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Professions and boldness

Janet Hughes

As the brilliant Janet Hughes says, the civil service should be a place where people can be bold.

I especially like this bit:

Being bold means bringing your whole self to the situation and engaging fully with it. It involves openness, optimism and a commitment to something bigger than yourself.

Yes! I think that leadership means making a space where people can work like that, in line with the Civil Service Code.

People need to work in an environment where that sort of thinking and behaviour is supported. I usually tell the people I work with: “Succeed and that’s on you - mess up, and that’s on me.” Be open, optimistic and committed to something bigger than yourself - I’ll be there with you. That’s never more true than when it comes to doing service transformation.

There are reasons why my Twitter bio says “The gaffer” at GDS: this job isn’t glamorous, and it shouldn’t be. We’ve had an incredible few years showing what is possible to build in government. Now we need to really transform government services, from operations and offline channels through policy and user-facing services, always with user needs at the centre.

Transforming services isn’t something that digital teams or operational service teams do in isolation. It’s increasingly becoming everyone in government’s responsibility. Everyone needs to be able to fix things that aren’t working and use their skills and knowledge to find ways to make services better.

That’s not just about being good at recruiting, we also need to make sure that the structures are right. We need to keep supporting the specialists we already have. There are gifted digital, data and technology specialists across government today - many more than we had when GDS began. Many of those professionals have learnt a lot from the work we’ve done so far. They know what works and what doesn’t when you’re delivering digital government services. And they’re using that knowledge in the best possible way - by sticking with what works, and iterating on what didn’t.

Part of the work that’s being led across government by GDS’s Liv Wild is building up a digital, data and technology profession. We’ll continue to blog about her team’s work. This profession should sit alongside the other professions in the Civil Service, with clear guidelines for how digital or technology professionals should be supported.

We also need to be giving people who are already working in government the chance to learn how digital, data and technology skills are relevant to them, as people who spend their working lives delivering public services. We need to encourage cross-pollination of ideas across professional groups. Great ideas come from combining different perspectives.

We’ve often talked about “delivering at pace”. This requires people working and speaking up according to the best of their abilities. That’s what makes multidisciplinary teams great. We’re building public services so good people prefer to use them, beyond individual transactions. Making sure that government is efficient, and meets user needs, not its own outdated structures. A bold ambition, but not a reckless one. That’s the cause we’re all committed to, and that we’re building professional structures to support it. And beyond having the right structures in place, I believe we should all be showing leadership by giving others the space and support they need to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

That’s why I cheered when I read Janet’s blog post. Of course that’s how we should act and think and I’m confident we will. Be bold!

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  1. Comment by Jon Holt posted on

    Good stuff, Stephen. There is plenty of courage and vision to be found in the civil service; we are watching the likes of The National Archives, Companies House, GDS and the Office of National Statistics showing commitment to change, and true leadership in digital service delivery.

    But boldness is not the norm, and there is institutional resistance to change. In particular, the trade unions are failing the civil service here. In a quick study, Methods Digital uncovered a near-total absence of coherent digital strategy amongst the major unions. This is negligent, as they speak for millions of the civil servants you hope to motivate.

    Digital transformation often implies reallocation or reduction of human resources. This is an uncomfortable but inescapable truth. Yet the unions fixate on the short term, and tend to resist anything digital which has an immediate headcount consequence. At the same time, they do not properly guide their members towards long and rewarding careers in an increasingly digitised sector.

    Please can you use your influence to help the unions improve in this area? They are integral to the civil service, yet do not play their part in digital transformation.

    The bold are being subdued and delayed by the blockers.

  2. Comment by Dan B posted on

    Great post, please remember that not all of those people creating public services and helping to build a digital profession are in the Civil Service (I'm sure the sentiment still applies though!).

  3. Comment by David posted on

    This is worth a read too: Digital is the transformation agent, not the transformation -