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Acting on the People Survey – a brilliant journey

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Detail from front cover of Government Internal Audit Agency vision

“Nothing has changed after the last survey. Did you seriously expect change? It's just another round of lip-service aimed at making you feel empowered. Well, you’re not!” 

This quote from a from a well-known sports company’s staff feedback network is probably a not-uncommon criticism aimed at management. In the Government Internal Audit Agency (GIAA) we decided to work collaboratively to unpick the issues, concerns and niggles and get at the root causes of why our people were recording negative scores in the surveys and find the best way to tackle the issues and behaviours they report which are preventing us from performing at our best. We called this process, Own to Act (OTA). 

In a workshop environment, the whole team contribute to discussions and have a hand in shaping the priorities and actions. Through debate and mutual agreement, 3 to 4 key areas under the survey headings are selected and actions and solutions are developed and prioritised. A small group of volunteers develop these into an action plan and hold management to account for implementation. 

These plans are cumulative, we are in our third year now and our team engagement score has shot up. Sometimes the same issues crop up, but for different reasons. Similarly, not all actions taken are effective. Sometimes it’s back to the drawing board, it’s ‘trial by failure’ and other solutions can be put forward. Some things you can’t fix locally, the negativity will persist, like pay, which is outside of local control, but it’s still good to recognise the strength of feeling, and maybe you have local reward schemes which you could make better use of? Other matters need to be escalated, which is where the next part of the journey takes over. 

Some issues are too big for the local team to fix. In GIAA it was recognised that the OTA principles could be applied to the whole agency, so the 360 Group was set up.  It is made up of people at different levels from across the GIAA. Each area rep went through the analysis process and brought their priority areas to the centre. Based on strength of feeling we selected 3 departmental priorities: Leadership and Change, Learning and Development, and Resourcing. The same principles apply, except that it’s management at the top of the shop being held to account on implementing actions. The resulting plan has the backing of the senior leaders and our Chief Executive – they have a strong belief in empowerment being real. The 360 Group is required to report on progress regularly through pages on the intranet, blogs and session at our ExCo.

We were honoured to be asked to showcase our Own to Act and 360 work at this year’s Civil Service Live, highlighting how we have listened to feedback, explored options and taken actions locally to implement a programme of continuous improvement. 

So, to return to my opening quote, has anything changed for the better? All indications are that it has – not a great tidal wave of change, but small ripples that are spreading outwards. Our engagement scores are on an upward trend across GIAA. However, there is no time to stand still and we will continue our efforts to make GIAA – indeed the Civil Service as a whole – a ‘Great Place to Work’. 

Empowerment can be real, and change can happen, so go for it, or contact us if you want to chat some more, we are happy to help: Rachel Wrathall and Nigel Dawbney-Fisher, GIAA (;

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  1. Comment by William MOD posted on

    I find one of your comments hard to agree with - "Some things you can’t fix locally, the negativity will persist, like pay, which is outside of local control".
    On checking the Have Your Say Survey, the lowest satisfaction with pay is 12% and the average is 33%.
    The staff morale in these departments is low and I know in many places there is a recruitment and retention problem.
    Surely it is the responsibility of "local" senior management to fight for the benefit of their staff rather than shrug their shoulders and give the impression - "it's not our fault" and "there's nothing we can do".

  2. Comment by Joe posted on

    It really doesn't take much to 'unpick' the lowest rating (pay) from the last survey and even some 'Lip service' would have been nice but alas it didn't even warrant that.

    The problem is you can't say we want to hear what concerns you then totally ignore the results just because it's not what you want to hear or are unable to action.

    I feel it undermines the reason for the survey.