So, it is start of my second week at the Department of Work and Pensions. I know many of you must be wondering what the transition from bank to public sector has been like. Was it as awful as some people predicted last week when I said I was moving over?
The fact of the matter is that so far, I’ve found many of the stereotypes thrown at me since I made this decision have been wrong, wrong, wrong. OK, well perhaps I still have rose colour glasses on (it has only been 5 days!) but let me give you some examples.
For a starters, there’s a lot that just works. Such as all the little things that make all the difference when you’re starting a new job. For example, I had a new laptop, building access, logon accounts, and working information technology on day 1. I haven’t had that since I left VendorLand. At my previous bank, you’d be lucky if you got that in the first two weeks, and it would only happen if your manager was especially good at working the system.
And get this: I can submit expenses and they will be paid the next day. Imagine that! In every single previous employer I’ve ever had the minimum time to settlement was at least a week. And don’t forget, this was at banks which controlled every single aspect of the expenses value chain, including the settlement bank accounts.
There are lots of other details too. Recruitment people who believe their job is to help on-board you, not just get a contract signed so they can move onto the next post. Support staff that actually check you have what you need, and do it with a smile. Speaking of smiles, even the cafeteria people do it here. Those of you reading from Lloyds will laugh at that: you’ll all recall me dancing up to Starbucks in the cafeteria every morning trying to get the dour-faced barista-lady to do more than grunt.
As a rule, actually, the people aren’t anything like the commonly held stereotypes of the Civil Service. So many of them have switched over from private sector, and in my team, in fact, there is an ex-architect from Lloyds Banking Group. It seems financial services has been, in the last 5 years or so, a fertile ground for department recruitment (there are lots of ex-bankers), but I also have ex-consultants, FMCG, and a range of other sectors as well.
And no-one is here just for the money. Everyone believes they can make a difference. Imagine the power of that.
And one last thing: despite what people think there are people in the government who not only want to make a difference, they are willing to go out on a limb to do it. Yesterday, for example, I found out that Direct.Gov, which is actually hosted here at the DWP, is running an innovation experiment where they allow citizens to put their own applications on top of government data. Yes, that’s right: an API for the government.
Show me a bank with API. You can’t, because there isn’t one. I have to go to a third party like Wesabe, who basically have to suck data out of banks without their permission, to get one. I think it is early days for what Direct.Gov is doing, but you can see the potential. More particularly, the fact of this experiments existence tell you lots about the sorts of things it is possible to do in the public sector.
So yes, I am pleased with the decision so far. And yes, perhaps I am still in honey-moon period. But I can tell you this: culturally, this place is about as far away from the eat-your-children culture of banking as you can imagine. This is a place where it is possible to make a difference on a very big scale.
I can’t wait to test the boundaries of what is possible.