Abstracts: November 22nd, 2012

Whitehall is at a turning point. Overall the Civil Service has shrunk by over 54,000 full-time equivalents or 11% since 2010. The Institute for Government is charting how the radical changes have been made and drawing lessons for the future.

Ministers and senior civil servants had no roadmap to follow in devising change plans. There is virtually no relevant literature or documented examples of how to lead major change in central government departments. The only substantial guide to leading large-scale change is the business literature on change management. While it contains some core insights that apply as much in Whitehall as in business, the context is in many respects fundamentally different. The most obvious difference is in the nature of leadership. With power and authority shared between ministers and civil servants, there is no single leader with the same levers or control as a
corporate chief executive.

The report seeks to fill this gap by documenting how change was tackled and and drawing lessons for driving change in the future. The Institute began researching major change in Whitehall in 2009 in the Ministry of Justice and now works closely with a handful of departments.

Among the early lessons the Institute has distilled from the change programmes is the need to set a positive but honest direction. Several departments downsized without establishing a clear direction for the future. But, with the risk of making cuts simply where they are easiest, departments needed a meaningful vision, even more than other organisations. Departments with the strongest sense of direction had leaders who articulated a positive sense of what would be better beyond cuts to the department and services, while at the same time being honest about the scale and implications of
the challenge.

Another lesson was that several departments simply wanted to make changes as quickly as possible, without thinking through the implications. Leaders needed to be clearer about how ‘transformational’ this was for their department and move at a commensurate pace.

TRANSFORMING WHITEHALL can be downloaded here.