New Department for Work and Pensions permanent secretary Peter Schofield has spoken of his pride at the team spirit shared by his 84,000 staff and of his belief that everyone is a leader.
Schofield, who succeeded Sir Robert Devereux at the helm of Caxton House in January, said in a blogpost that his executive team was “ripping down the invisible walls of our organisational reporting lines” in a bid to foster a greater spirit of teamwork across boundaries.
He added that DWP was becoming a more proactive, listening department – and that he believed that the colocation of some jobcentres with local authority services as part of the ending of the PRIME contract was in turn helping staff to take a more holistic approach to the needs of service users.
Reflecting on his first seven months in post, the former DWP director of finance said he had talked to thousands of colleagues since his promotion and was “delighted” with the 2017 People Survey finding that 88% of departmental staffers had reported that leadership was something they should all do, regardless of grade.
“I started my own leadership journey in 1991, when I joined the Civil Service Fast Stream,” he said.
“Looking back to when I walked into the Treasury on my first day, the one piece of advice that I would give myself is that leadership is something we can all do.
“You don’t have to wait until you are a certain grade or have a large team. The sooner you start to be aware of your leadership style, the sooner you can strengthen it and grow.”
Schofield said his four core leadership priorities were to ensure staff felt their voices really mattered to decision-making in the department, and to create opportunities for them to shape the future of the organisation; to lay the ground for effective teamwork; to take a silo-breaking approach to addressing the needs of customers; and to create an environment where staff could “be at their best, whoever they are”.
Schofield said he had been inspired by teamwork displayed at one of the department’s Universal Credit service centres in Glasgow, where a call handler had worked with a colleague in the Fort William Jobcentre, some 70 miles north, to resolve a query from a claimant.
“The key point is to work back from the service or outcome that we are responsible for, and to identify who else you depend on to deliver that service, and who depends on you,” he said.
“Those people are your team. Get to know them and how you can work together.”
Despite being the cause of industrial action in some parts of the country and concern about convenience for claimants, Schofield said the closure of some jobcentres and the relocation of services was promoting new levels of cross-department and multi-agency working.
“We need to see our claimants not just as benefit recipients but people who may need support from a range of departments, local government, employers and third-sector bodies,” he said.
“There are brilliant examples of this, with many jobcentres becoming more like community hubs and some being colocated with council offices.
“They become a one-stop shop to find the support to get a job, sort out housing needs, and receive advice on accessing local services.”
In relation to assisting all staffers to achieve their full potential, Schofield said his strategy was to actively listen to colleagues to remove obstacles and nurture an inclusive environment.
“We have created a campaign, ‘I can be me in DWP’, which reflects this and gives the opportunity to celebrate role models,” he said.
“But we also have a responsibility to each other as colleagues, so that ‘you can be you’. This applies to progression and development, but also to health and wellbeing – and I love to celebrate the fantastic work colleagues do to promote healthy lifestyles, raise money for charity and get to know each other better as a result.”
Schofield’s blogpost, which was published on the Civil Service Blog, can be read here.