Whitehall and Industry Group (WIG): its role in transforming careers

I was invited this week to speak to a group of professional peers interested in my career transition. In 2009, as a senior civil servant I took advantage of a secondment opportunity arranged by the Whitehall and Industry Group. In my case, I did a secondment with Marie Curie Cancer Care as Senior Adviser to its Chief Executive, and split my time between Marie Curie Cancer Care and Cornerstone Global Associates. In this time, I learnt how to become more of an organisational consultant and collaboration expert. I led on projects which required building consensus across and between organisations to generate new business. The same year, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office published my study, “The Enabling State: Collaborating for Success”, the first-ever international report written by a civil servant in government examining what makes for effective cross-sector collaboration. WIG is one of the most respected and effective organisations I know. Over the years, it has established strong relationships with member organisations from government, business and civil society, and enabled thousands of employees to acquire experience of different organisations. It brings to life cross-sector collaboration, which is good for employers, good for employees and good for society. Rather like The Open University, it commands broad-based support. It is something of a national asset.From day one, WIG puts the individual first: my point of contact was Bimal Karaji, an exceptionally talented man, friendly and business-like, who effortlessly focuses on the job in hand whilst making people feel confident and comfortable with his advice. His manner says it all: he listens, assesses the person and their needs, is thorough in his planning and presenting of options, and gently persuasive. His role is similar to that of a search consultant, except that WIG doesn’t see it that way, and rightly so. Search consultants usually make me feel manipulated, where I feel “done to” by the employer or their proxy, the search consultant. I realise most search consultant, certainly very able, do not see it this way, and consider that their role is to achieve the best fit. But the transactional nature of their work leaves me feeling cold. At this stage of my career, I am not (just) a bum on a seat. My work is a conscious investment of time, energy and commitment. I have never worked “just” for a government department or a particular Cabinet minister, but for Queen and country, something big and noble, however complex and gritty the job. I like simplicity in my life, so I make quick decisions on how situations make me feel. And my trust vs vigilance radar is tuned close to perfection. Situations and people rarely let me down: I usually know what I am in for. It matters to me that the organisation and I have shared purpose and our work together is values-driven. And it still matters to me that the organisations I work for work for me: organisations are artificial constructs that stand or fall because of the willing consent we as individual citizens give, either as citizens, customers or employees. To think differently is to give away our power. I do not know many search-consultants who share this paradigm, but in WIG I saw something different. Bimal was subtle and patient in his approach: it really mattered to him that the fit worked from three perspectives, the candidate, the prospective employer, and of course the parent organisation agreeing to the secondment. For a secondment to be successful, all three parties must have a stake. And secondees should realise that they have to deliver on three sets of expectations. Ironically, Birmal’s subtlety and patience produced a fast result. Thanks to solid preparation, he and I agreed a limited number of target organisations. The first interview I had was successful. The Chief Executive hired me on the spot. And as important, I hired him.

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