By strengthening skills, deploying talent and improving organisational performance across the Civil Service

What needs to change

The Civil Service has many talented people.  However there are significant gaps in capability and skills which need to be filled if the Civil Service is to be able to meet today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.  Staff consistently say in surveys that their managers are not strong enough in leading and managing change19.  Many more civil servants will need commercial and contracting skills as services move further towards the commissioning model20.  While finance departments have significantly improved their capabilities, many more civil servants need a higher level of financial   knowledge. As set out elsewhere in the plan, the Civil Service needs to improve its policy skills; and fill the serious gaps in digital and project management capability. At the same time, the Civil Service must ensure that the expertise and capability of its staff is consistently underpinned by an understanding of the challenges in other sectors and the public’s perspectives.  More rigorous performance management will require additional tools and enhanced skills for all managers.

There are some great managers running big complex operations.  However for too long operational management and delivery has been undervalued compared with policy development, an issue first identified in the Fulton Report in 1968.  Operational deliverers will need more support in the years ahead as the Digital by Default revolution spreads across government.  There needs to be as much recognition for staff working in operational delivery roles as there is for staff working in policy.  In future the leadership of the Civil Service will need to have greater operational experience and ability21.

Capability and talent will need to be managed and deployed corporately across the Civil Service, especially for high potential and senior officials, including specialist professionals.  There needs to be more focus on developing people in post through more active career management as well as through training22.  As well as individual capabilities, we need a stronger and collective focus on the capability of departments and the Civil Service as a whole23.

There is a general tendency in the Civil Service for staff seeking promotion to quickly gain a range of experiences, and this can lead to short tenure in some groups of ambitious staff.  High turnover in critical posts at the centre of Government can lead to a lack of collective corporate memory and a possible tendency towards orthodoxy.  To combat this Departments will take steps to identify the key posts that would benefit from a greater stability of tenure and retain a more stable cohort while balancing the needs and priorities of the Department.

The barriers between the private sector and the Civil Service must be broken down to encourage learning between the two.  A greater interchange of people and ideas will help to narrow the cultural gap#.

How to deliver it

Skills, Learning and Development

Action 12:

We will produce, by the autumn, for the first time a five year capabilities plan for the whole Civil Service to identify which skills and capabilities are in deficit, and set out how gaps will be filled.  In particular in a world where more services are commissioned from outside there is a serious need for many more civil servants to have commercial and contracting skills.

Capabilities plan

Civil Servants carry out a huge variety of roles. Without the right skills and capabilities the Civil Service will struggle to deliver the Government’s priorities effectively.  The old idea of a Civil Service “generalist” is dead – everyone needs the right combination of professionalism, expert skills and subject matter expertise.

Some skills gaps have already been identified, such as leading and managing change, commercial, financial, programme and project management, digital skills, skills in managing risk and the ability to drive continuous improvement. The Capabilities Plan will take account of the new environment the Civil Service is operating in and identify what skills it needs over the next five years and how those gaps will be filled – both through external recruitment and internal development. The Plan will be reviewed annually.

Competency framework

To support the delivery of the capabilities plan a new Civil Service Competency Framework will be fully rolled out from April 2013, replacing Professional Skills for Government, which has now run its course.  This new framework will focus as much on behaviours as on skills.  It will promote and deliver a pacier, innovative, results-orientated culture and ensure consistent high standards are used for recruitment, promotion and performance management across the Civil Service.

Learning and Development

Learning and development will support the delivery of the capabilities plan and align with the new competency framework.  A new Civil Service Learning (CSL) core curriculum and learning and development offer for all staff is currently being rolled out, and will be kept under review.  Through making greater use of technology, collaborating across departments and extracting best value from suppliers, CSL will not only provide a better service but will realise annual savings of £90m (compared to 2009/10). It will provide flexible, quality and value for money training and development for all staff; work with a range of world class providers; provide the opportunity for staff to undertake learning and development alongside peers in private and other sectors; and seek to accredit the majority of its programmes to provide portable qualifications outside the Civil Service.

Commercial and financial skills

The move towards commissioning of services means many more public servants, not least in central government, need skills in managing markets, negotiating and agreeing contracts, and contract management. A new Commissioning Academy will be set up in 2013 to provide these skills to the whole public sector. This is separate from and alongside the drive to improve procurement practices.  Procurement is a separate technical profession which must support commissioners but not replace them, just as HR teams support line managers but do not replace them.

Financial management needs to be further strengthened, and the finance functions in departments and agencies given greater authority.  The Finance Transformation Programme has been set up to accomplish this.

Strengthening professions

The Capabilities Plan will also strengthen the authority and influence of the Civil Service professions.  The ‘Heads of Profession’ operate as cross-Government leaders, and have an essential role in improving skills and maintaining professional standards.  The Plan will boost the importance of their role in raising standards, departmental appointments, succession planning and talent management.

Developing and managing future leadership

Action 13:

Actively manage the Fast Stream, other high performers and the SCS as a government–wide corporate talent pool by expanding accelerated development programmes, and introducing a single common standard for promotion into and within the SCS; all by the end of 2012.  Training for high potential Senior Civil Servants to be sourced on the open market through Civil Service Learning, and conducted alongside high potential individuals in other sectors, especially the private sector.

Nurturing and developing leadership talent at all levels is core to a successful Civil Service. For the first time there will be active corporate management of current and future leadership from Fast Stream through to future Permanent Secretaries:

  • The Graduate Fast Stream, which attracts bright graduates into the Civil Service, will be strengthened and re-focussed for the 2013 intake.  It will be a 2 + 2 year scheme managed Civil Service-wide, based on four six month placements in different departments and more than one geography, accredited development, and formal graduation at that point for the successful.  Subject to performance and graduation, promotion to the next grade would follow within the following two years. Successful fast streamers will be continuously developed as they move towards the SCS.
  • A new corporately managed Future Leaders Scheme will track and nurture the most talented people operating in middle management roles below Deputy Director who have the potential to reach the SCS.   It will be open to those graduating from the Fast Stream and other top performers including new entrants by the end of 2012. A key aim will be to ensure that those without any operational management experience should gain some at this stage.
  • A new development programme will be offered to 100 of the most promising Deputy Directors in autumn 2012.  The scheme will be refreshed annually.
  • The ‘High Potential Development Scheme’ will continue for the most promising directors, with accelerated development for those Directors General with the greatest potential.

The SCS development schemes, combined with internal and external learning and talent programmes, will be brought together to create a coherent leadership programme for the SCS.  It will have a strong focus on sharing experiences and peer development, supporting departments with their own leadership support and coaching. Development that is not Civil Service specific will be conducted alongside people from the private sector.

A set of common standards for promotion into and through the SCS will be developed in 2012 linked to the core competence framework. A review of standards for promotion and selection processes across the rest of the Civil Service will follow in 2013.

Action 14:

Increase dynamism and flexibility by making it easier for staff at all levels to move between the Civil Service and the private sector.

Both staff and the Civil Service gain from staff having greater opportunity for interchange, secondments and loans with other sectors and industries24.  This will help civil servants gain an understanding of the challenges faced by organisations in other sectors. There is scope for building partnerships with other organisations, big and small, to develop better understanding of how other sectors work to broaden skills and develop talent.  At present secondments are usually arranged by the individual rather than by their department.  This is now under review to create new arrangements for secondments and interchange by 2013.  The more points of contact there are between the Civil Service and other sectors the less the culture shock when people move between them, and the better they understand each other and work together.  Secondment of the ablest civil servants is sometimes discouraged for fear that they will not return.  This is best addressed by ensuring that they have interesting and demanding jobs to return to, and that their careers will be enhanced rather than held back by a spell outside government.  Furthermore, civil servants need to be connected with local communities. They are encouraged to invest time in community activity and spend at least one day on this as part of their jobs. Staff appraisals should take account of this valuable investment.

Permanent Secretary experience

Action 15:

  • Establish the expectation that Permanent Secretaries appointed to the main delivery departments will have had at least two years experience in a commercial or operational role.
  • Move over time towards a position where there is a more equal balance between those departmental Permanent Secretaries who have had a career primarily in operational management and those whose career has been primarily in policy advice and development.

It should no longer be possible for civil servants, except in the most specialist roles, to get to very senior levels without having worked outside of a single department or the centre of Government, or having worked in more than one type of role.

As commissioning of services becomes as important as making policy, it will be increasingly important for Departmental senior leaders, especially in the main delivery departments, to have exposure and experience outside policy development, especially in policy implementation.  The new common standards for promotion will require evidence of success in gaining broader experience as part of promotion to Director level and above.  The experience of Permanent Secretaries needs to reflect this trend.

Departmental capability

Action 16:

We will replace existing Capability Reviews with departmental improvement plans, which will be annually assessed and led by Departmental Boards, calling on other external advice.

Capability Reviews were first developed in 2005 and refreshed in 2009. Departments are increasingly working in different ways, and it is the right time to change the current arrangements.  A new departmental improvement model will be created by autumn 2012 and then piloted in two departments before being rolled out.  It will be built on four critical elements of organisational performance:

  • Performance (on progress and outcomes, including the ability to provide and use rigorous and accurate management information)
  • Efficiency and Innovation
  • Capability (taking forward the capability assessment of the current reviews)
  • Strategic Risk and leadership of change

The principles underpinning this successor programme will be:

  • A strong link to departmental operational / business plans.
  • Ownership by departmental Boards making strong use of Non-Executive Directors and peer review to provide challenge and build a strong corporate understanding of best practice.
  • Flexible and tailored to meet departmental needs but with core common elements.
  • Regular enough to be meaningful, so that progress can be seen and tracked and with a focus on driving Continuous Improvement.

  1. Cabinet Office (2011), Civil Service People Survey 2011
  2. National Audit Office (2009), Commercial skills for complex government projects. Para 3: “Government has long been aware of the need to improve its commercial skills. In 1999 a report by Sir Peter Gershon, Review of civil procurement in Central Government, concluded that commercial skills levels needed to be raised significantly… Since then, the demand for commercial skills has grown.”
  3. Tell Us How consultation comment :“Too often change is managed and driven by project teams who have been away from the front line for some considerable time if they were ever there.”
  4. Cabinet Office (2011), Civil Service People Survey 2011: Only 31% of staff said they felt there were opportunities to develop career in the department or agency they work in; 40% felt that learning and development activities are helping them to develop their career.
  5. Cabinet Office (May 2012), Government Lead Non-Executive (May 2012), Annual Report: financial year 2011/12“. Page 12: There remain skills gaps in a number of vital areas, such as commercial skills, project management, performance management, and change management.”
  6. Whitehall Industry Group (October 2009), Closing the gap: improving communication between business and government. Page 22: “…interchange has … greatly improving understanding in both business and government of how the other works, spreading skills, cross-fertilising ideas and generally sharing best practice.”

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