18 Jan 2022
by David J Clayton
What is your role and what are your responsibilities? 

Since December 2020, I have been the Head of External Scrutiny, Performance, Assurance & Risk in the Customer Compliance Group (CCG) of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). My responsibilities include managing the interface with external inspection bodies, corporate performance reporting, production of CCG’s contribution to the HMRC’s annual governance statement, facilitating and reporting risk at various levels of the organisation, and provision of its central, second line of defence assurance function.

Prior to this, I was employed for many years at the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) where I was responsible for management of debt, corporate risk and latterly corporate performance reporting as the organisation reconfigured its services to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

Two things. The committed and talented people that I work with who have a wide and diverse range of skills, knowledge, and experiences. And secondly, the fact that no two days are ever the same. Nothing ever stands still for long meaning that change becomes the norm. The risk, performance and assurance are intrinsically linked, and my teams work closely with colleagues responsible for the CCG controls framework.

What have been your biggest successes and achievements in your organisation? 

Through my career my main successes have been around changing and improving the focus given to these critical management disciplines, how they operate and specifically the quality of reporting and senior discussions.

My years of experience and engagement with colleagues across the public and private sector has provided with me many different views on how these functions are delivered. I have seen them done well in some organisations, and not so well in others.

In some other organisations the level of information gathered and recorded in documentation describing risks, controls weaknesses and management actions is far too detailed. Similarly, good looking visuals, many using the familiar RAG system, look professional and state of the art but mask the fact that risks are not truly understood or being actively managed. Strategic is often mis-represented as requiring overly complex wording that only serves to make risk descriptions ambiguous and misunderstood. These traits represent ‘form over content’, and totally miss the point.  

In my previous roles I have worked to cut through all of this. Describing risks and controls in the most concise way possible, using language that everyone understands, and focusing on the things that really matter or concern us. Wording in documentation needs to be sharp and precise, and clearly set out what we are worried about, why and what needs to be done. Visuals can help, providing they show progress and inform debate, discussion, and action.

Adopting this approach and placing myself in the shoes of the decision-maker helps make the topics real and relatable. This has frequently facilitated a move away from documenting processes and ‘academic discussions’ towards much sharper conversations and management reporting that has a clear focus on progress and action. 

What is the one piece of advice you would offer someone entering your profession? 

Keep it as simple and meaningful as you can.  

Too often people make things overly complex simply to demonstrate the depth of their knowledge and understanding. This loses people – critically it loses those who are not particularly close to the topic and for whom these subjects are not at the top of their accountabilities. This can often result in these core management disciplines being an ‘add on’ rather than essential and integral elements of the way they manage their business.

What topics and trends are emerging?

In common with most government organisations and private sector businesses, responding to, and managing through, the pandemic has kept us all occupied. It has impacted policy and service delivery, deployment of resources and of course our people, requiring them to adapt to changing work environments. Maintaining the safety of our people has been our number one priority throughout with a particular focus on mental health and wellbeing.

DWP and HMRC have both had to reshape their business and prioritise service delivery to provide essential support to the customers most affected by the pandemic. Management of risk, performance and assurance has also had to move at pace and provide speed of responses in a dynamic and continuously changing environment.

How does ALARM benefit you and/or your organisation? 

I have been a member of ALARM for many years. I’ve been involved in its regional groups and attended (and presented at) its annual conferences (I still have the engraved tankard). ALARM provides me with a clear point of reference both academically and through its network of professionals. It has kept me abreast of the latest thinking and developments in the risk field and visibility of the challenges faced by other organisations and how they overcome them.

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