HMRC does not have a “systemic and data-driven approach to the management of people”

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez February 3, 2019
Laura Whyte, former HR Director at John Lewis, carried out an independent review of what it’s like to work in HMRC. Some of the results are concerning, particularly how HMRC uses data to understand the experience of its people.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has published an independent review of what it’s like to work at the department, with findings highlighting that it does not have a consistent, data-driven approach to the management of people.

The report - carried out by Laura Whyte, former HR Director at John Lewis - also found that people working at HMRC tolerate a significant amount of “low level” poor behaviours that would not be acceptable in other environments. These include swearing, breaching confidentiality and mocking colleagues - all of which were reported to be “unremarkable” within HMRC.

The report notes that data is critical to measuring the overall health of HMRC’s organisation and to proactively identifying problems and areas of good practice. It adds that whilst HMRC has global data on absence levels, turnover, sickness rates and performance markings, there are “issues” with how this data is managed.

Whyte said, as a result, that HMRC “does not fulfil its ambitions to create a great experience at work”.

On data management, for example, Whyte’s report found:

  • There is no ‘single version of the truth’ central held on HMRC casework. Data collected is based on different responsibilities, and language used - and whilst this is overlapping, does not necessarily mean the same thing.
  • Business Groups and teams within HMRC keep records of cases. There is no central protocol for what data should be stored. This means the organisation is unable to determine whether there are a number of individuals with repeated minor misconduct, as this data is patchy and held across all lines of business.
  • There is a lack of consistency in how processes are monitored throughout the organisation as well as complexity to the data storage mechanism centrally.

The experience of people

The report states that HMRC is ill equipped to gather and mine data on its people’s experience. Whyte adds that HMRC is “behind the curve compared to other organisations of a similar size and therefore struggles to target its interventions and manage its risks”.

HMRC’s knowledge management of cases is erratic, resource intensive, and inconsistent across the organisations. And records do not enable HMRC to have a view of the scale of the problem globally for the organisation, or to hold those responsible to account for team performance in a structured way.

Whyte notes that HMRC’s approach to data and assurance requires a fundamental examination of the corporate approach to how HR IT systems are exploited and used in HMRC. She adds that “further investment in and exploitation of data systems should not be delayed any further”.

In terms of recommendations, the Whyte report states:

“Data is critical to measuring the overall health of HMRC’s organisation, and to proactively identify problems and areas of good practice. IG, HR and line of business data guardians must establish a working group to determine data protocols around how HMRC logs, stores and reports on inappropriate behaviour, in compliance with GDPR.

“This work should set out how HMRC can measure the impact that the actions taken on Respect at Work have on everyone working in the organisation, to track what is making a difference and where issues still remain”.

HMRC has said that it will now undertake a full review of its policies, processes and standards to ensure it provides employees with a working environment “they deserve”.

Sir Jonathan Thompson, Chief Executive, HMRC said:

“I take seriously the scale of the challenge that HMRC has. As a result of the report, we will take forward immediate, fast-paced work to reform our policies and processes, make our data systems more robust, and most importantly communicate more clearly what behaviours we expect to see.

“It is for HMRC leaders to champion and take forward this work and for HR and other specialists to support – but we all have our part to play in responding to the Respect at Work report.”