It seems like every training session we run at DH starts with the same quip. How many of you bank online? Who bought something at Amazon this month? Have you ever checked up on your children on Facebook? … And then, the killer punchline. So what stops you doing anything like that at work?
It feels like it’s time we stopped saying it.
Earlier in December, we pushed the button on a plan to bridge the home/work digital gap. We’re starting the testing on some unusual guinea pigs: Permanent Secretary Una O’Brien and her leadership team, the most senior civil servants in the health service. We figure if it works for them we’ll have the green light to share it with 3,000 more civil servants at DH, and possibly beyond.
We know from this year’s cross-government Annual Skills Review and our own benchmarking (including that training session quip) that DH doesn’t suffer from a lack of digital skills - just the confidence to use them. So we see it as our role to unlock the confidence that inspires civil servants to experiment, create and even play, all in the pursuit of doing their job even better, raising the standards of their output even higher, and providing even more value to their public.
So what are the 5 pillars? Simple: user needs, recruitment, onboarding and development. And a big stick.
1. In true government digital fashion, the first step is discerning the user need: in this case, mapping the capability and confidence of the 209 teams which make up the department, so we can be confident we’re providing them with the support they need.
2. At the same time, we must change how we recruit. We’ll be mapping business processes in an online tool, isolating and deleting stumbling blocks, and taking some bold steps which will allow us both to reach great talent, and help that great talent to make it through the door.
3. The biggest clamour we hear from new starters is to bring back onboarding. We’ll be working with leaders across the department to identify opportunities to build the digital agenda into induction programmes, share new starter guidance prominently online, and augment the existing training sessions with useful and interactive tools where relevant. For instance, the new DH policymaking model – which will itself be a living digital resource – will have a substantial section on model policymaking for new starters in policy teams, which will hopefully become required first-day reading.
4. At the same time, we’ll be working alongside Civil Service Learning and DH’s own learning and development team to develop a programme of informal professional development. This won’t look like a traditional course. For instance, we’ve recruited 50 ‘digital champions’ from around the department to act as early adopters and – although they might not know it yet – provide much of the on-the-spot ‘nudging’ that makes for swift and refreshing change. We’ll be providing bespoke training to the top of the office - Una included - and reaching out to networks across the grade structure, finding the messages that resonate and build confidence, as well as those which lead to questions and hopefully the spark of new ideas. We'll be getting out of the classroom. We’ll be holding a ‘love digital’ summit on Valentine's Day. When we’re done, nobody in DH should call themselves a Luddite and think that’s a virtue.
5. Finally, alongside all these invigorating carrots, we’ll be providing a pointy stick. The painful truth – as the inspired minds behind Civil Service Reform, and the sometimes rebellious voices of Sir Francis, CBE Mike, Tom and Alex, have beautifully explained – is that if civil service doesn’t become fit, it becomes useless. So the stick is that we’ll be building digital competence into as many of the structures that govern promotion, performance and review as possible. Civil servants should be rewarded for exploring how they can harness digital skills to do their job better. The opportunities to learn how to do that will be wide-ranging and attractive, as we’ve outlined above. And for anyone who doesn’t, we’ll be asking why not in a very stern voice.
This doesn’t sound very digital? Well, true, this definitely isn’t a website. But at DH we are lucky enough to have senior leaders who recognise the digital model as a new way of working, not just a means to an end. In practice, digital at DH means three things: the mindset of ‘could do this better’, the process of ‘let’s change', and the equipment necessary to achieve.
The courage to take the leap to revolutionise, especially from our visionary colleagues in HR; the incremental improvement to each part of the staff journey; and the products and models which allow us to do it exponentially better than before. Together these represent an ideal digital approach.
And how will we know it’s the right approach? Well, we don’t. We expect to refine and improve over the next few months as we hit the inevitable stumbling blocks. For a digital team, talking about projects which might not demonstrate achievement for years is almost antithetical. But we know that there is no silver bullet to turning a department digital.
The capability plan goes hand-in-hand with the rest of DH Digital’s leadership on improving public value, infrastructure, transparency and operational efficiency across the department and the system. We’re expecting our people to rise to the challenge.
So if you want to stop hearing us trot out that quip, drop us a line.