Reframing the Conversation on Management


By Remarks by William A. Eaton
Assistant Secretary of State for Administration (2001-2005)

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Good morning, everyone. I want to talk to you today about reframing the conversation on management in the State Department. Let me start out with some bad news. And that is, Secretary Powell is going to be leaving us. Maybe not right away, but he's going to be leaving in 2005, or 2009, or some time. And the question that brings to mind is, how do we sustain the sorts of management improvements that we've seen over the last several years once Secretary Powell leaves?

 

As a culture, we tend to look for knights in shining armor to come in and save us from ourselves.  We look at the Secretary of State, and we hope that the Secretary of State is going to do great things, because we can't do it ourselves. We have to change that mindset. There's only one Secretary of State, and there are thousands of us with a vested interest in making sure the State Department works well.

 

In the past, we've abdicated a lot of our responsibility for good management in the department. We've thrown up our hands. We've resorted to cynicism and pessimism that nothing will ever change in the State Department. And that's how we've gotten ourselves, I think, into the mess that we've had over the years. That's what generated a lot of the reports -- you know, the OPAP report and so forth. It seems like everyone was critical of the State Department in its management. And the problem is not so much Congress, it's not OMB -- the problem is us.

 

And so, I wanted to talk a bit about how do we sustain this sort of improvement over the years -- how do we change the conversation on management in the State Department? I've got a number of points I wanted to raise.

 

A Focus on Quality Not Cost

First is, I think that we as an organization need to focus not so much on cost as on quality. We in the past have always said we don't have any money, so we've got to cut services. And that puts us in a downward spiral.

 

It’s easy to cut costs. All you do is just stop doing things. It's harder to improve the quality of services. We have an obligation to our employees to have good services. If we are always focusing on cutting costs, we're naysayers saying, "You can't do this, you can't do that."

 

How do you, then, change the conversation from the cost to quality? One of the solutions, I think, is listening to our employees. What's important to them, listening to how we can change the quality of our services -- support services.

 

I'm not sure if any you have read the book by Michael Abrashoff, a retired Naval commander, who inherited one of the worst ships in the Navy. He’s written a book about it called, "It's Your Ship." From all indications, it was a terrible ship. Bad morale, they were losing money, they couldn't recruit people to serve on the ship because everybody knew that the ship was a terribly run ship.

 

And so, when he took command, he started listening to the sailors that worked on the ship. What were their ideas for improving the ship? One of the sailors said, "Captain, do you realize that we wouldn’t need to paint the ship so often if we used stainless steel nuts and bolts on the ship?"

 

It seemed like a fairly simple question. What had happened was, over the years, the Navy had replaced all of the bolts on the ship with iron bolts. Well, the funny thing about iron bolts is, when they come into contact with salt water, they rust. And so, every two years, the members of the crew of this ship would have to re-paint the ship. Something every sailor hated to do.  It cost a lot of money, wasted a lot of time, and was a drain on morale.

 

So, what Abrashoff did was to systematically replace all of the iron bolts on the ship with stainless steel bolts. That meant less re-painting and higher morale because he eliminated one of the things that all the sailors hated to do. By doing so, he also cut costs for the ship by 25 percent almost overnight. By listening to his people, he got a very simple solution to the problem. Rather than focusing on costs -- (iron bolts are a lot cheaper), he focused on quality.

 

I'm sure you can find a lot of analogies in the State Department, where we’ve put iron bolts into place because they're cheap. And we end up causing our employees a lot more work and a lot more heartache. And so, I think when we focus on quality, we need you to think about those things where we can make investments for the future, and thereby improve quality of service, improve morale by just doing the smart thing.

 

So look for those penny-wise, pound foolish aspect of your operations that we need to change to improve the quality of our service and the morale of our post.

 

Innovation Not the Status Quo

The second thing we need to focus on is innovation, and not on status quo. We're a risk averse organization. Many resist change at all costs. From my perspective, it's an absolute necessity for us to change. The world is passing us by, and we were still up until last week, using outdated versions of Wang computers.

 

But we're an organization that hangs onto old technology. The rest of society of the 21st century uses PDAs, and we still can't use them. We ignore the fact that technology's advancing, giving us tools so we can do our jobs better, but we rationalize why we can't use them. Will Rogers has a great quote. He said something to the effect that "Even if you're on the right track, if you're standing still, you’re going to get run over."

 

If we want to be a state-of-the-art, world-class diplomatic organization, we need to keep up with what's going on in the world. But often, our people swing between two extremes. Some of us see our jobs as keeping the trains running on time, when, in fact, the question should be do we need trains? And you've got the other extreme, where you've got people who are what I call "bungie bosses," who bungie jump into a job, and change everything around just for change’s sake. I'm sure you all have worked for people like that.

 

There was a great cartoon in "State Magazine" a couple of years ago. It was a series of cartoon shots of JOs coming in and rearranging the furniture in the office, and eventually in the end, the furniture was back where it originally started. In an organization like ours with 260 locations around the world, and thousands of people, it doesn't take much for bureaucracy to creep in and strangle initiative and innovation.

 

Ideas, then, start to get lost in this maze of official channels and communications and requirements. And what happens after that is that employees start to lose faith in their ability to make a difference, so they stop trying. And they start thinking, "Well, I can't do anything, or somebody else is going to take care of this. I'm not going to worry about it." And that's how you start this downward spiral in terms of management of an organization. That's where you lose your edge in terms of being a world-class organization.

 

But, where does real innovation come from? There seems to be this unspoken assumption that innovation has to come from the top. We say that we wouldn't have had innovation in the State Department unless Secretary Powell told us we could be innovative. We all seem to think that somebody else is going to come up with the good ideas. And I think that's crazy.

 

One of the first things I did when I went into this job, was to create what I called the "Center for Administrative Innovation." When I first launched that center, people laughed, because they said that was an oxymoron. "Administrative" and "innovation" in the same phrase didn’t compute.  But what it did was, it communicated to everyone in my organization that innovation was important. Not only were we open to new ideas, but we were expecting new ideas.

 

I told people in my bureau that if they weren't making mistakes, they probably weren't trying hard enough. So I wanted them to try new things, to be out on the edge, looking for new ways of doing business. By sending that signal to the bureau, what happened was, it unleashed this wealth of creativity within the bureau.

 

A lot of employees, for example, who had been in their job for 30 years or so and were used to doing their job a certain way, suddenly felt liberated. That maybe we don't have to do things the way we used to. The boss likes innovation, so let me try to think of new ways of doing business. And so, many of the initiatives that have come out of the A Bureau came from people in the bureau who just had good ideas and then the initiative to take those new ideas and turn them into reality.

 

3M is one of the most admired corporations in the United States, and they require that every employee devote 15 percent of his or her time on coming up with new ideas. If you look at the sorts of innovative things that have come out from 3M, it's because the organization has set a tone, and a mandate, for its people to look for new ways of doing business. If people see that management places importance on innovation, creativity and initiative, the organization will respond.

 

The Army is also an interesting initiative. They have a process in place where every major and minor command designates at least one person in the organization whose job it is to look at everything that's happening in the command, and look for new ways of doing business. And they reward the people for coming up with those new ideas.

 

You may say that at your embassies and consulates, your people are so busy that you don't have time to devote to innovation and creativity and initiative. And I would say that if you don't do that, then who's going to do it? You just need to give people encouragement. You need to let them know that you're going to provide a safety net for them if they try something new. They need to know that you're going to protect them, and that their career isn't going to come to a crashing halt if they try something and it doesn't work. You want them to try new things.

 

I hope you've noticed that in the A Bureau, we're doing a lot of pilot projects, and almost exclusively overseas. And we're doing that consciously as a strategy, because in any large organization, any new idea is going to be attacked by the thousands of antibodies that are going to come out of the woodwork and try to kill those good ideas. We'll have meetings out the wazoo, we'll have decision memoranda and so forth, and ultimately postpone doing anything new.

 

But in embassies, you have a lot more leeway to try new things. And so we've been giving seed money to folks that have good ideas. The goal is, that if it works, we're going to advertise the hell out of it so that then it spreads from post to post, and it's like a tsunami that overwhelms the naysayers back in Washington. And Washington, then, capitulates to this overwhelming pressure from the field.

 

Standards versus Ad Hoc

Speaking of new ways of doing business, another thing we have to focus on in terms of changing the conversation on management is to become less of an ad hoc organization, and more of an organization that's based on standards -- standard operating procedures. We celebrate the fact that we run successful organizations in over a hundred countries around the world. And we celebrate the fact that every embassy and every consulate is radically different from every other embassy and consulate.

 

Anytime somebody talks about standard procedures, they say "Well, how could you possibly run an embassy in Tokyo the same way you run an embassy in Brussels?"  I think we all know that's a canard, but we find comfort in saying that the unique ways we run our embassies overseas are a necessity when, in fact, they aren't. About 80 percent of what we do in an embassy is the same everywhere in the world. And about 20 percent of what we do in embassies varies from post to post, because of the local culture and traditions and so forth.

 

But we've got that equation backwards. Now what does that mean? It means that every place you go, you have to learn all the new systems, you have to learn all the new procedures. There's a long ramp-up time. And then you also get stuck in this endless loop where new people coming into the post say "Well, at my last post......"

 

How many of you all have heard that? Well, I would contend that rather than being a series of very good bed-and-breakfasts, we need to be more like Marriott. And the reason I say that is, Marriott has hotels in every major city in the world. And a Marriott in Tokyo has a uniquely Japanese flair. You know you're in Tokyo, it's reflected the atmosphere and business practices in the Tokyo Marriott, but it's a Marriott. One of the things you get when you get to a Marriott, is you get consistency, and predictability. You know what you're going to get when you go into a Marriott.

 

Even down to the point where you know that there’s going to be shampoo, conditioner, and various lotions in your bathroom. There is a Marriott way of doing business because they've got lots of standard operating procedures -- SOPs -- that govern how they do their work. But when I first heard about this, I thought, "Oh, boy. That makes me kind of uncomfortable." Because one of the things Marriott touts is their 66 or so steps for cleaning a room in 30 minutes. I was thinking if we got down to that level of detail in running our embassies, I would just drown -- I'd slit my wrist if I knew I had to follow these 66 steps.

 

But the beauty of Marriott's system is that a maid walking into a room knows how to get the room cleaned in 30 minutes -- so there's efficiency -- but also knows what the end result is. That maid has visualization of what the room is supposed to look like when he or she leaves. And you don't leave the room until it looks just like that.

 

And if the maid walks in a room that a bunch of pigs had stayed in -- there's flooding, the carpet's torn up, there's stuff on the wall-- the maid knows that he or she is authorized to call in the electrician, the plumbers, and painters to fix up the room. Because the maid has a vision of what it's supposed to look like in the end and is empowered to do whatever it takes to accomplish it.

 

So, Marriott's success is in its systems. If you get the systems down cold, then everything else becomes that much easier.

 

Just think about this. If you give a hundred people the same task, and don't give them any instructions on how to carry it out, you're probably going to get a hundred different ways of doing that job. And if you multiply that by thousands, as we do, you end up having chaos, where everyone's doing things differently.

 

Common issues become crises, because then you have to figure out, well, okay, how do I handle the situation? What you need to do is have systems that let you know how to do the common things. And then gives you the ability to use your creativity for those uncommon things that come up every day.

 

We can't predict what's going to happen in our countries. Today, it might be peaceful -- look at Haiti -- and then tomorrow, you could have unrest. And we've got to be able to adapt to that.   But if you've got the common systems down cold, then those issues become routine. And then you can focus your creativity on those things that come up that are unexpected. And that's what we do well.

 

But, we can't let mindless conformity and the thoughtless setting of standards get confused.   Marriott's goal is to provide their services free of hassle to their customers. And consistency of service gives comfort and confidence to their customers.

 

One of the things we've done, in terms of trying to establish some of those norms -- the standard operating procedures -- is, we've launched ISO 9000. We've got five posts now that are pilot posts -- London, Brussels, Warsaw, Vienna and Cairo -- where they've launched this ISO 9000 process, which basically establishes and documents operating procedures. Take a look at how you do business, and establish SOPs. And then part of establishing SOPs is you have to have a process for continuous improvement. Okay, you know what you're doing, now how can you make it better?

 

And there's an outside team that comes in -- there are actually hostile auditors that come in and take a look at your operations, and give you a thumbs-up or thumbs-down whether you're at peak efficiency in your organization. I'm happy to say that four of the five posts that are pilots have been ISO 9000 certified. Cairo started late, and we're hoping that they're going to get ISO 9000 certification shortly.

 

Now, when I talk to the private sector and say we've got four posts that are ISO 9000 certified -- their eyes light up. They think, "Wow, that's pretty neat." But what I see is a possibility to give us standard procedures for the most common services that we provide at our posts.

 

We had a conference in Brussels in October, where we brought together these five pilot posts. I started the conference by saying, "My goal with ISO 9000 is to establish worldwide SOPs for our management operations. Standard operating procedures for support services overseas." And the folks from those embassies went crazy. "Oh, no. You can't standardize. Everything in Brussels is so much different from Cairo. There's no way we can standardize."

 

Well, when they started looking at the SOPs that they'd drawn up independently, they started saying, "You know, we really do do things fairly similarly." And they'd look at London's SOPs for housings, for example, and say "Huh. That's a good idea. We'll look at doing that at our post."

 

And what London found out, for example, was that when they examined critically their procedures, they realized they had about 50 forms that they used for various aspects of their housing program.

 

That's torture for the customers. That's torture for employees. 50 forms! And a lot of them asked for the same sorts of information. When they put them side-by-side, they realized that we could get these down to about five forms. So, then they reduced the number of forms that folks at the embassy had to fill out to five. Then they started asking an even better question -- "Why do we have forms?" And that's what I think is the beauty of ISO 9000. It helps us identify some of those inefficiencies in our organization.

 

They also had three FSNs who were all doing one aspect of the maintenance program in London. These three FSNs sat side by side for 30 years, and they each levied different requirements on their customers for services. Just imagine the torture for the folks in the embassy. They go in one day, and ask for a service from Susie. And Susie'd say, "Oh, but you need to fill out this other form and bring it back to me."

 

So, you go home and fill out those forms. You go back the next day, and Susie's on vacation. So you go to Tom. And Tom says, "I don't need those forms. I need these other forms." And gives you three new forms to complete. So then you go back and fill out those forms. You come back the next day, and both Sue and Tom are in a meeting, and you've got Harry, who has totally different requirements for you.

 

FSNs who had worked together for 30 years didn't realize that they had different requirements and different procedures for doing the same job. And then when they started quizzing each other about why they included this or that step -- you know, it was because some FSO 20 years ago had done something wrong, and they wanted to make sure that no one ever did that again. So they added another step, and another requirement for the customers. I think the ISO 9000 brings those sorts of things to light so that you can streamline your operation. And you start to develop a culture within your embassy of continuous improvement.

 

Metrics not Anecdotes

Another thing some of you may have heard me talk about a lot is, that to continue to improve the management in the State Department -- we have to rely on metrics and not anecdotes. We're always going to be on the losing end if we rely on anecdotes. For every anecdote of good service, I can give you an anecdote of bad service. And anecdotes don't do a thing for us on the Hill.

 

What we need to do is to have some concrete metrics to show that we're managing the taxpayer dollars efficiently, and that we're providing quality service to our employees. And that's the way you control the conversation on management: you have real facts, rather than anecdotes.

 

Think of Toyota, for example. Part of Toyota's success is their reliance on metrics. If you look on their factory floors, they've got charts that identify the productivity of each employee on the factory floor. And so, every employee knows how they are racking and stacking compared to every other employee. That public scrutiny forces them to continually improve their productivity. They don't want to be the one who’s always the worst, who's not producing as many widgets, or whatever, as the person next to them. And also, then, Toyota uses those metrics in terms of benefits and rewards for their employees.

 

And think of Weight Watchers. One of the reasons Weight Watchers is so successful, is because you disclose what your weight is and what your goals are. I want to lose 20 pounds. Everyone in your Weight Watchers group watches to make sure that you lose those 20 pounds. There's a lot of peer pressure to lose -- those 20 pounds. Metrics work.

 

What we need to think about in the State Department is the use of metrics to be able to compare the effectiveness of embassies and consulates. Right now, we say that we can't possibly compare the work in Tokyo with the work in Buenos Aires. Well, I think you can. And we need to start doing that. We need to have some commonly understood metrics so we can evaluate whether a post is working well or not.

 

If Buenos Aires is processing with peak efficiency, and they've got the metrics to prove it, if I were in a nearby post, and didn't have metrics as good as Buenos Aires, I'd be asking myself why aren't we performing as well as Buenos Aires? Or, is there some way that we can get Buenos Aires to do our processing for us?

 

And those are the sorts of things we need to be looking for -- areas of excellence. We need to have report cards for people so we can have some targets to use to focus on continuous improvement.

 

I started this exercise in the A Bureau. I figured that if I was going to be pushing this with our management officers around the world, I needed to try it at home first. And so, I started talking about performance metrics with the folks in the A Bureau, and there was lots of polite nodding of heads. And I realized very quickly that some didn't understand what I was talking about.

 

They were nodding because they thought that's what I wanted, but they didn't know -- whoa, what is he talking about? And so, I started meeting with each of the office directors in the A Bureau individually, because I wanted to sit down and give them individualized attention to explain what I meant by metrics. And what the things we should be measuring are? How do we know whether we're doing a good job?

 

And I told them that I wanted them to come into the meeting with a chart. I wanted them to identify the services they provide, who the customers of those services were, how they knew whether they were doing a good job in those services, what the barriers to doing a good job in those services were, and what their action plan was for overcoming those barriers.

 

Well, I had a variety of reactions from the office directors, as I probably mentioned. Some came in with charts and graphs, and lots of metrics, and they were happy to brag about the sorts of metrics that they had, and they could demonstrate through facts how they had been steadily improving over the years.

 

The other extreme was, one of our office directors came in with a huff and said, "I don't know why I'm doing this. I don't provide any services." And I said, "Well, that's interesting, because we're a service bureau. And if you're not providing services, I think I've found a way we can cut some costs."

 

Well, that got the director’s attention. "Ohhhhh, well, I do provide services, but I really don't have any customers." And I said, "Well, I think we're back at square one. If you're providing services for which there are no customers, we probably don't need those services. So we should cut your office." And then the director started taking it seriously. Because I was serious. If we don't need your services, we'll get rid of them. We'll use the resources some place else in the bureau."

 

Customer-Driven versus Management Imposed

We have wonderful people who work very hard and who tell the field with great fanfare, Look at this wonderful new service we're providing to you." And the field collectively replies, "We don't need it." Or "We can't use that service, because the way you're providing it doesn't meet our needs."

 

Everybody says, "That's a Washington-driven system, and it doesn't help the posts much." We need to get away from being management-imposed, in terms of services, to being customer-driven.

 

One of the things I've done over the past couple of years is reach out to the private sector -- those industries that are involved in shared services, doing similar things to what our management officers do overseas. And also reaching out to some of our municipalities in the United States. Because running an embassy or running a consulate overseas is a lot like running a city. You've got your police force, you've got your school system, you've got your housing authority, you've got your transportation department. You know, it's very much like a city.

 

So I talked to the International City Manager's Association, and asked them, "What is the best-managed city in the United States?" Do any of you know? Phoenix, Arizona is the best-managed city in the United States. And it's gotten the award three years running. And so, I took a group of us from the A Bureau to Phoenix, to find out what makes them so good. What is it about Phoenix that sets them head and shoulders above every other municipality in the United States?

 

The thing that struck me about Phoenix was that they have a leadership that fosters innovation. They give people a lot of authority, but they are also aggressively focused on what the citizens want. They do a lot of focus groups with the community, finding out not only what services the city values, but also how the community wants those services delivered.

 

We need to focus on what our customers want. What do our employees want, and how do they want those services delivered, rather than us imposing those services on folks. Some posts have done this -- created this focus by establishing what they call, "customer advocate" in their posts.

 

And what these people, generally someone in the GSO section, do is keep an eye on, and keep an ear open, to what the customers are talking about. What do they like, what don't they like?  They also help the management section in your post stay focused on what's really important, rather than drifting off into things that really add very little value to their customers.

 

Your ICASS council should be a customer focus group. They should be used as a council that will tell you what's going well at post. And are there things that you're doing that you shouldn't be doing? Are there things that you aren't doing that you should be doing? And help you set priorities at your post.

 

Manager of Doers versus Doers

In the management cone, for example, you might have someone who's a very successful GSO. And that person becomes the management counselor in a post, and still wants to be GSO -- wants to run the work order process, wants to get involved in all the things that are happening in GSO. Well, somebody else has that job. You don't need two GSOs. The job has changed, and your job now is to be management counselor.

 

You have the same thing with DCMs. You've got some DCMs, for example, that might have been a political counselor at his or her previous post, and really liked it, and was really good at it.  And this DCM still wants to be the political counselor. Well, then, who's being DCM? And so, what we need to focus on, and I'm talking to this group as managers in your organizations, is to be managers of doers, and not the doers.

 

And as long as we're trying to be the mechanics, as long as the management counselors are trying to be the GSO, as long as the DCMs are trying to be the econ counselor, or the management counselor -- then something's not getting done. Our job, I think, is motivation, training, making sure that the people in our organizations have the tools and the skills they need to be successful in their jobs.

 

We need to manage their performance, and set expectations for our staffs. Don't surprise them at the last minute. Give them clear-cut goals of where you're heading, and what you're expecting of them, and what you're expecting of their organizations. And then step back and let them do their jobs. One of the things that I've always found very frustrating is having a boss who wants to tell me how to do everything.

 

I quit the Foreign Service and for a while I worked with the Young President's Organization. The organization had been a member-run organization where members ran the organization and could hire or fire people at will. So, every day you'd come into the office and wonder whether you had a pink slip on your desk.

 

One of the things I did when I took over as the executive director was that I said I have to be the one who decides on hiring and firing. You tell me what the goals are, and it's my job to accomplish those goals. If I don't accomplish those goals, you fire me. You don't fire the people who work for me.

 

And that's the sort of thing that I think we as managers need to think about. We shouldn't be doing the jobs of the people we supervise. We should be giving them the encouragement and the vision so that they know what the targets are.

 

Long Term versus Short Term

One of the first things I did when I came to the A Bureau was to set up four major goals for the bureau. Everyone in the bureau knows what those goals are, and they know that their work needs to be contributing to those four goals, or we're going to stop doing whatever it is they’re doing.

 

People know what they need to accomplish. They know what their roles are in accomplishing that mission. That's our job, as managers in our organizations, to set that clear vision for the future. Those strategic goals. We need to be the ones who are looking over the hill. What are the opportunities that are down the pike in the next five years, the next ten years.

 

One of the things that I hear frequently is, folks say that they don't have time for things like strategic long-term planning, or innovation, or performance management. And my retort to that is, if you aren't doing it, who is? We focus on what we can accomplish in our short tour of duty, whether it's two years, three years, or four years. If it can't be accomplished during that time frame, well then, that's somebody else's problem.

 

And that's part of the problem in the State Department, because if you look at the budget cycle, we need to be thinking five years hence, and determining what we want to accomplish. If you aren't doing that, then you're always going to be behind the curve. You're always going to be stretching your resources to accomplish things that you're suddenly thinking of, rather than thinking ahead, planning.

 

We excel as an organization in fighting fires. Of course, it gets our adrenaline flowing. It pulls people together, they bond -- we eat it up. Crises can be very seductive. And like we say, we're very good at handling crises. But crises are inherently short term. How many times have you heard people say things like "Don't bother me with that. I've got a crisis now." Well, fire departments around the world have found through experience that simply fighting fires is ultimately self-defeating. There's always more combustible material than there are fire fighters.

 

So, what we need to do is focus on fire prevention rather than fighting fires in our organization. And that means stopping the fires before they start. And that's really the only effective long-term solution we have if we really want to make this organization a 21st century model for the rest of the world.

 

So what is fire prevention for management officers, and for DCMs? Part of this, like I say, is focusing on leadership. Focusing on those long-term goals. Making sure that people understand the vision of where we're heading as an organization. Making sure we use metrics to improve the system. All those things that I was talking about. I think that's our role in fire prevention.

 

Mentoring versus Individualistic

At the end of the day, our future is our people, and that's part of the long-term vision we need to have as an organization. We as an organization value the individual, and we don't necessarily value the organization. And I think we need to think about the organization more than we have in the past.

 

Some of you may have heard of the wire brushing that Deputy Secretary Armitage gave to a group of DCMs several months ago. The message was not just a message to DCMs. The message was to all of us who are leaders in our organization. What had happened was, at one of my receptions for the newly minted JO management officers, the officers had just come away from an off-site with DCMs at The Woods. What was going to be this bonding experience where you have senior people mentoring the junior people had turned into an unmitigated disaster. The JOs were telling me that they were horrified. The DCMs were very pessimistic and cynical about the future. And one DCM even said something like, "Yeah, sure, you're enthusiastic now, but we'll beat that out of you."

 

I was really disturbed by this. I thought, you know, these are leaders in our organization.  We're sending them out to our posts to lead our embassies. And are they going to infect their embassies with some sort of negativism? You know, that's how we've gotten the sort of problems we've got nowadays. So I said something to Grant Green, and I was ranting and raving with him.  And then he called Armitage, and Armitage then called in the DCMs.

 

And the message that Armitage gave to the DCMs -- and as I say, this wasn't just a message for the DCMs, is that you've now been chosen for leadership roles in the department. You've lost your ability to complain as a recreational activity. You have to be part of the solution. And if you don't feel as if you can be part of the solution, we've chosen the wrong person for the job.

 

And that's something else another JO said to me at one point. He said that he was impressed during the A-100 class, that there was a steady stream of senior people that came to talk to A-100 classes, all really impressive people. And they very eloquently stood in front of them and outlined the problems in the State Department. And then they walked away.

 

He said that coming from the private sector, he was horrified that we have a culture where it's perfectly acceptable for senior people in the Department of State to identify the problem, and not feel that they have any responsibility for fixing the problem. And that really is sad.  That's a sad commentary on the State Department.

 

And so, what we need to do as leaders -- we need to embrace what Secretary Armitage said, and that is that we have an obligation as leaders in the organization to do something about our problems. That's our role. And that's what our employees are expecting of us. And if we aren't delivering on that -- if we don't feel we're up to fixing whatever the problems are in our organization, then we need to move on. We need to let other people take our places so that they can fix the organization.

 

Recruitment

I spend a lot of time on the junior officers who are coming into the State Department.  Particularly our management folks. One of the things that I've found frustrating over the years is that we in the management cone aggressively and almost exclusively recruited political science majors to be management officers in the State Department. And we're surprised that they're not interested in management, and may not be very good at it.

 

And we've also historically pushed people into the management cone, and what happens then is, you've got people that are doing things they don't enjoy. They aren't providing the services very well. What that does is, it infects the management of the State Department. It also clouds the image of the management cone. And so what I've been pushing is that we need to specifically target people out there who are interested in foreign policy, and in foreign affairs, who also have an interest in management. I work for the State Department because I love foreign policy.  I have a degree in international relations. But what surprised me when I came in was how much I loved management. I love being a manager and running large, complex, multi-cultural organizations overseas, and working in a foreign policy environment -- I just find it exhilarating. And when I came to this job, I asked, ‘Why aren’t we aggressively recruiting MBA grads? Why aren’t we going to schools of public administration and recruiting those folks? Why aren’t we going to municipalities and hiring some of the executives from city governments in the United States? Why aren’t we raiding Fortune 500 companies?’

 

And when I first started talking about this, people thought I was crazy. They said you will never get MBA grads to come into the State Department because they are all in it for the big bucks. Well, I found out, that's not true.

 

Most people don't think about the huge and complex infrastructure that's required around the world in very diverse environments. We send Foreign Service officers to places where the Army wouldn't send people in less than battalion strength. And we've got people out there in very primitive conditions sometimes, running what have to be first world organizations. From the very first tour, we give our management cone officers tremendous responsibilities.

 

My first management job in the Foreign Service, in Moscow, I supervised about 150 people, and had a budget of half a million dollars. I was fresh off the boat. And I was running an organization like that. You compare that with the sorts of responsibilities the private sector gives their newbies and there's no comparison.

 

So, when I talk to MBA grads, suddenly the light goes on. They think "Really! We didn't realize you had those sorts of opportunities in the State Department."

 

As a matter of fact, next month I'm going to be addressing a conference in Miami for the Shared Service Organization, a group of Fortune 500 companies that comes together twice a year. They've asked me to give the keynote address. This will be the second time I've done it. When I do it, I talk about our recruitment efforts in the State Department for management folks. And what I tell them at the end is, "We're trying to recruit people just like you."

 

What's really funny is, after I finish talking, there's a queue of people afterwards who want to talk about careers in the Foreign Service. So what I'm convinced of is that we need to do a better job of marketing ourselves to those target-rich environments, where we can find people who are interested in foreign affairs, interested in foreign policy, but are also interested in management. And I'm convinced that we can recruit them.

 

As a matter of fact, in this last round of Foreign Service exams, we had more people than ever before in the history of the State Department, a greater percentage of people, who were applying for management jobs.

 

We just got a grant from the Chapman Cox Foundation to offer the opportunity for short-term details for management officers to go work for Fortune 500 companies for a couple of months. To go work in the shared services branch of Honeywell or IBM or Disney or Kraft Foods or something like that so we can see what the private sector does in terms of delivering the sorts of services we provide.

 

I would love to get some management professionals from the Department to work in Phoenix for a couple of months to see why are they the best-managed city in the United States. What makes them the best-managed city and what can we learn, as another government entity, that we could implement in the State Department?

 

And what I am hoping is that this will create a series of acolytes and disciples of change who could then come back to the Department and fuel this culture of innovation. But I also want management folks who have been overseas to be in Phoenix, talking about careers in the State Department in management. And I bet we would steal some people. Or to Honeywell. I think if you are sitting in Morristown, New Jersey and you are sitting next to somebody who is serving in Budapest, they would say, "Whoa, I could be in Morristown or I could be in Budapest."

 

We have got a tremendous opportunity to sell ourselves better. But we all need to take a personal responsibility for doing that.

 

Maximizing Role versus Minimizing Role

When I talk to the new management team folks who come into the State Department, we've got people who were Navy commanders. We've got senior vice presidents from corporations who are coming into the State Department as junior officers. We’ve got management consultants who are now new management officers at State. We've got teachers. We've got lawyers. We've got people who have a tremendous amount of experience and expertise that we can use. And we need to be making good use of their talents at our posts.

 

They are part of our management talent pool even if they’re now serving as first-tour consular officers. You need somebody for the housing board? Get one of the management cone folks in there. Got a special project? Maybe a management JO would be interested in the challenge.  We need to give them a better range of management opportunities early in their careers.

 

And then find opportunities for them to do some of our work for us. Give them a lot of extra stuff and beef up their resume and their EER. But also it helps us get our jobs done better.

 

Rich Armitage, when he was talking to the EAP chiefs of mission a couple months ago, gave them a challenge, which I will reiterate to you because I think it was an appropriate challenge for all of us. He said, "Take the responsibilities we give you and add 20 percent."

 

And that's what we all need to do. If we want to change the conversation on management, we need to have a bigger vision of what "management" encompasses in our embassies. What is GSO? What could a GSO’s responsibilities be? What are the responsibilities we give you? And then take even more responsibility. Have a big picture, a big vision of what you can be as a GSO, not what your predecessor was or what you are, but what you can be.

 

Conclusion

Gandhi once said, "We must be the change we seek in the world." And if we have a vision of where we want management to head in the Department, we need to mirror that management. We need to be that change. We need to embody the change that we want in the State Department.

 

 


 

Assistant Secretary of State for Administration William A. Eaton gave this speech at several regional conferences for Management cone Foreign Service employees in 2004.  Reproduced by GovLeaders.org with permission.

 

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