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Civil Service

Developing great HR for ‘A Brilliant Civil Service’

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Our Civil Service, Professions
Head shot of Debbie Alder
Debbie Alder, chair of the Civil Service HR Capability Board

I love my job. HR (Human Resources) for the Civil Service is the place to be at the moment if you want to practice and grow professional skills and experience, deliver quality services, lead and partner on interventions that make a difference to the citizen, or lead pivotal work to support both departmental business strategy and the four pillars of the vision for ‘A Brilliant Civil Service’.

All of us have a part to play, and I hope that you can see the connection between what you’re doing, what you care about, and your contribution to the bigger picture.  

There’s a big ask of all of us – how great is that! It does mean however, that we need to focus on our ability, our knowledge, our experience, at the same time as focusing on our responsibilities and opportunities to continue to transform the Civil Service.

While we’re so busy in HR supporting the building of a great Civil Service workforce, it would be easy to neglect our own capability needs. In between other priorities, there’s already so much good work going on across departments. In the HR community we are looking to build on this, to take HR in the Civil Service from good to great.

To help, we’ve set up the HR Capability Board: a diverse group with representatives from all over HR, from different grades, different departments and the CIPD (the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), our professional body.

The board has already met four times and we’ve had some really exciting discussions about how improving the capability of HR will help make the Civil Service vision a reality and make us a truly great, professional HR function.

To get there, we’ve set out the priority themes that form our strategy:

  • attraction and permeability – ensuring we attract and retain the right range of skills and capabilities through movement in and out of HR, at all levels
  • professionalism – being clear on what professionalism means for HR, and working closely with CIPD on our approach and our ambition.
  • career pathways – how best to implement and embed a career pathway
  • future state and horizon scanning – identifying the capabilities that will be required beyond 2020
  • culture and leadership – what type of learning culture we are aiming for to support development across the HR function 

My colleagues on the board and I would be delighted to hear your thoughts on what a truly great Civil Service HR profession looks like, whether you’re already part of the profession or one of our customers, so please contact us at

If you're one of the 3,500 or so people in the Civil Service HR profession, we’ll be keeping you posted on the Civil Service HR Employee Network on LinkedIn and OneHR.

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  1. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    When I joined the Organisation 25+ years ago, we had a well staffed HR Department and I use to have my annual career health check interview with a Personnel Manager. Unfortunately, due to cost saving measures, we are now expected to do more self service HR from our desk tops and reliance of the form filling Personal Development Reporting system.

    Surely, having a well staffed HR Department not only helps maintain retention rates but also allows non HR staff to bew able fully focus on the role that they were employed to do?

  2. Comment by Charlotte Smith posted on

    I would like to sugest some improvements in HR. Introduce a fair and inclusive appeals system in disciplinary hearings. It is no good hiding behind the "one has followed procedures" excuse. You need to look at witness statements/cross examine people and pay attention to what people did and say and not just look at procedures. That way you will be able to catch out the bullies that do exist in the workplace and who DO hide behind "procedures" to cover up their questionable and discriminatory behaviour.

    Also more consideration needs to be given to staff welfare. At the moment one cannot be given a flexi credit for having to attend a doctors appointment. Even though one does there best to go before or after work. Staff do fall ill from time to time, and they need to collect their prescriptions, go for blood tests, and check ups. It does seem very petty to me that staff are losing out on their flexi because they have to juggle their medical appointments with work. Whatever happened to work/life balance! It is things like this that does irke staff and causes resentment.

  3. Comment by Dorothy posted on

    Oh, an HR department, what a novelty. Here in the MOD we aren't allowed such necessities, instead every line manager is expected to suddenly become an expert in HR as well as their role.

    - Want to recruit staff? Go on a 1 day course and become an expert on interviewing!
    - Want to motivate your staff? Find someone to be the fall guy in box 3 at the end of the year!
    - Really want to get away from the desk? Become Reporting officer for someone 150 miles away and visit them every three months!
    - Keen to be a teenager again and play Superman or Batman comparisons? Take your apple and pears juggling to a new level by comparing reportees in completely different roles and circumstances and decide which one is 'best' and which one is 'worst'!
    - Want to develop and train your staff? Suddenly become a Finance expert and find the funding for it!
    - Really interested in developing your diplomatic skills? Find a way to explain to the guy in Box 3 why he needs to carry out Restoring Efficiency!
    - Interested in the Social Services? Talk to the Welfare team on the phone and see how good your demonstrative skills can be when you can't talk to people face to face!

    Removing HR in the MOD must be one of the most expensive cost saving measures ever, good luck to you if you can knock some sense into people.

    • Replies to Dorothy>

      Comment by Alfred Horn posted on

      The Civil Service is dominated by women at all levels. There is much nonsense talked about the lack of women in senior positions but this flies in the face of the facts.
      I have noticed a disturbing trend recently in senior Civil Servants adopting the language of fake pop psychology, no doubt an influence from across the Atlantic with the over use of the words "fantastic", "brilliant" etc and the use of meaningless corporate language with phrases such as "touching base" and "heads up" which have no meaning in this country. Also it is now the trend apparently for these female senior Civil Servants to obsess about talking about their "feelings" and "fears" when chairing meetings.

    • Replies to Dorothy>

      Comment by Francis Alistair Shailes posted on

      I think it was 2005 or 2006 when the "People Programme" decided that HRMS and the new pay systems could do everything and no HR experts were required (save a contractorised "helpline").

      DE&S at least is now trying to rebuild its central HR dept.

  4. Comment by JP posted on

    It's heartening to see that the HR Capability Board isn't made up of the usual faces from the central HR clique (at this stage the descriptive text would say "voice heavy with sarcasm").

  5. Comment by Bill posted on

    I hope I don't speak for the majority, but HR is the civil service is severely lacking.

    Shared Services are at best unhelpful, and normally just plain useless. I have yet to have a satisfactory outcome from any dealing with them, and now actively try not to engage with them unless there is no way around it.

    There is no career progression unless your face fits, and you have the nod from a superior so along with many others I am counting the days till I can escape this 'business' we work for.

  6. Comment by MoD DE&S - below SCS posted on

    Mrs Alder,
    Simple question – why, what’s in it for me?
    I suggest that until Civil servants of all specialisms and grades (not just the SCS as proposed in the Workforce Plan) feel rewarded there will be an “attraction and permeability” issue.
    Or as it used to be called “recruitment and retention”.