John Manzoni: speech at Reform Annual Conference, 15 October 2015

Check against delivery

Link to original here.

Thanks for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak in a place, and to an audience, so committed to the idea of public service reform and how best to achieve it.

Speaking in Leeds last month, the Prime Minister set out his vision for a smarter state – characterised by devolution, reform and efficiency.

It’s these last 2 components of the smarter state, reform and efficiency, and how they apply to the Civil Service, that I want to discuss today. How reform and efficiency must – and do – go together to allow us to offer better public services, at the same time as we become more and more effective in how we deliver the reforms.

That is how I have interpreted the job the Prime Minister has given me as Chief Executive.

My viewpoint

I’m relatively new to government. I’ve been here just over a year and a half. But I’ve had over 30 years’ experience outside the Civil Service in large, complex delivery organisations. Those experiences have shaped my view of what it really takes to get things done. I’ve seen what happens when too many layers of management lose the connection between the senior leadership and the frontline. What happens when complex organisations get the balance wrong between specialist skills and generalist leadership.

So reforming the Civil Service is about structural and cultural change. It’s about strengthening cross-government links through the professional functions and reinforcing the mechanisms of delivery. But today I want to concentrate on what lies at the heart of that. And that’s our people:

  • getting the right people in the right jobs
  • committing to developing the right skills
  • setting clear career paths for our young people
  • balancing depth of expertise with breadth of experience
  • connecting all of that across departmental boundaries

That’s the only way we will produce ‘big people’ who are up to the ‘big challenges’ of producing the best public services. By big people I mean public servants who are ready and willing to lead others and be held accountable for their judgements. Who step up and take ownership for high quality work; who are open to learning from their mistakes, and are brave and decisive in the public interest.

I saw this in action at our annual Civil Service training event in Newcastle recently, where Alison, Steve and the Pacesetter team epitomised how great management really gets the best out of our people, creating an environment where people feel more in control of their own destiny and their own workplace.

So, I’m driven by a fundamental belief that if there’s anywhere in this country that needs big people, it’s the Civil Service. We are doing some of the most complex things and in one of the most complex working environments. The demands on our people are high. And smart organisations need talented people working smarter.

We are already seeing the fruits of new thinking and new skills in the use of data to drive better policy, and to eliminate waste on failed programmes. That’s why you no longer need a paper driving licence. The system has gone digital, part of programme of putting the top 25 services online, saving millions and improving services.

We lead the world in applying behavioural science to guide policy – by understanding how people actually behave in certain situations. To take just one example, subtle changes to messaging increased compliance by late taxpayers by 17%, simply by emphasising that their taxes fund public services.

And similarly – the Troubled Families Programme set up in 2011 showed that, working together, departments can solve complex problems, delivering services that put the citizen first and fits government around their needs. That programme exemplifies the future of a ‘smarter state’.

The current climate

But we need to be honest about the hard choices we face in the Spending Review. The savings targets will be substantial. Achieving them will be tough. And they come on top of substantial reductions in the last Parliament. And it’s worth noting that those reductions were realised while maintaining very high quality public services, a great achievement from our Civil Service.

To achieve the next round, we need to absolutely transform the way we go about our business. Being realistic, that doesn’t happen in one step – especially not in an organisation as complex as the Civil Service. But that must not stop us from outlining that vision of a better way of doing things, and then taking some determined steps towards that vision.

These steps start with people.

People and future workforce

We start with a huge advantage. Coming from the private sector, I am struck by the quality, dedication and inherent motivation of the Civil Service. It is not something that is obvious from the outside, but I am deeply impressed by the dedication I see throughout the service – and in particular at senior ranks.

Last week I met our new intake of fast-streamers – 1,000 young people kick-starting their careers in government. All bright, energetic, full of potential. What struck me again is that expectations have changed. People aren’t looking these days at the Civil Service as a job for life. They’re not looking to stay in the same department for 40 years. So, we need to adapt to those expectations, creating a workforce that looks and feels different. This will involve new roles, new career paths – anchored in depth of expertise in commercial, digital and project management, as well as policy making – and it needs to be a more permeable relationship with the private sector – so that people move in and out of the Civil Service more often, and more easily.

We need people who understand the procurement markets to do the procuring for us, just as we need people who understand law to do legal work for us, just as we need people who understand the complexities of the benefits structure to redesign and improve that for us. And we need new skills to meet the needs of a Civil Service in the 21st century – and that match our ambition as a smarter government.

Last, but not least, we must make sure our most talented staff can rise through the organisation. And talent doesn’t discriminate – it can appear from anywhere.

This means embracing difference, spreading our net as wide as possible – and being inclusive, as well as diverse, so that everyone feels they are treated fairly and given the same opportunities to excel.

We are doing this through the Talent Action Plan – by being open about the barriers that get in the way of talented people from underrepresented groups and starting to remove those barriers. And through schemes like the Positive Action Pathway. By tackling unconscious bias through learning and leadership. And by appointing external diversity advisers to provide constructive challenge.

So whether they are graduates in the Fast Stream (where the average age is now about 26), or Fast Track apprentices straight from school – these are the first of a new era of digital, millennial civil servants. And this new generation of apprentices in the Civil Service are already doing exciting and important work ranging from a paralegal in the Crown Prosecution service to operational support for crisis situations. We need absolutely to maintain these young people’s interest!

Commercial skills

At the same time – as the state gets smaller, we will be delivering more through others, so we need to build our commercial capability across government – we need to create ourselves to be intelligent clients. This isn’t easy. We are doing things often not done before.

And think of the scale – in the Government’s Major Projects portfolio there are 150 major projects worth £400 billion – everything from building aircraft carriers, to engineering new digital services like Verify, to protect citizens identity online.

It is not as though the private sector is expert in all of these things, so pricing them is difficult – and we (and the private sector) don’t always get that pricing right. We need confidence and expertise to understand, adapt and, if necessary, change. We need to understand where and when to use commercial tools, when to hold resource in-house, and when to outsource.

The commercial environment is constantly changing – so, we have to adapt to it, and that means sometimes we need to develop a market or create competition within a market. We should be working in partnership with external markets – holding our own in commercial negotiations, and being more strategic in our approach to procurement.

This all needs highly skilled expertise we don’t have today in sufficient quantity.

Digital innovation and skills

Similarly – better technology is at the core of a smarter Civil Service. As we continue to build digital services and transform the way we work and communicate internally – transformation must be from the inside out. That means we have to understand the technology, and how to deploy it to transform business processes.

We have to understand how it can change both the citizen’s experience of the state and how it can improve our own internal processes, so that we can deliver better services at a cheaper cost. Those are the skills we are building today – but we have nowhere near enough. I’ve watched big organisations struggle with this for years. It’s hard to do in government, too – but we can’t shy away from it. We need to be absolutely at the forefront of that.

GOV.UK is the model and the vehicle for what we need to do. It has brought nearly 1,900 websites into a single portal, saving significant amounts of money each year. But this is just the start. Digital technology lets us share and join up. So, why, for example, would we duplicate effort and expense, by having numerous different ways for citizens to make payments to government online? Why have departments developing their own systems – when by working to a common goal we could have one – helping users by helping ourselves.

This is how Government Digital Service is leading the digital transformation of government – government as a platform – cheaper, simpler, smarter.

Accountability and leadership

All this has to be done while we’re delivering the ‘day job’ – protecting our borders, running our prisons, collecting billions in tax every year and supporting millions of people through the welfare state. The day job is complex: doing it at the same time as transforming how we do it requires extraordinary leadership – so we have to also prepare people for that.

As I’ve said, I’m impressed with the quality and dedication of our senior leaders. The talent is certainly there, but we need to ally it to a different blend of skills. Skills that embrace delivery as well as policy – and that have a focus in the vital delivery specialisms, procurement, legal, project management. In some cases this means developing the leaders we already have; in others it means bringing in more expertise from outside.

And we need leaders – whatever their background – who truly value and encourage their staff. Valuing people and helping them to deliver their best starts at the top. And central to improving leadership is building confidence and accountability.

To be confident in their judgements, people need experience – and to give them that experience, we need to build new career paths that celebrate breadth and depth, rather than simply encouraging people to climb the grade ladder as quickly as possible. So we’re investing in talent schemes, in strengthening professions in the critical delivery skills we require, and in expanding our secondment programmes. And we are hiring specific skills and experience at a more senior level to act as mentors and role models to our young graduates.

The Civil Service Leadership Statement makes our expectations clear: as leaders, we must be inspiring about our work and its future, confident in our engagement, and we must empower our teams to deliver.

And over time, and as we grow experience in our workforce, we need to evolve our controls and constraints within the Civil Service to encourage individual decision-taking and accountability. This must be done carefully – but we need our system to develop the big leaders of the future, to meet the big challenges of the future.

Conclusion: delivery for the nation

So, when the PM says we can spend less and deliver more, it’s not just rhetoric – it’s the result of a transformation of our public services, and how we deliver them – and that’s what I’m here to help achieve. I say again – that transformation starts with our people. We are changing the shape and skills of our future workforce, and instilling a can-do culture.

And we are committed to drawing on the talent of all our people, whoever they are, whatever their background, and to helping them progress. We are building the commercial and technical capability necessary to forge the most creative relationships with business, and developing the digital infrastructure to underpin delivery.

And to underpin that, we are developing the leadership we need to deliver – deliver the government’s priorities effectively, deliver more efficient frontline services, and to do it all with greater productivity from the Civil Service.

That means the leadership throughout the Civil Service carrying the workforce with them so that they own the reform and are not subjected to it. As Chief Executive of the Civil Service, that is what I have to deliver – one united, collaborative, smarter Civil Service, working together for one nation.

John Manzoni, Chief Executive, Cabinet Office


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