Talent Spotting
This is a roundtable discussion about how the Government can improve its talent identification and cultivation systems
Kindly supported by Workday

Talent spotting is about having the widest possible hopper of talent into government role and finding ways to align them with the place they can have the most impact. It’s also about making careers in the public sector as fulfilling as they can be in the private sector, and allowing people to fulfill their potential.

Taking this into the context of the recent Declaration on Government Reform, the Chair, Rupert McNeil - Government Chief People Officer, said we need to ensure that people can learn and switch careers within government and not have to move beyond their local area – where they have settled.

Mark Judd, Vice President of Product Strategy at Workday, said that in the lead up to the pandemic it was increasingly clear that businesses were beginning to prioritize the identification of skills. Mark said across the board, businesses that Workday work with have begun to make this an absolute priority due to the agility needed to survive during the pandemic, giving the example of businesses that began producing ventilators and AstraZeneca’s work to create a COVID vaccine. This business imperative highlighted a weakness for businesses in their ability to identify talent, with many often unable to articulate the skills they needed. Workday was well positioned to aid this requirement having built a data set of skills definitions to define talent and using machine learning to match and pair talent with need.

Imran Razzaq, Sales Director, Education & Government UK & Ireland at Workday, said in addition to business requirements changing, the requirements of talent are also changing rapidly, with people now wanting different things from their careers. Talent now wants more stimulating work that fits with their beliefs, and organisations that have stronger ethics. Imran emphasized the dual benefit of tools like Workday, with employers being able to identify talent more easily, but also giving employees an understanding of how to grow their careers.

Jonathan Curry, Deputy Director at Change, Scottish Government, complained that talent is too often seen through the lens of potential rather than building resilience. Jonathan said that building resilience needed to be the priority for businesses, whether public or private,
along with understanding the evolving landscape of work in order to make “big bets” in terms
of the skills needed by the business in future.

Angela Green, Head of the Change Delivery Team at DWP, emphasized the need to take lessons from the pandemic, given the agility and skills that have been needed, and bring them forward when thinking about talent development.

Sarah Harrison, Chief Operating Officer at the Cabinet Office, said one of her core roles was the create the culture and systems that enable the organisation to attract talent, as well as nurture and deploy talent. Organisations should think in a ‘role-neutral, geography-neutral’ manner, and Sarah identified the Cabinet Office as a good example of a workplace that 

requires widespread professional skills to carry out government functions, but also needing skills more broadly relating to the civil service. Sarah also said there was a need to expand leadership at every level, and for organisations to develop a better “talent habit” – i.e a commitment to continuous learning.

Hugh, Director, HR & Security at GCHQ, said his organization relied heavily on people ingenuity, particularly as technology continues to increase its impact. GCHQ is an interesting case – it’s rare for talent to be able to be bought in; GCHQ needs to train in cyber
capabilities and leadership. Therefore, the right talent is needed before employment, with an emphasis on honing their skills. Doing this requires an objectivity and inclusiveness in
thinking about talent, as well as a strategic sense of what capabilities will be needed.

The Chair agreed with this and highlighted the value that can be brought to the wider economy and the public sector through this process, highlighting the movement of talent during the pandemic.

Katie Heartright, Deputy Director leading the change work in MHCLG, reiterated the need to put the right structures in place, with oversight to ensure objectives are being met – such as discussions around diversity makeup. Katie iterated the need to have a pipeline of diverse talent in place so that when crises arise, and the need to bring people in for capacity means talent checks are de-prioritized, there is a steady stream of the right talent still coming through. This can reap dividends in times of crisis when thinking about the impact of business practices on diverse groupings.

Jake McClure, Director of Organisational Capability at the Royal Payments Agency, thanked Katie for talking about social mobility and said that “while talent is everywhere, opportunity is not”. Jake emphasized the need to improve outreach to socio-economic groups without much of a connection to organisations like the civil service. The importance of this is not just in terms of offering a fair chance to grow their own talents via these opportunities, but also with regard to the candidates offering a new perspective to these organisations so that they can expand and improve their output, as well as aiding management capabilities by offering fresh enthusiasm. The RPA has begun doing this by mapping its offices against the indices of deprivation.

Uma Moorthy, Deputy Director, Social Care Data and Analysis at the Department of Health & Social Care, challenged the participants to think about getting diverse talent through the door, recalling her experience of teaching mature students who, despite their enthusiasm and ability, came unstuck against multiple obstacles that prevent non-traditional entry. Uma highlighted the recent report on civil service diversity that showed this was changing, but at a very slow pace. The point was made that more needs to be done to equip talent with soft skills that are often picked up in education or through multiple experiences in organisations like the civil service. Programmes have been created for the purpose of rectifying this, but without much success.

The Chair thanked Uma for her challenge and praised Michael Gove’s recent speech on government reform given its reference to clearly articulating skills, particularly the soft skills Uma identified.

Nilesh Parekh, Deputy Director responsible for strategic workplace planning in the Home
Office, brought up the need to challenge traditional thinking within the talent space, 

particularly in light of new hybrid working arrangements, using examples of networking and visibility. Nilesh also suggested there was a lack of consistency around management, with a need to embed talent cultivation among managers at all levels.

Sonia Pawson, Head of Fast Stream and Emerging Talent, said that three Cs were needed to embed the ‘talent habit’: coherence, consistency and clarity. Sonia reiterated the need to break down some of the less obvious barriers such as a lack of accessibility when defining talent and skills. Coherence is important, working with kids at an early age but continuing that engagement and working with their community networks to help people understand multiple career pathways.

Vickie Roberts, Civil Service Apprenticeship Strategy Reform, Government
Skills and Curriculum Unit, who works to reform the recruitment strategy in the Civil Service from her role in the Cabinet Office, focused on the need to factor in apprenticeships and
other such programmes into talent conversations rather than treating them separately. Vicki
said there was also a need to brand apprenticeships correctly in order to ensure take up, as well as, from the recruiter’s perspective, accepting that many of those taking on these jobs won’t have the full package of skills yet – therefore requiring an ability to identify other strengths and qualities when recruiting.

Peter Robinson, Deputy Director, Global Talent, Leadership and Workforce from Public Health England, flagged that the civil service has huge potential to develop and deploy people across the system, yet does neither as well as it could. Peter raised two further points: each individual has a responsibility for their own development and HR professionals should enable that – line managers have an important role as multipliers – and talent is too frequently confused with ambition. It is okay to enjoy a job and do it well, without needing to be constantly promoted.

The Chair agreed Peter’s point and raised the issue of hierarchy, which sometimes results in skills being missed in favor of seniority.

Bal Tor, Deputy Director of People and Engagement at the Education Skills Funding Agency,
said the Civil Service wasn’t clear about the development of talent in a leadership context and a career context. We need to understand how we’re equipping staff for generic leadership – which is vital in the context of COVID and people moving into completely new roles. But this is also vital from a capability perspective; if a department had suffered many staff absences, who could plug those gaps from a domain knowledge perspective? Bal suggested workforce analytics are crucial going forward.

For final remarks, Mark pointed out that talent is not static, emphasising the link between wellness and performance. Peter invited those in the roundtable discussion to think about how change can be generated across as large an organization as the civil service. Jake argued that the ‘secret code’ that has helped particular demographics in their career should be abolished and called out at all levels, which the Chair agreed with – flagging civil service acronyms as an example of this code.