Fast Streaming Future Public Sector Leaders
In recent years the New Zealand public sector has experienced significant amounts of amalgamation, with ministries such as the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) being established to merge different ministries together under one banner. There are many reasons for this transformation, but its impact on talent has the potential to be significant by enabling greater freedom of movement across different areas of the organisation
In addition to these changes, we are also beginning to look at ways to facilitate the mobility of talent between government agencies. In April 2014, Andrew Hampton was appointed as Government Chief Talent Officer, with one of his mandates being to facilitate this movement. Hampton has personally benefited from greater mobility, stating that "in the past four years I’ve been in three agencies and I’ve learnt more in that time than in the previous 14 years in one agency.”
Roadblocks to Reform
Hampton definitely has his hands full when it comes to meeting this mandate. In our experience, New Zealand is very strong at bringing in graduates and giving them structured career paths for the first 18-24 months, but beyond this they are generally expected to follow a standard development plan within a single agency and specialised field.
Although we have over 30 government departments, and many more crown entities, this lack of cross-agency career planning means we aren’t capitalising on the potential opportunities to develop our future leaders. This currently results in two situations that we regularly see: candidates taking direct responsibility for their career development by applying externally to work in other agencies, and ministries poaching talent from one another with no real consideration for the success or failure of the whole ecosystem.
The Fast Stream
The United Kingdom has a very unique approach to public sector talent development, with the ‘Fast Stream’ programme, which has been active in some form or another since 1968. In short, Fast Stream is a civil service talent management programme, which exists to develop the skills needed by the future leaders of the government.
The biggest success factor of Fast Stream is its length, with each programme running from three to five years. This gives participants significant exposure to working in a variety of different agencies and crucially, in a range of different roles. Movement between agencies is facilitated by the programme, resulting in an expectation with all parties that talent will move on after a set period of time. This diversity of roles results in participants ending up with more of a generalist skillset than similar employees receive in New Zealand, which aligns better to cross-agency leadership development.
This programme also allows government agencies to easily benefit from internal mobility, without the hassle of a long, drawn out and arduous recruitment processes. Furthermore, it creates a systemic responsibility for nurturing leadership potential – rather than internal agencies being responsible for creating their own leaders – ensuring a pipeline of talent with proven leadership skills.
Where We’re Going
Our government does offer graduate programmes and as Hampton indicates he is also looking to implement more of a wide-reaching, cross-agency programme akin to Fast Stream, with career boards. Career boards are designed for executives to "profile leaders collectively and take some collective responsibility for their development.”
Although one of these initiatives has been around for some time both of these are steps in the right direction and go some way to addressing problems at the bottom and top ends of the talent spectrum. However it feels like a programme similar to Fast Stream could be a long term solution to reduce some of the previously stated issues that exist in the largest group of public service employees: the middle tier.
Words of Caution
Though Fast Stream has undoubtedly been successful in producing a better calibre of future leaders in UK civil service, it does come with its own issues.
The biggest talking point is the demographic diversity of Fast Streamers, with only 3.5% of the overall intake coming from a family with a background in routine or manual labour. This has given the programme somewhat of a reputation for elitism.
If something like Fast Stream were to be implemented here, it would also need to take the scale of New Zealand into account. In particular, we need to ask if we are large enough to warrant such a scheme, or if it can be achieved on a smaller scale.
There is also the matter of the country’s public sector needs. Although the development of future leaders is necessary, there remains a more urgent need for specialised technical candidates over generalists. This means that we cannot shift towards a more all-encompassing approach to career development, as those mid-level people with experience and technical expertise are simply too important for departments to lose at this stage.
Andrew Hampton has expressed a desire to get the civil service working in a more collaborative way that will result in better pathways for future leaders within the public sector. How deep this reform will run, and how well publicised it will be, remains to be seen. However, if we want to know what the future will look like, then the U.K.’s Fast Stream programme could be a pretty strong indicator of that. When applied to a New Zealand context, this may produce some exciting possibilities.
If you would like more information on this topic or if you’re a public sector employee or agency looking for great people or opportunities please feel free to get in touch.
There are a number articles that provide additional information on the pros and cons of the Fast Stream programme, a selection of which can be found below.