Civil service recruitment overhaul ‘on verge’ of launch

John Manzoni announces launch of “success profiles”, which will allow managers to recruit on past experience as well as competency-based framework

John Manzoni, Cabinet Office permanent secretary. Credit: Paul Heartfield

By Suzannah Brecknell

02 May 2018

Civil service chief executive John Manzoni has announced plans to reform recruitment systems across government to include a wider range of selection criteria.

He said the new systems would “allow us to evaluate candidates on what they have done before, what their actual experience, behaviours and values are – rather than on how they answer a competency questionnaire”.

Manzoni, the Cabinet Office permanent secretary, set out plans to introduce new “success profiles” to complement competency-based recruitment during a speech at the Institute for Government on Tuesday which outlined his next steps for reforming the civil service.


Alongside these changes – which will also apply to promotion systems and which Manzoni hopes will help to support greater specialisation within the civil service – the chief executive said he would be using the 2019 spending round to push for new ways of funding the centre of government.

He also spoke about changes to accountability and governance arrangements to reflect the functional model he has rolled out across government, which has centralised the management of key professions such as HR, digital and commercial to provide cross-government support, career structures and strategies.

The civil service chief said new “success profiles” would soon be introduced as “an expansion of our competency based approach to recruitment and retention, broadening it to include more robust and wide-ranging selection criteria”.

He said the change, which has been piloted in two large departments, is “on the verge of being launched”.

Manzoni suggested that managers will feed into these success profiles, saying that their introduction will “require quite a change in leaders too, involving them much more in interviewing and performance management of their people”.

Piloting alternatives to competency-based recruitment was one of the actions set out in the 2016 Civil Service Workforce Plan, which committed government to “moving away from the competency framework, to a more meaningful and business focused framework of assessment”.

However Manzoni was clear that these new success profiles would not replace the competency framework, which he described as a “perfectly valid” but “overused” tool.

He said the launch of success profiles is “really, really important because it bears on what qualities and skills we value and promote”.

He added: “It relates to building experience so that we’re no longer creating generalists by default, but people with broad and deep experience of delivery and implementation.”

Manzoni also put in an early pitch for his spending round proposals, setting out the case for greater use of centralised funding to support the functional teams.

This would not necessarily mean more money, he said, but rather mean that functions would have access to direct funding for key projects rather than needing to secure funding from departments.

“There is always a tension of course because in the end functions only exist to help departments,” he said, adding that there is therefore a “strong argument for demand-driven mechanisms to fund them, but this can also be inefficient and slow”.

He acknowledged that giving a “pile of money to a group of people to do things for their own benefit” would be the “enemy of success” in his reforms.

“Therefore we’ve got to approach this relatively carefully but I do think there are examples where in a strategic sense we can accelerate the changes that we need to make by having that conversation [about central funding],” he added.

He gave the example of the GovPay platform – developed by GDS – as a system which would have been developed more quickly if it’d had some central funding.

“Hopefully we can make a sensible case for funding the centre in a different way while ensuring we still have discipline to ensure the functions only do what adds value,” Manzoni said.

Speaking about the need to review the civil service’s “overall governance structure” to reflect the new functional model, he said he did not want to “muddy line accountability” but rather to “create new behaviour sets” which would mean that those responsible for delivering outcomes would be more likely to ask for support and expertise from functional teams. 

Manzoni also used the speech to explain how the functional model has been used to help deliver Brexit, and to highlight the work of the Department for Exiting the Europe which is coordinating the work of more than 300 Brexit workstreams.

“I should take this opportunity to thank Philip Rycroft and his team who run DExEU and who are doing a fantastic job and deserve our collective thanks for that work,” he said.

Manzoni suggested that the cross-government Border Planning Group, which has been created to integrate the implementation plans of more than 30 agencies preparing for changes at the UK border ahead of Brexit, could be a model for tackling other cross-cutting issues.

“Responsibility for delivery [of post-Brexit border work], of course, remains with departments – but the cross-department group will define the plan and hold the departments to account for delivering their piece of it,” he said.

“That goes against the grain of traditional accountabilities in our civil service system. Many more challenges – and not just in relation to Brexit – now transcend the boundaries between departments, from healthcare to justice to housing and benefits. We can learn from the borders experience and apply that elsewhere over time.”

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