The Foreign Service Journal, April 2018

10 APRIL 2018 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL LETTERS Appreciation for Creative Thinking I really enjoyed Rob Kirk’s article “Applying Behavioral Eco- nomics to the State Department” in the January-February Journal . Kudos to the author for his serious and thoughtful insights into reform. Kudos to AFSA for printing the article, and to the Department of State as an organization in which creative thinking can still be appreciated. I hope management is paying attention to some of these very good ideas. I recall receiving a notice on a travel voucher that I had “overclaimed approximately 15 miles” on a 300-mile road trip. I detoured around a traffic accident, thereby saving approximately an hour of time. I could have gone back and forth with the voucher examiner, but the few dol- lars difference was definitely not worth my—or the Department of State’s—time. I don’t know what the procedure is now, but at the time, employees were being told to record actual mileage for each trip—in itself a waste of time if the department was already capturing mile- age using online mapping resources. Carol Stricker FSO, retired Arlington, Virginia Refine and Revamp Two Systems Rob Kirk’s “Applying Behavioral Economics to the State Department” (January-February) makes many valid and interesting points. Some, though, conflate disparate principles or are impractical, most notably the proposal to “dual-use” Employee Evaluation Reports for bidding and assignments. EERs and bidding are distinct and separate instruments. Employee perfor- mance reviews are designed to determine an employ- ee’s future capacity to be entrusted with greater responsibilities irrespec- tive of a next posting. We’ve gotten into bad habits by overfocusing on competencies—skills and knowledge—instead of integration and the capacity to succeed when dealing with greater complexity in people, policy and programs in both internal and external environments. Assignment decisions are different: they are designed to ascertain a good/ better/best fit among candidates bid- ding on a given position in a specific cycle, and draw from a substantially smaller competition group than promo- tion decisions do. If EERs are a time sink now, imagine what they would be like if that assess- ment information were not only subject to negotiation between rater, reviewer and employee but would also be pub- licly available to bureaus. The integrity, validity and usefulness of both instru- ments would suffer. The answer is not to have one docu- ment serve two purposes, but to refine and revamp the two distinct systems. The first step would be to adopt a state-of-the-art performance manage- ment system (now increasingly used in the private sector) that incorporates frequent rater/employee conversations, taps into multidirectional input while minimizing unnecessary narrative, and asks salient questions about projected future capacity. Such a systemwould require a new IT architecture and would, if private sector experience is a guide, considerably com- press the amount of time spent in writing the EER and in Selection Board process- ing—the latter to perhaps as little as three to four weeks—while enhancing its value. Separately, overhauling the bidding and assignment systems—in part by adopting the planned Talent Map (and eliminating multiple bidding seasons and streamlining the types, numbers and scale of differentials)—and impos- ing greater Service discipline could reduce that time sink, as well. Each system could share common elements but would be tailored to specific requirements. HR had moved forward on both initiatives, but that was superseded by the “Redesign.” So it is unclear when they can be fully funded and implemented. More broadly, any future models, behavioral or otherwise, must account for unique FS circumstances when it comes to individual needs and corpo- rate requirements and goals. The department must avoid the chi- mera of free market/controlled economy dichotomy models. Rather, it should be relentlessly focused on outcomes that cut clutter and complexity, reduce rigidities and identify, adopt, adapt and apply sim- ple, clear and direct systems and processes that strengthen institutional capacity. This requires strong leadership in the department and AFSA and collabora- tion between them; and employees and other stakeholders must be thoroughly integrated into change management. The current climate of budget pain, work- force reductions and a focus on process efficiencies suggests that those necessary structural and systemic changes are not immediately on the horizon. Yet these changes are both necessary and doable, and should be priorities for both the department and AFSA. The Ser- vice has precious little time to undertake