Andrew Hampton, chief talent officer, New Zealand government: exclusive interview
Andrew Hampton had some great bosses as he made his way up through the civil service – but he knows that’s not true of everyone. As New Zealand’s first ever government chief talent officer, he tells Winnie Agbonlahor how he’s building systems to ensure that talent always shines through
“I’ve had some great mentors and coaches, and really benefited from that,” says Andrew Hampton. “I was lucky enough to work with some great individuals who saw promise in me, and gave me opportunities.”
However, as Hampton wound his way up through New Zealand’s civil service – moving from policy work on Maori issues, through roles in justice to the second to top job in the education department – he became aware of the lack of formal support for leadership development. The help he received, he says, arrived “in the absence of a system. There wasn’t a sense that it was part of a deliberate plan to build a cohort of leaders”.
When New Zealand appointed Hampton as its first ever government chief talent officer in May 2014, he was keen to help ensure that the public service has “the workforce and the leadership we need for the future”. Working for state services commissioner Iain Rennie, he’s become part of a drive to streamline talent management and apply greater continuity and oversight across the country’s traditionally-autonomous government departments.
Hampton’s work, he says, is “about prioritising our efforts and getting the basic infrastructure in place so we can do good talent management.” One of the first steps was the creation of a leadership success profile – a model of the qualities needed to become a successful public service leader, developed by the State Services Commission (SSC) with departments. The SSC also established a series of career boards, enabling chief executives and senior leaders to “get together to take collective responsibility for identifying, developing and deploying talent across agencies.”
However, it soon became clear that “a lot of the decisions we made around providing opportunities to people were largely based on opinion and the experiences members of the career board had had with particular individuals,” Hampton says. To build a more equitable and evidence-based approach to talent management, the SSC invested in a leadership assessment tool named Leadership Insight (LI): this provides senior officials with information about their own capability, potential and development needs, mapping them against the leadership success profile. “Each individual that goes through it gets a development plan that they and their manager need to work on, and the career boards monitor how people are going against that development plan,” he explains. Currently, 450 officials are going through the process and about 200 have completed it.
Once groups of managers have been through the process, the system can provide senior leaders with “information for their whole management teams – so you’re able to not only have targeted development for individuals, but also think about the development needs of the whole team”. Once “some key development themes across the cohort” are identified, Hampton adds, “we will be putting initiatives in place over the coming months to respond to these.”
Connected to this tool is a new “common information system for the whole of the public service, which will keep information about our leaders – including the information that comes out of Leadership Insight – in one place.” This Talent Management Information System (TMIS) is also a key for improving diversity and inclusion, Hampton says, “because it will give us much better information about who our up-and-coming leaders are and where they are. So when we are looking at temporary opportunities to develop and deploy people, we now have the ability to search it in terms of aspiration, experience, development, but also ethnicity and gender, so we can be much more targeted with our work.”
Hampton is particularly proud of the procurement process for the LI tool: instead of producing “300 pages of requirements”, Hampton and his team went out to market saying: “We’re interested in finding ways to get better insights about our future leaders – can we work with you on what that would look like?” After receiving 16 proposals, Hampton’s team shortlisted four providers and gave each of them NZ$20,000 (US$13,000) to come up with a prototype within two weeks. In late 2015, the firm Cerno Ltd was chosen.
Looking back, Hampton says, this approach to procurement has had many advantages: “It meant that we got a bunch of great ideas from suppliers, and they found it really good too.” The suppliers, he believes, found it easier to develop an understanding of “what we were after in an iterative way, as opposed to having to try and define it based on a big pile of documentation.”
These new tools have been helpful in winning departments over to the cause: developing a more streamlined talent management approach does involve ministries giving up “a little bit of their autonomy and a little bit of resource,” Hampton notes – but “getting out there and working in partnership with chief executives and their agencies” has produced the right result. “A lot of the work we’ve done in the leadership area hasn’t been the commission working away, coming up with a product and then trying to sell it to people,” he comments. “It’s actually been co-designing it with agencies – our customers – from the start.”
So what does the future hold? Moving forward, Hampton wants to see more movement of public servants between departments, as well as the wider state sector. Asked whether secondments into the private sector are on the cards, he responds that this is “definitely a focus” and that it’s “disappointing” that it’s currently so rare. A more realistic goal in the near future, he says, is to increase placements of public servants into public sector organisations not directly accountable to ministers.
Hampton wants, for example, to see more exchange between the Ministry of Health and the district health boards which provide frontline services, and sees similar potential in the education sector. “So it’s not going directly to the private sector or to the voluntary sector yet, but it is going further than just the core government sector.” He’s also particularly interested in secondments between government and Iwi (Maori tribal) organisations, having spent nine years working on negotiations between the indigenous Maori population and the government at the Office of Treaty Settlements.
“A big part of my career was spent negotiating the historical claims of these groups,” he says. “Now as the assets are returned, these tribal groups are becoming significant not only as cultural and social institutions, but also as economic and commercial entities – and that is where an awful lot of the professional, highly-skilled Maori leaders are now.”
Given that Iain Rennie has recently been given executive power to move willing public servants between organisations, it should now be easier to get a flow of secondments into and out of central government. And given his team’s other work, those secondments should soon form one part of a much wider system built by the SSC working in partnership public service agencies. For he has the opportunity to plug the gap that he identified during his own career, creating and implementing something quite essential to organisational development in the modern world: a “deliberate plan to build a cohort of leaders”.
For up to date government news and international best practice follow us on Twitter @globegov