Forty-seven years ago (1968) the Fulton Committee published its report on Civil Service reform. I would never have known this except that a colleague reading a blog I published, ‘Horseholding or Leapfrogging’, sent me the link. The report discussed six things the Civil Service needed to reform – the balance of generalists v experts, the grading structure, its management/leadership capability, the lack of involvement with other stakeholders, the inadequate personnel policies, and authority vested at the wrong levels.
The CEO of the Civil Service, John Manzoni, gave a talk on 2 February 2015 at the Institute for Government. New to the role, he made some observations.
- “Government does really hard things, and we ask very bright generalists to do them, and the blunt truth is that doesn’t always work very well.”
- “The system is designed in many ways to slow things down and be less accountable– the system becomes the people and vice versa”
- “We need to create professions and real careers for those who wish to learn about delivery”.
- “We need big leaders to take accountability for big things.”
- “The Government is remarkably un-joined up – the future will demand a great degree of collaboration”.
- “The Civil Service has not taken the development of its people as seriously as the corporate world. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of taking this seriously.”
I was struck by the similarity between the observations from 1968 and 2015. Manzoni acknowledges the fantastic progress that has been made over the last four years towards Civil Service reform, but he says this progress is “necessary but not sufficient” and that many before him have tried transforming the Civil Service without huge success (as the echo of 1968 in 2015 shows). I’ve seen evidence of this myself.
I’ve got a great flyer from 2007 about the ‘transformation’ that ‘lean’ techniques promise. It was a massive piece of work, although it wasn’t used to its full potential. But I could re-use the flyer just substituting the word ‘agile’ for ‘lean’. Similarly, I have a lovely 2010 brochure on ‘Managing Change’ that could be re-issued as is.
So what will it take to build the momentum for the Civil Service to meet the challenges of thefuture? Clearly it’s time for a different approach. Here’s something we in DWP are going to try. On March 16, we are running a hack aimed at finding, and planning to try out, the radical steps that will transform the Department in terms of how we operate. We’ll be sharing innovative ideas about how we can really change the way we work, act, behave, and think, and more importantly we’ll be bringing together a community of people who will come up with an action plan for how we trial, test, and model these transformative ideas.
The Fulton Committee Report was then. This is now. Our hack plans to deliver a different future so we’re not looking back in 2062 and saying more or less the same thing that we said in 1968 and saw in 2015.