On becoming a civil servant

It's end of year performance appraisal time in my organisation. So we're each wondering whether we'll get a must improve, achieved or exceeded rating. Yes, we have a ranking system.

Given this, I decided to run a personal appraisal on my ability to become a Civil Servant. This was a performance objective which I gave myself in January 2015. It's not 'end of year' on this objective, and not even 6-months but I think 5 months more or less qualifies as ok for a 'mid-year performance review'.

I started by aiming to get a grounding in UK politics. This seems a pre-requisite to be a Civil Servant, but I didn't realise this until I joined the Civil Service and found that everything I knew about how to get things done in organisations, and I've worked in many, didn't seem to work, or did but not in the intended way.

So I participated in 15 Wednesday evenings of a Birkbeck College politics course in the company of 25 or so others, all at least 2 decades younger than me – a learning in itself – who represented views from at least 15 different countries. The first question the lecturer threw at us was 'Does the National Health Service suffer from a scarcity of resource?' Energetic debate and shouting at each other led to him yelling 'Hey, this isn't the House of Commons, you know'. So within the first hour I was getting insight into UK politics from a number of perspectives.

During the 5 months I've read books, watched videos, been to events, and stayed alert to various aspects of politics. My Twitter account @curiouscivilserv follows UK politicos (people and organisations). I've attended a Select Committee Hearing, sat in on a Ministerial briefing, and shadowed a policy colleague for a day. So I've been active.

However, I'm now looking at myself over my glasses. I've got the phrase 'Never mistake activity for achievement' in my mind. What have I achieved towards becoming a Civil Servant? Where would I rank in the system proposed by Francis Maude (previously Cabinet Office minister) who thinks the CS 'should move from a system where managers categorise set proportions of staff as performing well, acceptably and poorly to one where employees are individually ranked best to worst'.

I've achieved getting really hooked into the giant puzzle of what will make the Civil Service transform, I've achieved understanding that I need to continue my education into the interdependencies of the political systems and their supporting Civil Service. I've achieved a healthy respect for the resilience, fortitude, change capacity, knowledge and goodwill of my fellow, but generally much longer serving, Civil Servants in the face of constant battering from all sides. Does this count as achievement? I think so, but there's room for improvement too.

So, next thing read the book I've just ordered Comparative Civil Service Systems in the 21st Century and if that is all too academic I'll turn to an episode of Yes Minister, or The Thick of It, I may learn as much!

Meanwhile, I'll hold off ranking myself and continue to keep curious and ask questions.

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