I’m a government romantic. I think there is a Nirvana out there where all I need is trust, not approval, to deliver. But my own default position is to seek approval. I feel that approval is so built-in to everything we do, it’s hard to imagine another version of the Civil Service where trust is our default position.
I’m not an advocate of total anarchy – though a little bit is lovely, particularly if you're having fun and delivering. If something goes wrong – if I step over a line; if I break the trust – then I expect to be told, and told very early – not years after my work has finished. I expect that I should learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others, as well as their successes. Again, I’m not sure this is my default position. I’m guessing that, if I take a long hard look back at my career , I make the same types of mistakes more than once , so again this is something I need to change.
The problem with approval is that it can be used to deflect responsibility. Trust is more empowering and more personal. The problem I wrestle with when it comes to trust, is that it’s often implied rather than being explicit; approval can only be explicit. I keep flipping from the need to tell everyone, individually, that they are trusted, to the idea of just putting it on a poster. Now, not everyone has such an understanding line management chain as me – I get that. That’s why it's important that I write this down and share it, without them reviewing the content (trust me, it will be fine).
I think that, as Defra group becomes a data-driven organisation, trust and a continual reaffirmation of this trust will become more important than approval. Ultimately because, in the long-run, we will be able to ever more readily automate approval. This really does create big questions for the Civil Service and Defra, and I feel in somewhat of a privileged position to be considering them, though of course anyone can – and I would encourage you to share your thinking. Am I worried that as a result I may lose my job? Nope. The current role I’m doing? Well maybe. I just saw an advert for a tool to automatically write blog posts, and given there’s so much content out there, I wouldn’t want to use it right now (I don’t trust it). I can see a future where this is perfectly feasible, though...as I said, there are big questions to consider.
But as with everything we do in the Civil Service (at least for me), it’s about teamwork. Yes – we need to sometimes artificially break that down into the ‘I’, and what I’m focused on doing, but all the best work I’ve been involved in has been delivered by a team. Some of the opportunities that being data-driven provides, and the questions it throws up as for Defra group, I think we are a little bit too early in our journey to consider – we are still quite busy, as a team, laying the foundations, or as James would say ‘strapping wings on a rocket so we can fly’. Getting some of the basics right is important.
I’m really looking forward to the coming year, and delivering stuff… as well as overcomplicating things a bit less, and yes – having fun.