If I Were Prime Minister: Every civil servant would be held accountable by their own civilian 'buddy'

Our series in the run-up to the General Election – 100 days, 100 contributors, but no politicians – continues with the businesswoman and founder of Editorial Intelligence

Julia Hobsbawm
Tuesday 31 March 2015 14:48

If I were Prime Minister I wouldn't just focus on “the Economy, Stupid” but on what really makes the wheels go round in Government, and in all walks of life: relationships. You can't govern people as if they were numbers instead of names, or statistics instead of real humans. Well, you can, but you won't get very far.

In politics and business there's a terrible tendency to talk about leadership as some kind of muscular, strutting, powerful "thing" people do in order to get things done. But being able to listen and take on board what a diverse set of voices is saying is actually a lot harder.

The first thing I would do is make it essential for every civil servant to demonstrate that they have 150 solid relationships around their area of expertise who they have seen face-to-face, or spoken with in the last three months, rather than a handful of the same people they contacted mostly by email. This 150 is actually the anthropologically proven "Dunbar's Number" which mimics the family network.

It's what the evolutionary psychologist Professor Robin Dunbar proved works with apes, families and the military with equal effect. Intimacy builds trust and trust delivers results. So if you don't even have the curiosity to ask and think outside of your First Class PPE degree or government silo then you're not working for my government.

Secondly, I would make it mandatory that every Cabinet Minister had their own kitchen cabinet of critics, of critical friends, who were explicitly asked to speak truth to power on a daily basis.

Who would be in this chorus of critics? There are roughly 5,000 individuals who oil the daily wheels of Government and all related agencies, quangos, sub-sects of departments and each one of them could do with a "civilian" buddy from schools, colleges, the small business community which is the lifeblood of the country.

Finally, because I'm a pragmatic idealist, I would have Stevie Wonder's lyric from his beautiful album Songs in the Key of Life etched on slate and stuck above my door: “If I ruled the world, every day would be the first day of Spring....every voice would be a voice to be heard, take my word”.

Julia Hobsbawm founded the knowledge networking business www.editorialintelligence.com and the experiential residential www.namesnotnumbers.com. She writes and broadcasts about the connected society. www.juliahobsbawm.com

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