared implementation. I have a good potential 9 years left to give the CS but because of the factors identified by many responders to this article I'm now beginning to see early retirement as a more fulfilling option with the result that I'd be taking my experience elsewhere.

  44. Comment by Paul posted on

    Mmm - so experience is now seen to be a good thing, according to John Manzoni's well written article. Perhaps John could speak with our SMT, one of whom (and I quote here) said "If you are in a job for more than 2 years, that is too long. You are 'treading water' and need to move on to something new and 'fresh'. People who stay in the same job become stagnated and lose their efficiency". My view on this, expressed at the time (this was recent) was that 'surely experience should be valued and is a good thing, particularly with regard to technically challenging job roles'. But, apparently not - those of us with this technical experience are 'stagnant' and 'treading water'. Well, thank you very much to our SMT person, I'm glad that's cleared that particular issue up. Needless to say, the SMT individual is a new Graduate on Fast Track, so will surely be at SCS level very soon - who knows, even a future Director General? I rest my case.

  45. Comment by Paul posted on

    Oh, and further to my earlier comment, I'm not giving my full name as, despite my commitment, hard work and experience, I've openly commented on articles before - only to be on the receiving end of a very negative response from our SMT. Even though I have always given a well reasoned and polite argument, it is not appreciated by 'those who know best'....and my job, which I am very good at, has approx 3 months to run until being moved to another part of the country.

  46. Comment by Alice posted on

    Timing for ths article being issued couldn't have been better, as today we had a closing party for our office. As a rough estimate we must have over 1,000 years of experience walking out of the door in the next few weeks, many of whom would have been staying for at least another 5-10 years, and several longer than that. Does the Civil Service value experience? Not that I have noticed.

    • Replies to Alice>

      Comment by JW posted on

      Well Done for saying you are going to recognise experience, now lets see it in practice and not just for the "young". As someone with over 25 years of experience I am more and more feeling like I come low down the list compared to young, people with qualifications, people who can "talk the talk". The other thing that needs to be looked at is the "Hub" strategy v pay rates and the strategy of advertising jobs with no excess fares. I was at a recent conference where many people in the various syndicates I was in had not been able to apply for jobs/promotion because they would be much worse off financially. One person that springs to mind in particular is someone who had a wealth of skills but couldn't afford to get promoted. (Pay increase = £5,000 and travel costs = £12,000 with no help from the department). I get that excess fares cost the department money but I am sure it is cheaper than paying contract staff and under-utilising the talent that is already sat in the department. However, that is only one example - there were several others.

  47. Comment by Dave Stockton posted on

    I don't think the Civil Service consistently values experience and this lack of recognition is embedded in culture, processes, policies and procedures in certain departments.

    Just consider the recruitment process which restricts applicants to a couple of hundred words to describe an example of competence. You even get critical feedback and low scores for trying to describe breadth of experience, rather than a single example.

    There is also no recognition of experience gained prior to joining the Civil Service once you are through the door. This also applies to experience gained in the uniformed services e.g. The reserves.

    It's hardly surprising that there are perceived skills gaps as there is no system for identifying skills and experience that already exist. Much effort seems to focus on 'talent management' but this is (mostly young and inexperienced) talent identified by a system that fails to recognise the value of experience.

  48. Comment by Anonymous posted on

    A terrible faux pas, I would like to think, by John Manzoni in referring to developing "young people". Has he got something against older people? Surely ageism is the last "ism" left to be tackled?
    Anyway, just confirms what I have thought for a long time that experience gathered over the years is completely disregarded and even resented.
    Terribly demoralising read.

  49. Comment by Immigration Officer posted on

    I find this article heartening to a certain extent. I can however give you an example of how experience is most certainly not valued.

    I am an Enforcement Immigration Officer (IO) of 5 years experience for the Home Office. This year I have been increasingly dismayed by the disparity in pay between myself and my colleagues, having just completed a number of months as an Acting Chief Immigration Officer.

    In late 2013 I was switched to the annualised hours system. As part of this system I lost a substantial amount of pay and subsequently lost automatic pay progression. At present my basic EO/IO grade I am now stick on the second spine progression point despite having 5 years experience.

    In 2014 a number of new Officers joined my ICE team from other government departments such as the Highways Agency, DWP and Prison Service. The new Officers brought with them pay scales from their previously unrelated jobs and departments. This left me in the ignominious position of Mentoring and training individuals who were being paid upwards of £2500 to £3000 a year more than me, simply because they had spent longer in a completely unrelated civil service position before the loss of automatic pay increases.

    I have now become aware of another more blatant disparity. A new group of Assistant immigration Officers (AIO) have joined my team who worked at an EO grade in their previous positions. Once again, all of the Officers have joined from unrelated civil service departments having no prior experience in Immigration Enforcement. They, like the group before them have maintained their previous EO pay scales despite joining at the technically lower grade of AIO prior to completion of the AIO pathway process. I am now in the quite unbelievable position of having Assistant Immigration Officers under my Mentorship who earn upwards of £4000 a year more than I do, in a lower ranking grade simply because they put out cones on a motorway or gave job advice to unemployed members of the public for 10 years before pay progression was lost.

    How can individuals with no experience in a very specific and focussed career be paid more than those with years of experience and training? Add to this no prospect of regular pay increases and I find myself unable to take the ‘high road’ so to speak in my attitude.

    This leaves me in the rather sad position of resenting my newer colleagues and the home office as a whole. How can a pay disparity of over £2500 - £4000 be justified when the individual being paid more is the least experienced? This means that the Home Office is currently paying less capable, less skilled AIO more to do less than their IO colleagues. How is this giving the public value for money? How is this fair?

    • Replies to Immigration Officer>

      Comment by Hugh Neill posted on

      That really is a most disheartening story. I nearly used the word 'unbelievable', but then I realised it was only too believable in our topsy turvy world. I hope Mr Manzoni will read and reflect on it all.

  50. Comment by AP posted on

    Fine words Mr Manzoni. Not holding my breath though - experience is not valued in today's CS.
    There are too many people at the top without relevant experience. Competence based recruitment does not work as vacancies are filled by those who can "talk the talk" but who have no useful experience or inclination to actually do the job. Getting rid of competence (incompetence?) based recruitment would be a step in the right direction. Oh yes and rewarding experience appropriately with a pay rise. Stop viewing those with experience who raise sensible questions as to why a proposal is a bad idea as "resistant to change". I could go on but why bother?

  51. Comment by Mark posted on

    Nice sentiments by Mr Manzoni, but perhaps he should visit people at "the coal-face" and hear how it is in the real world. To be told by a younger manager, in their first managerial role, that your 30+ years experience in a profession doesn't account for anything, and that they know best, is somewhat demoralizing at best.
    I'd leave the CS today if I could, but the sad reality is that there is little in the way of employment in my field for the under 30's let alone those aged 45 and above.

  52. Comment by Theo posted on

    All moves (promotions and sideways) seem to be dependent, not on a candidate’s ability to do a particular job, but on an ability to describe in four 250 word essays, a set of “competencies”.

    The key to securing a move seems to be to get as close to describing some perfect ideal held in the mind of the sifter as possible. Describing the truth is not an advantage, the appointments system seems to have become an exercise based around creative writing.

    We might as well be moved about on the basis of who can write the most perfect haiku describing a pony running across snow.

    How soon will John Manzoni be changing the appointments system to one where demonstrable skills, knowledge and experience, and the proven ability to do a job well, affect your chances of a promotion (or even just a sideways move)?

    Or does all this talk about the value of experience just apply to the senior civil service?

    • Replies to Theo>

      Comment by Michael Conneely posted on

      Comptences are not the same as a proven ability. Passing a UK Driving test means one is deemed comptent to drive a motor vehicle. It does not mean that one is a good driver.

  53. Comment by Steve posted on

    These are just platitudes - if anything the very fact of that impotence just makes it worse. There is no plan to resolve the deep-seated problems. The truth is that, in practice, the Civil Service does not value specialist experience any more: incomes for experienced specialists have fallen in my area by as much as £8000 against RPI in recent years. The practioner grade is no longer a career grade - you have to move out into management if you want to see your standard of living keep up (never mind increase). I would not advise a bright graduate to enter now. Fine words won't solve this. It is dying on its feet: experienced people are shipping out.

  54. Comment by Liz Levy posted on

    Here here Martin Gross!! Why is the focus on the 'talented young' ? What about those of us with talent who are no longer defined as 'young'? If the aim is to value experience, why is the extensive experience of long serving Civil servants dismissed and devalued? Either you want 'young people' who can be moulded and who have limited experience (and therefore have no real in depth knowledge) or you want more mature officers who have had significant experience a variety of policies, jobs, Departments even, where they can see if the wheel is being reinvented and raise the alam accordingly( usually described as "negativity ")

  55. Comment by Steve Howarth posted on

    When I recently had the pleasure of meeting Mr Manzoni I was struck by his frankness, something which I hope he will continue to bring to the discussions around the future of the Civil Service. He expressed a view that the Civil Service favoured intelligence over experience. I believe there is some truth in that opinion, but I would also suggest that the proclivity to recruit with proximity to Whitehall, at the expense of consideration of ability in the wider Civil Service does us a great disservice. In an age where technology is making flexible and remote working arrangements ever more possible we do not seem minded to tap into that wider talent pool.

  56. Comment by Gareth Hunter posted on

    Good morning John. Thanks for considering what I have written below.
    Career path talent mapping: Please can we introduce an optional intra/inter Dept “Career path talent mapping database” across the Civil Service to match areas people want to move into with positions as they are being planned (proactive), as well as when advertised (reactive)? It might be as simple as a 2 page CV with 10 key words at the top (for database matching) so when new posts are being created those wanting to move into that area gain early knowledge. It could be useful for temporary posts, and help keep people in service before going for external recruitment during a time of efficiency savings.
    Job application forms overlook qualifications: Please can it be made standard across Government Departments for job application forms to ask what qualifications people have? This would enable those who have made an effort to development themselves to express this. Many application forms currently simply ask for ‘career history’ and ‘summary of key skills’. Whether this information is used in the appointment process to value experience / qualifications is a separate question.
    Best regards

    • Replies to Gareth Hunter>

      Comment by Michael posted on

      "Job application forms overlook qualifications" - I wonder if asking for this has been dropped from the drafting of forms to avoid 'age discrimination' challenges from someone 'too old' to have done 'newer generations' of academic qualifications? I do agree there should be room to volunteer recently achieved qualifications (especially if you are a mature candidate) to illustrate training and skill development. Qualifications were being asked for on forms when I sought employment in my present department in the early 80s.

  57. Comment by Kate posted on

    I agree that experience should be (and currently isn't) valued in the civil service. This is particularly evident in recruitment where the current process only evaluates how well you can talk the talk, not how well you can walk the walk. It would be good to see some recognition of experience brought into this.

  58. Comment by Chris posted on

    Good words Mr Manzoni, but astonishing in many ways that a recognition that tecnical knowledge and experience is necessary to do a complicated job properly is seen as a brilliant new idea. I work for HMRC and have observed a relentless trend that has seen experienced technical people increasingly marginalised, as the creed of managerialism has become dominant. But you cannot run a complicated system, dependant of the application of law, in a way which is competent, fair and consistent without people who have a real practical understanding both of the law, and of those to whom it applies. This has been neglected badly and as a result our public image is at an all time low. And all this at a time when the rhetoric and spin about our commitment to 'professionalism' has never been louder. You see Mr Manzoni, it needs more than words and fashionable initiatives. Real experience is hard to acquire, it takes time, and is not all that exciting for new executives who are looking to make an impression. But it is really easy to lose. Widget making operations who neglect and lose their top widget makers will quickly fail, even with, or even because of, bright new talented fast stream managers!

  59. Comment by Tim Hale posted on

    Recent experiences have led me to believe that experience is a burden rather than an asset. The current thinking favours qualifications rather than experience and achievement, the result has been well qualified poor performers providing pathetic performance.
    The myth that experience denies innovative is just a myth used by those who lack a background or achievement.
    Unfortunately the message has been ignored and misused.

  60. Comment by Jim Calvert posted on

    "Increment" is now a dirty word but I see them as allowing with experience a progression up to the rate for the job so they are actually saving money over simply going straight to the rate of the job when promoted. I recently met with someone from a large commercial computing organisation who believed the press and decried increments, but when I told him how they really worked he said "Oh, it's just a pay scale then - we have them". Specialists need experience and need to be rewarded fairly for it.

  61. Comment by Brian posted on

    Im a Band B (Assisstant Adviser) topsliced to District Office. Externally Im a Microsoft Master Instructor, and work PT for my Local Adult Learning Services and am licenced to teach through the Misrosoft Academy. Ive been using my skills now for over 7 yrs in my current job, ie. programming excel and creating bespoke spreadsheets designed to help the Off Flow targets and other areas, advanced Word Access and PowerPoint. Ive worked on and some big projects (which would have cost thousands through consultants). I consider myself a specialist but because no one on my management team know the skill level that I work at, they dont know how to reward it. Hence no rewards.

  62. Comment by nigel frater posted on

    You say that experience is very important towards delivering and meeting targets but, as a prison officer for 24 years I have seen and dealt with numerous incidents and consider myself to have a lot of experience to draw on. We prison officers constantly meet every target put to us through our hard work and diligence and yet it is the governors of prisons getting a 5% pay rise for meeting the targets and us prison officers who actually do the work with our many many years experience receive 0% pay rise.
    Can you please explain to me how this values experience.

  63. Comment by Hugh Neill posted on

    Dear moderators. I submitted a piece on 13/3/15 but its still showing as awaiting moderation. Could you sort that please? I can't think that it's especially contentious or controversial - it simply echoes much of what is being said by others!

    Ah yes - 'intelligence'. What about emotional intelligence: a form of intelligence that is perhaps linked more to experience than IQ-intelligence. It seems to me that to be brillliant at something but out of touch (as the brilliant are prone to being) with those who may be needed on board in order to deliver, is more clever than intelligent.

    • Replies to Hugh Neill>

      Comment by Cameron Smith posted on

      Hi Hugh,

      Apologies for this,it was missed during the glut we get post CS News - now approved.

      Thanks, Cameron

  64. Comment by Hugh Neill posted on

    No problem Cameron, and thanks for the explanation. I was getting paranoid that speaking truth unto power was not actually wanted to the extent that I attempted to speak it!

  65. Comment by Mary posted on

    My department has introduced practices which go a long way to devalue knowledge and experience. Highly knowledgeable and intelligent staff are seen as "negative" if they question the "bright" ideas and changes that are frequently implemented at short notice and without the understanding of how these affect the actual work and purpose of the department. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of staff, it is the public who suffer as a result of ill thought-out plans and changes.

  66. Comment by Dave posted on

    I also agree. I have worked on a particular area of busness for a number of years - and successfully developed through all areas of work to today where I am able to do everything to a very high standard. I have signed off training and development and changed the way I work (more than once) always to the betterment and performance of the job outcomes (buzz word there!!). However, there are others who have only 6 months experience in the same field who do not have the knowledge or experience to be scuccessfull and they are being left on their own to get on with it!!

    I work in a different office and have offered my knowledge and support (off my own back) to help speed up their development and experience levels - we shall see what comes of it but I won't be holding my breath. Previous people who have helped this individual are no longer able to do so as the job has been moved elsewhere. Levels of knowledge and experience count for nothing in the CS today - even giving support like this will be frowned upon due to (COST)! experience and support is not worth a bit of investment but someone being left to flounder alone which can ultrimately cost even more - both financially and how it is percieved by the wider public is acceptable!! (I feel the department often saves the pennies and looses the pounds). I could be seen as the ultimate test for the CS as I am willing to go anywhere in order to keep the job type I know extreemly well.

    I also would like to point out that I have seen complete u-turns based upon whoever is in charge of an area of work's personal view of the way things need to go. Also I feel that over the years management show very little imagination, we go from why is the quality so poor or why does this not give us better results (I know we will slow down a little tighten up on quality and move forward) then when that starts to bear fruit, the mantra is we need to do more (so lets loosen up on the quality and increase the number of cases/workload completed each day) which results in why do we seem not to be successfull enough with outcomes. The manager gets their little pat on the back and leaves the next person to come in who will u-turn the process again!! In all occasions, knowledge and experience is ignored and only those who say what the managers want to hear are listened to.

    I would also like to go further with the assessment process. Again, a competency assessment does not show everything. Often with the competencies, a particular piece of work can fit into 2 or 3 areas - the skill is being able to identify where that particular example is the strongest. Some people cannot do that well and as a result may not get a fair end of year marking as a result (solely depends on how good their Line Manager is).

    • Replies to Dave>

      Comment by Michael posted on

      Regarding your last point, I too relate to the problem of what I call 'competence overlaps' with incidents I have tried using, and have had to consult line managers and above in my workplaces to help me unpick the overlaps. I came out of at least one interview when I was in RDP when, on basis of interview feedback given in CS Jobs to DBS, left with the impression the incidents I quoted were not quite relevant to what I was being asked, giving me a disappointing score for a job which was equivalent to the post I was doing at workplace I was trying to leave. (Fortunately I found work a few months down the line and can say of the place that rejected and the place now employing me 'C's loss is D's gain'.)

  67. Comment by Michael Conneely posted on

    In the main people do not undervalue experience but do not listen properly at times. There are barriers we hide behind and end up not listening paricularly if the message is hard to hear or take. Proper listening should be taught in all secondary schools.

  68. Comment by GC posted on

    What John Manzoni is describing is the development of domain-specific expertise, which then manifests as the ability to understand problems and make better decisions in the 'real world'. There is lots of research that describes how experts make decisions based on their vast experience (e.g., Recognition Primed Decisions) and how expertise can be developed well (e.g., look at work on Accelerating Expertise - the book by Hoffman is great).

    Sadly, there is little attention to this in government at the moment, with most of the interesting in the area being on behaviour change, primarly in public or non-expert communities (e.g., 'behavioural insights'); even when people do become interested in decision making, it tends to be on the negative perception of the ability of people to do it well (i.e., cognitive and perceptual biases work). The latter is negative - 'how can we make fewer mistakes'; it needs to be balanced with a more positive - 'how can we learn from high-level experts in order to accelerate the expertise in staff across different levels of proficiency'

    • Replies to GC>

      Comment by PW posted on

      Well John, it's rather ironic that in your Gov.uk biography it states that you have more than 30 years 'experience' of working in the private sector, and presumably this was considered to be a positive attribute towards obtaining your current position. Looking at the comments posted, and my own experiences, it would appear that such a requirement runs contrary to what is needed to get on in the present Civil Service. We can't all be wrong, can we?

  69. Comment by Simon B posted on

    My experience is that there is a massive chasm between those deemed 'operational' and those deemed 'policy' and a crushing unwillingness on the part of managers to gain any knowledge of the practical implementation of the, often totally impractical policies they come up with. If you want to foster competence and encourage retention of highly motivated staff get out of the ivory towers of Marsham Street and onto the shopfloor. Listen to staff and engage with them. Oh, and most of them are highly educated as well as highly experienced- only they don't have the desk-hopping opportunities afforded the policy geeks.

  70. Comment by FF posted on

    As a (not so young) Fast Streamer I would like to add that this programme is designed to train us to be generalists and does not take into account any skills, knowledge or experience that we bring with us...

  71. Comment by Sue Jordan posted on

    Marvellous. And what do we assess in PARs? Oh, hang on - it's core competencies and nothing else. No assessment of the functional skills that are essential for specialist jobs. We struggle to eliminate the generalists when we recruit for specialist jobs here because we can't sift against someone's ability to do the job. Thank God the Civil Service doesn't employ Surgeons, is all I can say. If someone could change this ridiculous policy, real-world experience would actually start counting.

  72. Comment by GC posted on

    I have 27 years experience in frontline income tax investigation. Is this valued? No. I have not been promoted and a top marking is only achievable if you step outside of frontline investigation and take on some sort of 'project work'. I have 3 years to go before I am 60 and there are no trainees and no succession planning. There are now 3 of us left to do the work that 100 staff did 10 years ago, needless to say the system in no longer being adequately policed. I will be taking all my experience out of the door with me when I go.

  73. Comment by Tom posted on

    Promotion is based on how well you can write some fanciful nonesense that no one verifies. I suspect that if I produced a 250 word statement on how, last Thursday, I defeated the Borg in hand to hand conflict (sorry resolved conflict) as long as I had the buzzwords in there somewhere I'd score 4 or 5.
    Nobody would check if the Borg was even in the galaxy at the time i said

  74. Comment by John Manzoni posted on

    Thanks for the feedback - it's great to see that this blog has provoked so much thought!

    Chris Armstrong, Jean Naven and H have raised questions about the correlation between age and experience. This is a really important point, so let me be clear. Whilst I believe that the way we will grow as an organisation is to invest in young people, and give them the skills and experience needed to lead the organisation in the future - that certainly does not mean that we should not value, or promote, those of existing civil servants.

    Across the organisation, we have people with multiple years of experience in areas like project delivery and commercial - we should harness this by creating career paths which allow those people to flourish and develop in their chosen specialism, not feel that that they have to constantly move around from one place to the next to gain recognition.

    We need to build strong professions and career paths for those involved in delivery - and that they should be available to Civil Servants of all ages and levels of experience.

    John