Leadership in the British Civil Service: A Study of Sir Percival Waterfield and the Creation of the Civil Service Selection Board

Şener, Hasan Engin
This book emphasises Sir Percival Waterfield's leadership and explains the establishment and functioning of the Civil Service Selection Board (CSSB). According to the author, although Waterfield has an important place in the creation of the CSSB, there are other factors to be considered: personnel selection based on competition for the sake of non-partisanship and a career-oriented civil service were the key concerns in the post-war era. However, there were some defects in the personnel selection process despite the reconstruction provisions after the Second World War. Furthermore, scientific developments and academic studies of interviewing and testing were also highly influential, and generally there was a pressing need for personnel selection reform in the Foreign Service. Waterfield proposed personality tests as well as intelligence tests. According to him, the latest techniques should be used and there should even be a psychologist on the committee. After recruitment, on-the-job training should be given through a rigorous system of probation. The basic rationale behind these propositions was to recover from the defects of the previous system. By doing so, standard education and intelligence would be taken into account and no one would be at a disadvantage. The existing system favoured ‘Oxbridge’ graduates and assessed only academic background. Therefore, according to Richard Chapman, Waterfield should be seen as a ‘catalyst’ (p. 30), although it seems that he saw himself as more than that in terms of the creation of the CSSB because, according to him, it was largely his own baby (p. 139). Although the book does not mention the word ‘benchmarking‘, it seems that Waterfield implemented a sort of benchmarking by analysing the War Office Selection Board and the latest developments in scientific selection methods. Indeed, Waterfield's methods became influential not only for the public sector, but also for the private/business sector. Chapman is successful in explaining how the networks and relationships worked in the policy-making process in the context of the disagreements, contestations and argumentations between departments and/or individuals. It is a fact that this book is full of detail with many names, dates and events including personal conversations and correspondence. Although these details make the book hard to read and sometimes one may lose the focus of the narrative, they do explain the significant contribution that a senior official can make within the constraints and opportunities at work in the context of the United Kingdom's administrative culture and system.