My third post in the Fast Stream at HM Revenue and Customs was as an operational manager for the Enquiry Centre network where customers can come to get advice, in person, on taxes and tax credits. This employs about 1800 people in just under 300 locations around the country. The network is split into two halves. I had responsibility for the northern half of the country.
An Operational Delivery post is exciting. It carries huge responsibility. We’ve all had managers and leaders under whom we’ve flourished and under whom we’ve floundered – you will inspire and encourage people but may also make decisions that make people who work for you anxious and upset.
And it’s tiring, emotional and rewarding. You’ll be tested in ways you like…and ways you don’t. I loved the constant communication and the buzz of doing new things all the time. I enjoyed focussing on strategy and direction and always analysing whether we were doing the right thing and where we could be doing things better.
At the same time I found there were things that didn’t come naturally to me and I had to work hard at. I found it really difficult to remember to concentrate on the details as well as the big ideas. It was tough for me to make sure that everything we started was taken to its conclusion, implemented and reviewed. I had to push myself to reflect on everything I did, so that I could do it better next time.
Chances are that if you’re a Fast Streamer going into an Operational Delivery job you will have a group of people working for you who know the area far better than you can hope to in the year or so that you’re in post. That’s daunting, but it can also be a blessing. In the fourteen months that I was in my job I never felt, and was never made to feel, that my lack of knowledge of Enquiry Centre processes or my lack of detailed tax knowledge were weaknesses. Being new to an area can help you avoid being a member of the ‘boss knows best’ school of management.
I loved my operational post and I would jump at the chance to do it again. I understand the culture of the Department better – I have a better insight into what’s going to work and what’s going to be difficult. I can connect the issues that matter to Government with the issues that matter to front-line staff in a way that I couldn’t hope to before.
I also understand that policy making needs to be joined up with delivery. Whether a policy works is demonstrated by how it works in practice, not on paper, so it’s always important, whatever job you’re doing, to keep the do-ers in mind.