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.
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.