Headlines: October 24th, 2006



Many of the reform initiatives now being pursued across the Civil Service, such as shared services and capability building programmes, are concerned with transformation and not just change. This shift has resulted from a recognition that a purely ‘top-down’ approach to policy development and service delivery will not deliver what is required.

In the last two decades reform has been pursued through a programme of structural change, but it has not really moved the Civil Service sufficiently far forward. The programme involved hiving off functions from departments and creating Executive Agencies. This brought greater managerial freedom, more flexibility in operation, modest increase in innovation and marginal improvements in effectiveness and efficiency. Because the new structures retained the parent department cultural values, were generally managed by the same people with the same management style and the same approach to service delivery, the result was essentially business as usual. It is now recognized that the deeply entrenched patterns of organisational behaviour needs to be challenged at all levels in all Civil Service organisations to secure transformation.

The Civil Service is now seeking to reinforce the shift toward transformation by adopting ‘Organisational Development’. This model of change management seeks to increase organization effectiveness and health through planned interventions in processes using behavioural-science knowledge. It is a planned change effort. An Organisational Development programme involves a systematic diagnosis of the organization, the development of a strategic plan for improvement, and the mobilization of resources to carry out the effort. An organization-development effort is related to a total organization change such as a change in the culture or the reward systems or the total managerial strategy.

The adoption of OD will be spearheaded by the National Schools for Government, the Civil Service staff college. In January 2007 it will launch an MSc degree programme, Leading Change and Organizational Development. Senior officials who are already carrying out roles in transformational projects will be eligible to apply for places on the first course, but half of the places will be taken by staff of the National School to support development of its own capacity to promote OD to government departments. The course is being delivered in partnership with the University of Birmingham and the Tavistock Institute, which specializes in public policy delivery.

The launch of the course sends a strong signal to civil servants aspiring to the top jobs. The route to the top is through influencing organizational behaviour and delivering change. Deftness in handling policy issues and astuteness in advising Ministers is no longer the assured route forward.