My thanks to a loyal reader for alerting us to the this rather interesting piece of information.
"To add to the mix they are recruiting a new Head of Chief Executives Private Office (G6) and Private Secretary to the Chief Executive (G7) - both posts are currently filled by staff who came across from DWP when DLS got the job. So why are they advertising the posts again? Could it be that all three are transferring?"
The comment was made in relation to my article about Lesley Strathie's soon to be announced departure for pastures "new" in a civil service position where she will "champion the improvement of front line services across the Civil Service, and lead the development of the profession across government".
Clearly her two loyal retainers are leaving with her.
Anyhoo, with such a change at the top, this is as good a time as any to muse a while as to how we got to where we are now, and why the Grande Dame has failed (even though her "new" role will be used as a cover by the politicians to avoid the use of the word "failure").
by happen-stance a loyal reader reminded me about an article that appeared in the Guardian in February 2010, which covered Lesley Strathie's response to the damning review from the Cabinet Office (noting the changes that Excom had already made to improve processes and structures within the organisation - remember this was written in February 2010).
The Cabinet Office review was based on the results of the second people survey in 2009 (2010's results were in fact much worse). As can be seen from the article, Strathie's strategy was to "harness" the enthusiasm and talent of local management as a driver for change.
"No less than one would expect, of course, and a fair recognition that the right efforts have been made by those who will further drive her vision going forward. But, as any change expert will support, the main barriers to implementing change tend to be not the visionaries at the top of the organisation, nor the 'workers' as a complete group but those who see change as a threat to their career ambitions or a challenge to a comfortable status quo.
The wrong job, the wrong way, for too long
Staff within HMRC are well known for their tenacity and passion to do a great job. However, despite all the change that the organisation has undergone over the last few years, many still feel that they have been doing the wrong job, the wrong way, for too long. The key to successful change is usually to be found in engaging key operational staff, then motivating them to drive the whole process forward quickly and effectively.
This in turn requires a clear view, not just of the strategic goals but also a comprehensively-thought-through model for the entire new organisation, which encompasses vision, strategic performance measures, organisational structures, new projects and business-as-usual activities, together with the right combination of skills, competencies and behaviours needed by all staff.
More important than any of these areas individually is the need to demonstrate clear alignment between all of them. Research shows that organisations that do not seek this rarely achieve their performance goals; whereas those that do, often achieve 200%+ of their targets.
As Strathie recognised in her comments, top-down and bottom-up alignment are vital to the future success of the organisation.
If HMRC staff understand the organisation's goals at strategic and operational level, they will also understand how their own job contributes to those goals, and they are likely to be well-motivated and strive even harder to achieve their own targets.
The Cabinet Office review stated that at least one layer of management remains more likely to be focused on building the profile of their own area (and themselves) than looking out across the silos for the good of the department as a whole.
This is unlikely to change until they feel that their advancement is clearly linked to HMRC's overall success. Strathie's comments suggest that this will be one of the first areas to which she will turn her attention.
The answer for HMRC lies in governance, leadership and culture – harnessing the passion and work ethic of the majority of staff and persuading or redeploying those who see no need for change. The kind of detailed alignment model I mentioned earlier is at the heart of such a programme – but time to implement it fully is limited, given the proximity of the General Election which tends to change everyone's priorities."
One and a half years on, with worsening engagement scores, poor performance and Strathie's departure whilst still on sick leave, what went wrong with that strategy?
The reality of harnessing management enthusiasm and talent requires there to be enthusiasm and talent at management level, sadly this does not exist in bucket loads at that level in HMRC (as has been noted many times on this site, and as Excom are now realising).
Excom assumed they had the talent from SO and above to understand the strategy, they didn't. The recent capability reviews now show in black and white that HMRC is starved of talent at this level.
Why is HMRC starved of talent at this level?
Go back in time to when Gordon Brown was Chancellor, and when he was looking for efficiency savings.
The Labour government of the day moved swathes of the Civil Service to the provinces (oddly enough Labour heartlands!).
Many experienced HMRC managers opted to take the very generous redundancy packages, rather than move to the provinces. The result being an expanded set of regional offices with no managerial competencies.
To add to the mix, the merger of the Inland Revenue and Customs resulted in chaos; as managers with no experience of tax/customs were put in charge of people without understanding he reality of their day to day jobs (the buzz word was "pure management", a tax manager could manage a customs department and vice versa).
Promotion through "learning the ropes" disappeared, especially in Personal Tax due to the lack of experienced managerial talent. Inexperienced managers suddenly had to recruit and backfill (replace leaving managers), without understanding business principles or any oversight of their decisions.
This has resulted in personal fiefdoms being created where sycophantic jobsworths are in control (see the comments made on this site over the years by HMRC staff). Pacesetter was used/manipulated by the management dross to fortify their fiefdoms. Excom have belatedly realised that Pacesetter has been manipulated, but will not fully abandon it. Instead local management are being by-passed in an attempt by Excom to see reality.
Whilst it does not take that long to inflict damage referred to above on an organisation, rectifying it will take a very long time and will not be for the faint-hearted.
HMRC have committed to their political masters that the results of the staff survey in 2012 (due to be published in Q1 2013) will be significantly better than the current appalling results.
The sad reality facing HMRC is that removing the deadwood of underperforming management will take longer than a year, and positive effects on staff morale/efficiencies/tax take etc etc will not be evident by the 2013 deadline.
HMRC now face the very real risk of being declared "unfit for purpose".
Tax does have to be taxing.
UK EXPATS: Reduce tax on UK Pensions
HMRC QROPS provider. Unlock your UK pension and access a 25% lump sum today.
Quote ID code "ABC" when contacting a QROPS specialist.
Professional Cover Against the Threat of Costly TAX and VAT Investigations
What is TAXWISE?
TAXWISE is a tax-fee protection service that will pay up to £75,000 towards your accountant's fees in the event of an HM Revenue & Customs full enquiry or dispute.
To find out more, please use this link Taxwise
Tax Investigation for Dummies, by Nick Morgan, provides a good and easy to read guide for anyone caught up in an HMRC tax investigation. A must read for any Self Assessment taxpayer.
Click the link to read about: Tax Investigation for Dummies