Untapped potential: Empowering new talent at the top of the Cabinet Office

The Challenge:

The levels of diversity at the junior and mid-management levels of the Cabinet Office were not being mirrored in the senior grades.

The Solution:

41 people went through a Pearn Kandola development centre, gaining detailed personal feedback as well as a clear action plan for progression

The Results:

All participants experienced a significant boost in motivation and are visibly progressing. Seven people have already achieved promotion to the next management level.

“We live in a diverse nation,” observes Tola Ayoola, META Programme and Diversity Lead in the Civil Service Talent team, “with a range of talented people from different backgrounds and groups – so our ambition is to replicate this diversity at the most senior levels in the Civil Service by aiming to be the most inclusive employer by 2020.”

Working with Pearn Kandola to meet that goal was a natural fit, explains Tola, “given their reputation and expertise in this area. We also valued the nuance of their psychology-led approach, as we know that the success of initiatives like these can be hugely affected by how they’re perceived – both by the beneficiaries and the wider organisation.”

Nic Hammarling, Pearn Kandola’s Head of Diversity and a key player in the work in the Cabinet Office, agrees: “The focus of our work with the Civil Service wasn’t on boosting numbers or giving anyone preferential treatment – it was about making sure that all people with fantastic potential could be identified, invested in and given opportunities to succeed.”

Talent under the microscope

The opportunity to apply to be a part of the talent action initiative led by Pearn Kandola was open to anyone at middle-management level or above. After an interview and assessment process, 41 of the most promising employees were selected, with particularly high numbers of women and people of Asian ethnic origin in the final group.

Pearn Kandola then began work with Tola and her team to set up a unique development centre, involving participation in a series of highly-realistic workplace scenarios. A mix of Pearn Kandola staff and expert associate coaches worked together with specially-trained actors to create scenarios almost identical to those that would be encountered if the participant was promoted to a more senior level. Involving both 1-1 and group contexts, the experiences emulated meetings and discussions with a range of internal and external stakeholders, where the participants were required to make decisions, lead negotiations and even respond to emails.

The development centre activities were run over four separate days, allowing for approximately 10 participants per day, with a dedicated coach observing each individual and providing detailed feedback. “The level of evaluation and analysis that participants get from our centres is so much more personal than it’s possible to receive from standard workshops and seminars,” Nic explains. “Plus our development centres are always completely bespoke. We were creating scenarios in line with the specific competencies that the Cabinet Office is looking for in their next level of management – the competencies that people are actually going to be assessed against when they go for a promotion.”

This allowed every participant to leave with a clear picture of how they could make the most of their strengths as well as the development areas they needed to address, together with a clear, practical and robust action plan for progression specific to their role within the civil service.

Real change at the top

“People’s response to the development centres has just been fantastic,” Tola notes. “So many of them have said it was the best development experience they’ve ever had. They say they really felt put under the microscope and kind of taken apart and put back together again – but in a good way! There have been tears, reality checks and, for so many of them, just a huge excitement to strengthen their leadership potential. People are now very motivated to step into the most senior positions in the Civil Service, which is just brilliant to see.”

That new motivation has already brought tangible results, with seven people achieving a promotion to the next level of management within three months of going through the development centre and a further three awaiting the results of their interviews with the promotion board.

“Of course it’s been a journey for people,” says Tola, “and our ongoing support systems, like coaching, mentoring and sponsorship programmes, have continued to be valuable. But there’s no doubt in my mind that those immersive experiences and the very personal feedback people got from the Pearn Kandola coaches were the catalyst for the success we’re seeing. It has been a massive support in accelerating their development and gave them nourishment to help them grow, the strength to be resilient and the motivation and the tools to move on to roles that truly reflect their talent.”

Of the partnership as a whole, Tola says: “Pearn Kandola absolutely know their craft and it was amazing to work with their highly-qualified psychologists and coaches who really understood our needs. Everyone was so efficient and consistently went further than the extra mile – it didn’t seem like just a job to them. They were truly fantastic and we’re so pleased to be working with them again next year.”

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