The last year as Civil Service Chief People Officer has been among the most professionally fulfilling of my life, working in the incredible national asset that is the Civil Service.
As human resources leader across the organisation, I see the HR function as ensuring that we have the right people with the right capabilities to serve the nations of the UK. Within this, my main responsibility is delivering the Civil Service Workforce Plan.
The ‘glue’ of government
Virtually every civil servant belongs to at least one profession - policy, science, economics, operational delivery, comms or investigation, to name only a few. Professions are characterised by required skills at different levels of capability, and by dedicated career paths.
Functions are built around sets of professional expertise (including in finance, commercial, property and HR). They’ve been called the ‘glue’ binding government together, providing expertise where and when it’s needed.
The Civil Service’s future will be shaped by the interaction of three principal dimensions: the national, the departmental and the functional (and professional), giving the system great resilience.
This way of seeing the organisation has been invaluable in pinpointing the skills required following the EU referendum and where we need to concentrate efforts at building capability in crucial areas, like commercial, digital and project management.
I can bring the aims of the Workforce Plan to life by focusing on the 1,200 people who, from almost 45,000 applicants, will join the Civil Service Fast Stream in 2017. These candidates are more representative of the UK population than any previous group. Initial analysis suggests the number of candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds has risen 50% year-on-year compared to 2015, while the number of BAME candidates has risen by 3%, and the number of women by 12%.
The four-year Fast Stream programme will put the successful applicants on track to join the 4,000-strong senior civil servants who will be the Civil Service leaders of the future. It’s my job to ensure they’re the best and most effective leaders they can be.
They will be joining an organisation of extraordinary variety, embracing policy specialists, immigration officers, vets, scientists, lawyers, frontline Jobcentre staff, coastguard rescue teams and many more.
It is also a complex, multilayered organisation, united by a common purpose and set of values - to serve the government of the day with integrity, honesty, impartiality and objectivity. And it’s adding new dimensions, in the devolved administrations and the expanding functions and professions.
The ‘other’ professions
The emergence of 'meta-professions' covering a range of roles gives a clue to the Civil Service of the future. For me, one of the most important is the vital set of operational delivery profession roles where dedicated civil servants serve in citizen-facing carer/case-worker roles demanding high levels of integrity, professional expertise and interpersonal skill.
They include work-coaches helping people using Jobcentres; prison and probation officers; Border Force members, and others. I believe strongly that these ‘other’ professions deserve full recognition alongside the established ones. And the new digital wave of automation can make those caring professionals even more effective; freeing up more space for professional growth and time to provide support.
I want to create opportunities for future leaders to emerge from among these frontline colleagues, who will often have entered through apprenticeship schemes.
We must plot well-defined career paths for every civil servant - so they understand the experience, knowledge and skills necessary to progress - and give them the same opportunities.
Tomorrow’s Civil Service will also allow more movement between the private and public sectors, so we benefit not only from a greater diversity of backgrounds and points of view, but of practical experiences, and not just among specialists. This is one reason we’re committed to advertising all Civil Service roles externally by default by 2020.
The professions are critical in developing leaders, but we need a common approach to developing the most senior. The Leadership Academy, launching this year, provides this. It will have three strands: organisational; technical (appreciation of how professions can interact effectively); and resilience (managing a complex environment of systems and stakeholders).
But for the 1,200 to be great leaders they have to experience a culture of great leadership and inclusion. We've set ourselves an ambitious cultural goal: to be the most inclusive employer in the UK by 2020.
This is about more than diversity. It’s about equality of opportunity, no barriers to progression for the best, whoever they are, and an environment where people feel free to be themselves.
The 1,200 joining the Fast Stream this autumn will both help create and be beneficiaries of this culture. They and their successors are the future of the Civil Service.
Through our Workforce Plan, I believe we can set them up to succeed.