Management culture in the Civil Service – looking to 2013
Petra Wilton, Director of Strategy & External Affairs at Chattered Management Institute says that the public sector must drive a change in management culture.
The heavily publicised “Blue Monday” - apparently the most depressing day of the year - has come round once again, hitting workers with a strong dose of general negativity. Yes, it might be a cold and grey time of year, but employees will be pleased to hear that employers are cautiously optimistic about what 2013 will bring.
This small increase in the optimism of business leaders is echoed in the public sector. New Chartered Management Institute (CMI) research shows that confidence amongst managers in the sector about their organisation’s prospects for the upcoming year (while understandably less than other sectors) has risen 13 per cent since this time last year.
This research also asked public sector managers and leaders about their priorities for this year and what might hold them back from meeting their goals. A clear majority of public sector managers and leaders stated that they do not feel they have the right people currently in place to fulfil their wider organisational objectives.
This may be an especially important issue in the Civil Service as it has been hit considerably by measures like recruitment freezes and redundancies and, before Christmas, the Autumn Statement brought in news of further cuts. Heading into 2013, there is, therefore, a need for a change in management culture to address the challenge of putting the best teams in place to deliver, despite restricted budgets and increasingly urgent timescales.
The measures due to be implemented as part of the wider Civil Service Reform Plan should help address this challenge. But it is already clear that to succeed, managers and leaders in the Civil Service must be drive a change in management culture, removing the obstacles currently in place in the following ways:
Allowing increased flexibility
Research has shown that flexible working is a valuable reward and effective recruitment tool, as well as helping to improve performance. A culture of flexible working requires employees to be given independence and choice regarding the way they choose to work. Consequently, managers will need to trust that, when given this autonomy, employees will work hard and deliver. Success here depends on managers being supported and trained in how to manage team members who are working flexibly, as this is often a different scenario than they have previously experienced.
Last summer’s Olympics demonstrated how effectively flexible working can be applied in the Civil Service. We would like to see flexible working practices, including remote working and unconventional hours, implemented across all divisions of the Civil Service on a permanent basis where possible.
Prioritising experience and skills over grades
Traditionally, Civil Service appointments have tended to be made on the basis of grades, rather than ensuring individuals have the experience, appropriate skill set and knowledge to perform the role in question. Less hierarchical structures and improved planning will be essential to revising this, as well as promoting roles on offer to all those with the ability to deliver, whatever their existing grade.
Recognising good performance and managing underperformance
Unfortunately, exceptional performance is not always acknowledged in the Civil Service. Similarly, underperformance is too rarely addressed.
To deal with underperformance, improved clarity on the competencies required for a position is essential – both for the manager and their employee – as well as clearer support on how to manage performance well. Two new tools being introduced to improve performance management should help. These are the framework for Civil Service performance and the Senior Civil Service appraisal system, both of which will help managers to quickly recognise poor performance, giving them the resources and confidence to take appropriate action.
These competence frameworks focus on achieving tangible results – promoting and supporting continuous improvement and empowering staff to work innovatively. Importantly they also set out criteria for identifying top performers - it is these people who excel within their roles that must be recognised and rewarded.
Linked to this, we look forward to seeing the results of the proposed initiatives, such as the ‘earn back’ scheme, where a Senior Civil Servant can place some of their pay at risk each year, earning an increased amount back if they exceed their set objectives.
Focusing on outcomes, not inputs
The performance of Civil Servants, as with the wider public sector, has often historically been measured in terms of process and inputs, rather than tangible achievements against business and departmental objectives.
Through the new performance frameworks the focus should shift more to outcomes, with employee objectives stemming from wider business objectives. Similarly, for reward schemes to work effectively they must be designed to recognised achievements in terms of outcomes not inputs.
In a workforce typically perceived as resistant and slow to change, managers and leaders in the Civil Service will need to enthusiastically take on and support the measures mentioned above, if it is to be a success. We must not get bogged down in the Blue Monday hype, but use it as an excuse to consider what changes you can make.
If we believe our key challenge is bringing the best people together to achieve our goals, we need to focus first on adopting these new processes to help make 2013 a success.
Petra Wilton is Director of Strategy & External Affairs at the Chartered Management Institute. The CIM is the only chartered professional body in the UK dedicated to promoting the highest standards in management and leadership excellence. The CIM has more than 90,000 members.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.