https://civilservice.blog.gov.uk/2016/04/11/civil-service-learning-whats-it-all-about-then/

Civil Service Learning – what’s it all about then?

Head shot of Gareth Russell
Gareth Russell, Civil Service Learning

For many of you, my guess is that the letters ‘CSL’ conjure up certain thoughts in your minds: mandatory e-learning, somewhat robotic joining instructions, and an occasionally frustrating website.

That was certainly my experience of it as an outsider. But what’s CSL (Civil Service Learning) really like? This, from an insider’s perspective...

In November 2015 I made the short walk from Home Office HR across to CSL to begin a seven-month secondment as a commercial manager. My role? To lead a big commercial re-tendering project. In other words, behind-the-scenes stuff that will ultimately determine what you – the user – think about CSL’s service. No pressure, then.

If that wasn’t enough, I’m from a non-commercial background. Which you could say made the move even more of a ‘development opportunity’ – and you’d be right. It’s lucky I like a challenge. And what I know for sure is this: in life, if something feels uncomfortable it shows you’re stretching your comfort zone and learning new skills. So I try and get uncomfortable often, as experience tells me that’s when awesome stuff happens.

Common purpose

So, four months in and this is what I notice:

There is a lot going on in CSL. A bit like being asked to change the wheel on a car. While the car is still in motion; and you’re wearing a blindfold. But the changes are genuinely exciting and intended to win the hearts and minds of about 400,000 civil servants. The hugeness of that boggles my mind, in a good way.

There really is a desire in CSL to give you a great service. Having a common purpose like that feels energising and makes some of the small stuff seem exactly like that – small.

Commercial skills aren’t quite the black art I thought they were. Sure, ask me about the detail of ‘novation’ and ‘standstill clauses’ and I’ll have to ask for help from the experts. But what I’m here to do is define a set of business requirements that will help us to deliver that great service - and help to procure services that will meet those requirements. And that really isn’t too far off the strategy and delivery work I’ve done in the past.

Major change programme

It turns out I really enjoy working in a smaller team – not something I’d spent any time thinking about before. Things feel pretty dynamic and responsive and most times someone with an answer is never more than 20 feet away. On the other hand, avoiding sworn enemies can be a challenge. Good job I have none (at least none that I’m aware of).

Being part of a major change programme like this has felt exciting, and the secondment was definitely a good move. I’ve enjoyed learning new skills but also having existing skills recognised anew by a different audience. I’d almost begun to take some of those for granted, or play them down. So being recognised for them has been unexpectedly satisfying.

Big change programmes always involve an element of uncertainty. But living with uncertainty is increasingly part of modern life. And as I’m not yet sure where I’ll be headed once my secondment ends in the summer, there’s more uncertainty to come. But that’s ok. I like a challenge.

6 comments

  1. Comment by Lola posted on

    Civil service learning will never be exciting if:

    a) it just seeks to make people believe in the values of the Civil Service Reform that is only set in stone for five years
    or
    b) it just aims to make the civil service more business like and like the private sector, as if we are forever to be two steps behind the private sector

    We need c) something else. Not quite sure what, but I'm sure someone knows the answer.

    • Replies to Lola>

      Comment by Gareth Russell posted on

      Hi Lola

      Thanks for your comment.

      There's a great quote in Stephen Covey's book, 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People':

      “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are──or, as we are conditioned to see it.”

      So, the challenge for us all is to look at ourselves for that 'something else'. Remove people from organisations and you're left essentially with just desks, windows, carpets, PCs and some cabling. Hardly the vital ingredients for transformation, I'm sure you'll agree!

      So, what would you like to see people doing differently? What would *you* like to be doing differently? And how might Civil Service Learning support everyone to do that?

  2. Comment by Helen posted on

    Nice to hear from CSL. I also appreciated your laid back writing style, so thanks!

    • Replies to Helen>

      Comment by Gareth Russell posted on

      Hi Helen

      Thanks for your feedback, I appreciate it.

      Are there other areas of CSL you (or colleagues) might like to hear more about?

  3. Comment by Ameena Berkowitz posted on

    Please build into the specification a better service for disabled learners than the current providers give. The way that Capita run their courses and venues may be very efficient but my personal experience (as a wheelchair user) is that it puts me off booking training, because I do not know the training venue at the time of booking. Capita may claim that their venues are all accessible but information provided is poor, with no access statements. I know that Civil Service Disability Network were providing some input a few years ago - have they been consulted?

    • Replies to Ameena Berkowitz>

      Comment by Sadia Khan posted on

      Hi Ameena,

      Thanks for your comment; I am sorry to hear about your experience with Capita venues. Venue accessibility is a mandatory requirement of the new contract. We will be consulting with the Civil Service Disability Network for their input during the delivery phase to ensure venues chosen for learning are accessible for all.