I’m So Good at My Job

René Magritte, Mysteries of the Horizon, credit Wikipedia

I’m So Good at My Job

Bill Hartley looks at Linkedin

Linkedin is described by some sources as social media but others see it differently. Whatever the definition, the idea is that users can post their profile and someone looking for people with their skills may get in touch. Further, those working in the same field can use the site to connect; possibly a more effective method than a chance encounter at a conference. In short, this electronic version of networking is intended to provide job opportunities or sources of help and advice. How well it works in practice is hard to say, though the membership statistics are impressive. The marketplace is huge and worldwide. It’s said that Human Resources departments routinely use the site both to seek candidates for a vacancy and to cross check job applications against a profile, before short listing for interviews. Clearly, for some, it is a powerful tool.

On the other hand it is also well used by people in the Civil Service. There might be a case for those working in specialist areas of the public sector, such as tax, for showcasing themselves on Linkedin. Otherwise and more appropriately, there are internal lines of communication throughout government departments. Why then is Linkedin of such interest? After all, once they attain a certain level of seniority, Civil Servants seldom enter the jobs market. They have pensions to protect and there are obscure rules which can adversely affect those who leave and re-enter the public sector. Unsurprisingly cultural differences exist between those who hazard themselves in the private sector jobs market and people in a form of employment where redundancy is rarely an issue. In the internal Civil Service jobs market they don’t routinely resort to Linkedin. HR ‘professionals’ in the public sector are the least adventurous of civil servants and seldom make decisions if they can kick the problem upstairs and have senior management solve it for them. Internal appointments follow a strict formula, even if questions are often asked about the honesty of the outcomes.

So why would civil servants bother to showcase themselves and often go to considerable trouble when creating a profile? Sometimes the results can read like the electronic equivalent of what the American military call an ‘I Love Me Wall’. This expression derives from entering someone’s office, to find a wall decorated with certficates, plaques and pictures of the occupant meeting the great and good. For connoisseurs of such stuff a background in the public sector is helpful. There are tasks in the Civil Service for which a working party or team must have been responsible. ‘Developed staffing structures for all’ was one claim on a profile, which to the insider smacks of breath taking narcissism. In the Civil Service no-one undertakes such a project on their own. It would leave them dangerously exposed should things go wrong. A Civil Service insider reading this would find such a claim highly suspicious.

In other profiles, the term ‘leader’ is overused to the point of being rendered meaningless. True leadership (rather than the ability to chair a meeting) isn’t often encountered in the public sector. As a result it exists mostly in the fantasyland of profile writing. Interestingly few people claim on their profiles to be merely a leader. Often they modestly describe themselves as a ‘senior leader’, a ‘strategic leader’, or even better as a ‘strategic operational leader’. There is a sense that the people who write this sort of stuff about themselves are in a competition to outdo one another in the search for new adjectives. On Linkedin, it is possible to meet a civil servant who is a ‘values driven leader’. In the background but rarely explained (except perhaps when claiming credit for a team effort) all sorts of dynamic work is said to be taking place. There are profiles which refer to ‘leadership and capability’, ‘transformational change management’, and rather more bafflingly ‘capture manager’ for which unfortunately no explanation at all was offered. Speaking of baffling, there is an alphabet soup of post nominal’s attached to names on some profiles. Obscure organisations provide membership or sometimes, more grandly, a fellowship. Occasionally there is evidence that the barrel is being scraped. For example, in one profile the owner boasts that he possesses a number of GCSEs. Under ‘awards’ someone else has noted that they possess the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee medals. So does your local policeman and indeed everyone in the public sector who wears a uniform. One of those senior leader types even boasts a bricklaying foundation course.

Not everyone loves Linkedin. A Guardian article referred to it as ‘a wasteland of endless management consultants congratulating each other’ with ‘excess focus on stimulating optimism and excitement’. Some senior leaders in the Civil Service seem to be enthusiastically involved in the latter, although what they are actually up to would probably be unclear to outsiders. It brings a sense that they put this material into the public domain hoping there might be someone out there keen to recruit a Civil Service manager (preferably when their pension is secure).

There is also advice to be had which cautions that ‘how you and your employees present yourself on LinkedIn directly impacts the perception of your business’. Of course the Civil Service isn’t a business but there are senior people in some areas of the public sector who grandly describe their work as such; conveniently overlooking the fact that they don’t have to make a profit, satisfy shareholders, the banks and HMRC or indeed produce much that is tangible. Perhaps having deluded themselves to that extent, then their efforts at self promotion are understandable. It can be entertaining, particularly for insiders. Ultimately though, it’s hard to see anything here other than narcissism.  

William Hartley is a former Deputy Governor in HM Prison Service 

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