Being the diary secretary for a Permanent Secretary is possibly one of the more frustrating jobs in the Civil Service, and not because we’re a particularly difficult bunch! It’s more that the frequently unpredictable nature of government business and the ups-and-downs of political life tend to get in the way of perfect forward planning for most of us.
But one bit of diary time I try to protect as much as possible is the time I commit to learning and mentoring. Throughout my career I’ve benefited enormously from both short-term placements and longer-term secondments. I’ve learned a huge amount from shadowing other leaders within and outside the Civil Service and one of the most energising aspects of my professional life is the time I spend mentoring colleagues. I have the pleasure of working with seven ‘mentees’ at the moment and I’m learning something new from all of them. I also take part in our ‘reverse mentoring’ scheme, where I am mentored by our Trans Champion, from whom I’m also learning a great deal.
Most recently, I spent a day shadowing the CEO of the Mace Group, Mark Reynolds, as part of a Whitehall and Industry Group placement. It’s been an extremely worthwhile and refreshing experience that’s allowed me a glimpse into the operation of a major company and the leadership style and concerns of the Chief Executive. Some of the challenges we face in terms of leadership, internal communications, prioritisation and planning are very similar although, for Permanent Secretaries, political events tend to pose particular challenges in terms of unknown unknowns!
Mark will be heading to Wales at the end of June to shadow me, and I hope that he finds the experience an equally vivid and rewarding way of learning.
The great thing about short-term placements, including shadowing, is that they open us up to different approaches and ideas, as well as helping us build our networks and contacts. That’s why I’ve introduced a new STEP (Short-Term Experience) programme of opportunities as part of my future-proofing initiative. Future-proofing is all about building a confident, capable and resilient civil service for the Welsh Government, and I see short-term placements as an integral part of how we’ll do that.
I’m very pleased to say that the STEP programme seems to have been enthusiastically embraced by colleagues within the organisation. Our first tranche of internal placements ‘sold out’ very quickly. The second tranche – which includes placements across the Welsh Government (including in my own office), as well as a number of organisations in the private and voluntary sectors – is about to be released. I hope to build on that with many more internal and external opportunities becoming available over the next year, including with other parts of the Civil Service.
As well as giving people insight into new areas of work, we have been putting a lot of energy into revitalising the way we approach learning more widely. Looking up and out is something I firmly believe in – particularly because it’s so easy to get submerged in the demands of the day job if we don’t.
In the past six months we have held two very successful TEDx events, touching on the themes of policy, collaboration and digital innovation, where we’ve heard from an inspiring and challenging range of home-grown and international speakers. We’re very proud to have been awarded a TEDx licence, which involves a rigorous application screening process.
I am absolutely convinced that being curious, open to ideas and ready to learn and be challenged will be beneficial in a lot of practical ways - not just for the individuals concerned but for the organisation as a whole.
I hope you’re curious too and l promise to let you know how it’s going in my next blog!
In the meantime, one of the things we can all learn from are the teams who demonstrate great collaboration across government. That’s why I’ve agreed to be the Champion for the Collaboration Award category of the Civil Service Awards 2018. If you have a good example of co-operative and joint working across departments, local government, UK Government or Devolved Administrations, please share it with us all by entering the Civil Service Awards 2018. Nominations are open now, here!