Some of the biggest challenges facing the Foreign Office's HR team are ensuring that 15,000 staff from more than 150 nationalities feel part of one organisation, and that we have people with the right skills at 260 posts around the world.
No post is the same – they vary in size and carry out a range of different functions, which means they face widely different challenges. We also have to find innovative new ways of operating within budget restraints.
To address these challenges we have made five key changes to our HR model.
First, we’ve integrated our staff employed overseas more closely with our UK-based staff. Whereas before embassy staff could have different competencies, job specifications and performance management systems to our UK-based staff, we now have one consistent model for everyone – essential for making our people feel like part of one organisation wherever they are based. We’re also working much more closely with other government departments abroad; sharing services and resources so we can all operate as an efficient, global organisation that can do more for the country and save money.
Second, we've empowered our people to plan and develop their own careers more (and managers to build and develop their teams), which means we are better able to match skills with jobs. While our HR function used to move staff around centrally, roles are now advertised through open competition and managers are responsible for making sure their teams have the right level of skills and experience to perform effectively. We've also introduced talent management and appointments boards for our more senior roles, to ensure we have the right people.
Third, we're doing more on learning and development. If we’re to achieve the best we can for the UK, it is essential that our staff can develop the skills and expertise they need to do their jobs. In 2013 we established a new Language Centre so that our diplomats can be more effective in their roles. This year we launched our Diplomatic Academy, which will help our workforce develop the knowledge and skills for modern diplomacy and representing the UK anywhere in the world.
Fourth, we're taking steps to ensure the FCO is diverse and reflects modern Britain. There’s still further to go, but the number of female heads of mission is currently at an all-time high of 40 – including our first female ambassador to China – and 40% of Foreign Office board members are women. In September 2014 the civil service published its Talent Action Plan, which sets out a series of actions to attract the best people regardless of their gender or background, and ensure they get the right support to reach their full potential. As diversity champion for the civil service our permanent secretary, Simon Fraser, is committed to ensuring the plan becomes a reality for the Foreign Office, and to working with other departments to ensure it is implemented more widely.
Fifth and finally, we’ve moved many of our HR operations to a dedicated corporate services centre in Milton Keynes, meaning our HR directorate is now smaller, more efficient and focused on making sure we have the right people strategy for our organisational needs.
Like other public organisations, we’ve delivered these changes while under budget pressures. The FCO is becoming leaner, with a 10% reduction in our UK-based workforce. Fewer resources mean we’ve become more flexible in order to continue serving the UK effectively at home and overseas. We’ve created specialist project and crisis management teams that can quickly move into areas that urgently need additional support, such as Iraq or Syria.
Like others, we've also had to respond to pay restraint in the public sector, but our offer to staff isn't only about money. We make sure to provide a reward package that offers staff learning and development opportunities to push themselves further, and the opportunity to work on some of the most challenging, exciting and high profile issues affecting Britain and the world.
David Whineray is deputy director, HR at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office