Government Commercial Organisation Update (Part 2)

Yesterday we featured my conversation with Jim Carter about the commercial skills and talent development programme that has been running in the Cabinet Office for over a year now. That is a key element in the strategy of government’s Chief Commercial Officer Gareth Rhys Williams, who aims to make the Government Commercial Organisation (GCO) “the best procurement / commercial function in the UK”.

We wrote mainly about the senior staff assessment process that has been running, but perhaps the most interesting part of our conversation was around the other aspects of the programme outside those assessment centres.

The formal development sessions introduced by Cabinet Office include a leadership event, which Korn Ferry has helped to develop. Carter is also bringing in interesting speakers for GCO workshops, including leading CPOs from the private sector. “We have to do this if we seriously want to be the best, as Gareth has targeted”.

Coaching and mentoring networks are being developed, with senior staff matched to internal or external mentors. There is also a focus on collaboration, with a knowledge hub in its early stages, and “red team” reviews where a number of GCO members form different organisations come together to consider a real specific challenge facing one organisation. That’s a great idea – how many of the public procurement disasters we have seen would have been avoided if a couple of other experienced procurement leaders and peers had taken a look at the plans and been able to say “er, hang on a minute…that’s not going to work!”

How do we measure whether this multi-million-pound programme is paying off? Carter gives a couple of examples where GCO staff have contributed to improved contracts or contracting – “everything is aimed at supporting the departments”. But it’s not easy, and the lead-times are lengthy. The events behind the nuclear de-commissioning fiasco we’re covered extensively happened in 2012-14, so we won’t be sure that public procurement is delivering better contracts and services for some time to come.

Key measures though are how senior stakeholders feel about the commercial skills they can access via the GCO – and Carter is keen to stress that this is “all about supporting the departments in meeting their objectives and policy goals” (which explains why GCO is being very consultative about staff moves, allocation of people and so on). Are senior stakeholders being surveyed? The perception of key suppliers is also important; they should notice a difference if GCO succeeds. Carter intimates that some data in that area is being collected. He acknowledges that the real test is internal “customers”, suppliers and staff all perceiving real progress; as well as external validation (perhaps a CIPS SM Award or two at some point!).

There is potential for expanding the programme in three areas: to contract managers outside the wider Government Commercial Function, to arms’ length bodies, and going deeper into departments’ commercial teams. Discussions have started with the police sector and some ALBs; again, many of the big procurement problem areas in recent years have been outside central government, so that is to be welcomed.

It is good to see so much effort being put into improving commercial performance, and all of us in the business would support that. It is also good to see people with Carter’s background and capability involved. We can’t comment on how robust and appropriate the assessment centres are as we haven’t seen the detail (perhaps I should apply for a job …) but the focus on identifying development needs and supporting staff through their resulting programmes is admirable.

Two suggestions for the team. We would like to see more done quickly on the measurement front. Ideally there would have been baselining right at the beginning of the programme, but if that did happen, GCO is keeping quiet about it! But customer and supplier satisfaction could be measured now to assess progress in a couple of years’ time. And while the programme is inviting in external speakers, as we mentioned earlier, we would suggest GCO could be more open to expert input.

If Rhys Williams really wants to be leading edge, he could be looking at bringing the deep experts in our field into the programme in some way. Is he talking to Future Purchasing about category management? To Andrew Cox about power in the supply chain? To Messrs Breault and Rashid about transformation? And so on …

Anyway, we will keep in touch with the programme and wish Carter and the team well on their voyage towards public procurement excellence.

First Voice

  1. Former Candidate:

    It’s a horrible experience for external candidates.

    You’re expected to take an entire day off work and then perform as if you were in a play in front of observers. You’re put in a room with strangers and expected to figure out how to solve – as a group – problems you may never have come across before.

    Then you have to wait for feedback… and then you still have other interviews to manage. The whole process takes far too long and is insensitive to candidate’s needs. I’d even say arrogant when it comes to allocation of one’s time. The post-day-out survey responses should be taken with a ton of salt – because people are genuinely fearful they won’t get the job if they give accurate feedback.

    This is NOT a way to attract talent into the sector, and since this is what – the 3rd time since government started this? Procurement Capability Reviews anyone? it’s only a matter of time before it, too, fails. Good riddance.

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