When I was approached to be on the first Shadow Civil Service Board, I wasn't even sure what the Civil Service Board (CSB) was.
Juggling work and new motherhood, my instinctive reaction was, “I don’t have time to be involved in a corporate project”. But, in truth, I was honoured to be invited... and what an inspiring, eye-opening and energising 6 months it has been!
The CSB is responsible for the strategic leadership of the entire Civil Service. It is chaired by Sir Jeremy Heywood, Head of the Civil Service, and comprises 12 Permanent Secretaries from the major departments. They meet monthly to discuss and debate – in surprising detail – issues that impact our daily working lives.
The Shadow Board is made up of one staff member below Senior Civil Service level from each of the departments represented on the CSB. The CSB set up the Shadow Board at the end of March to reduce its executive isolation and to be challenged by, and get fresh ideas from, those of us 'in the weeds'.
And they do appreciate this input, and it does affect their decisions.
After DFID Permanent Secretary Mark Lowcock appointed me, I asked him for his vision of the role. He paused and said, “Be part of shaping the Civil Service that you would be proud to lead one day”.
No pressure, then!
Every month, before each CSB meeting, the Shadow Board meets to discuss the papers and put our thoughts and recommendations to the CSB.
Topics for discussion range from the strategic, including a Vision 2020 for the whole service, to important detail, such as how we can better manage poor performance, promote more porous employment borders with the private sector, have better performance management systems and cultivate a more entrepreneurial workforce.
I have asked many people in DFID for their views on specific issues which have made their way through to the CSB. If you want to share your thoughts, just let your Shadow Board Representative know.
On a rotating basis, members of the Shadow Board get to sit in on and contribute to the monthly CSB meetings.
I attended the last one before the summer break and walked away with a real appreciation of the vision and foresight required to lead a complex and sprawling Civil Service, with everyone working to achieve a common goal in a wide variety of different roles.
I also felt a strong sense of confidence in our leadership to be able to deliver.
Maybe I was unfair in my preconceptions, but I was genuinely struck by the vision of those in the room. And there was a real boldness in the way they were thinking through the fundamental changes required to meet the challenges we face in the coming decade while remaining an employer of choice in a rapidly changing labour market.
The Shadow Board is leading on two corporate projects:
- how we develop talent outside of London
- how to create more flexibility for people to move in and out of the Civil Service
We've been challenged by CSB to provide radical ideas. So, if you have one, don't hesitate.
It's inspiring stuff – do get involved!