The Civil Service change management programme, known as ‘Capability Reviews’ of departments is slowly delivering results, but there is a risk of the momentum fading with people getting back to doing the day job. A report from the National School for Government sets out an agenda for preventing a tail-off of the change programme which includes looking at the way change has been managed in local government.
Civil Service reform is always with us. The modern reform era started with the Northcott and Trevelyan report in the 19th century. Capability Reviews, which were launched in 2006, are a completely different approach for securing continuous improvement and maintaining a constant search for innovation and quality. Each department is subjected to a review by a five-person team which includes three experienced people from outside central government who bring external challenge and insight, as well as two directors general from other government departments.
The report from the National School describes the varying degrees of enthusiasm with which reviews are being implemented and suggests a number of ways to ensure that the change programme continues to deliver. The report authors, who are all academics, draw on the success of change management in local government and urge civil servants to take note.
The Capability Reviews have no political involvement, with Ministers excluded from the process. In local government, the quality of the relationship between political and managerial leaders was seen to be crucial to the success of the organisation. The Civil Service is urged to get Ministers involved.
The Civil Service change programme is, in some cases, failing to deliver because the people leading it lack the ability to lead. The report here points to local government, where the movement of talent from high- to low-performing councils was a key factor in raising the threshold of capability. The Civil Service is urged to commit to a similar process.
The report highlights the difficulty of spreading best practice across the Civil Service and recommends picking a small number of areas of operation to act as trailblazers or beacons for the wider Civil Service. The success of the beacons would then be celebrated and they would provide a cadre of change agents to take the message forward. The Beacon Council scheme is the basis for this recommendation.
The report recognises that the Civil Service is at the beginning of a long journey, and it cautions that the gains made so far could slip away without thorough attention to the follow-through.