With a job description that practically has “creativity and innovation” in the title I knew my role with Civil Service Local would be a completely new experience. In my first 12 months working full-time as part of the team, I’ve learned some valuable lessons for my future career, as well as some things I can apply in my day to day life too.
Basically, my purpose in Civil Service Local is to take overall responsibility for promoting cross-government collaboration and leading all our citizen-focused activities here in the north west of England. At least, that’s what it says on paper. In reality, it also includes everything from events planning to engaging with senior leaders, and everything and anything in between.
I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have it any other way though!
Having spent most of my career in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, CS Local has opened my eyes to the wider Civil Service and the amazing opportunities available to us all. Along the way, I’ve also learned a few key things that will stick with me wherever my career takes me.
Here’s my personal top ten, in no particular order:
Creativity and Innovation.
My lack of creativity probably dates back to traumatic English lessons at school when I would stare at a blank piece of paper and struggle to come up with a short story that I hadn’t copied from a cartoon or a book. Originality doesn’t come naturally to me, partly because I’m a logical planner at heart and I like to just get on and deliver. However, taking on this role that requires me to develop new ideas and find innovative solutions to problems has changed my opinion of creativity, and “creative types”. Being innovative doesn’t mean you have to have completely original ideas, but by working with lots of different people, I’ve learned to take ‘ordinary’ ideas and turn them into ‘extraordinary’ things by delivering in a different way.
The Civil Service is full of talented and passionate people. In every organisation, most people seem to want to do the best job they can. Sometimes that’s not easy and it can be frustrating to challenge big organisational structures, but persistence often pays off if you’re trying to make a change. There are always people willing to help, it’s just a case of taking the time to get everyone in the same room. Working together brings much more success and our cross-government networks have proved that collective power is a great way to get things done. I’m lucky enough to be able to bring groups of people together from across government quite often, and I’m certainly not the expert in the room. But, by creating the right environment and being able to trust in other people’s abilities, I’ve learned to value everyone’s views and ways of working much more than I ever did before.
I can barely remember what one of those is. Stepping out of mine has led to brilliant opportunities and helped me develop confidence in my own ability. If you don’t try new things, you can’t prove to yourself that you can do them. Every time my job becomes normal, comfortable or boring, I can always find a way to challenge myself again.
A word I use all the time. Not just to describe the work we do to support our citizens, but also when I talk about the people who challenge themselves to deliver our projects. I constantly ask people to take risks and be brave, and when I reflect on how much they make out of those opportunities, I’m always so impressed.
It’s easy to forget that we’re all public servants, and by definition, we’re here to ‘serve’ our communities in some way. I consider myself lucky to have a job that lets me see the importance of our work first hand, but even in the areas that are not customer-facing, there is still so much value in what we all do. We should celebrate the successes we achieve in the Civil Service far more than we do, and I have no problem in telling people outside of work what I do. Challenging perceptions and promoting what’s good about the Civil Service is a job for us all and I’m happy to do my part.
We can work without rules although I know there is a time and place for processes. Starting from a blank page can actually be quite exciting (such a change from those school days). It’s important to be clear about where you want to end up, but to also leave some flexibility in how to get to that end goal. That flexibility is where the talents and ideas of the people around you can really contribute to something amazing.
I’m definitely a planner and run most of my life through lists. When things don’t go to plan, I get frustrated and stressed out. That’s probably an element of my personality that will never leave me, but managing a whole load of projects that are run by people volunteering on a part time basis has challenged me to relinquish my control-freak nature. Waiting a month for an answer isn’t uncommon in my world if someone only works for us half a day a week. It still goes against every fibre in my being, but I’m learning that things can be more fun and rewarding when they aren’t planned out to the nth degree.
Expect the unexpected.
I never know where my role (or my boss) will take me next. One minute it’s delving into the world of the prison service and the next, it’s organising charity events. Last year I was responsible for coordinating the local input for Civil Service Live which was a much bigger task than I had anticipated. Being an organised person really helped with some of the planning, but taking on an event on that scale was a whole new world. Fortunately, the day was a great success and Civil Service Live will be returning to the north west this year, so look out for more details soon.
Don’t stop learning.
There are so many opportunities out there and I wish more people were taking them up. I love the CS Local ethos and our way of working, but I also know it won’t suit everyone. However, it’s challenged me to re-think my career and to take responsibility for my own development. I know what we do is inspiring to some and I’m really glad to see more and more new people finding out about our work. But for those who aren’t sure about the ‘CS Local way’, I’d like to think we are role modelling something new that might just make you think differently.
Work can be fun.
It may sound cheesy but I actually really love my job. There are days when I have to really focus and deliver, keeping in mind that what we do links to crucial business priorities. That’s when my serious side comes out. But I’ve also learned in the last year that fun is an important part of working life. Sometimes people try to hide it under the term “engagement” but laughing at yourself and finding fun ways to get things done rubs off on others and is far more powerful than any engagement ‘tool’. If I could bottle the enthusiasm and dedication of my colleagues or put my finger on what makes them so motivated, I’d be a very rich lady, but I’d probably still come in to do what I do.
You can find out more about some of the work I do in the April edition of News by North West, our local newsletter. Finally - I've brought together a team of Civil Servants to raise money for one of our partner organisations, St Catherine's Hospice in Preston. We'll be completing a 50 mile bike ride on 17 May, so please get in touch if you'd like to help.