The Foreign Service Journal, June 2020

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JUNE 2020 19 SPEAKING OUT Lessons from Silicon Valley Practical Suggestions for a Modern Workplace BY ANDREW R . MOORE R eturning to the State Depart- ment in 2019 after three years in Silicon Valley brought the joy of homecoming and the pain of loss. The grass is not always greener in the private sector, but it can be—and not just because of the free artisanal kombucha. Even at Google, I found familiar, everyday technical problems and workplace chal- lenges, but the experience also intro- duced me to new cultural practices and ways of working. During my time away, the State Department made strides to improve the quality of its work environment, not least in response to the new coronavirus. How- ever, it must do more to modernize. Here are a few recommendations, developed during my stay in California’s innovation hub, aimed at improving how the department supports employees, builds a usable knowledge base, learns from feedback and eases barriers to interoperability. Empowering Our Diplomats to Carry Out Foreign Policy At the State Department, our people are our most valuable asset. Given the department estimates that it costs $400,000 a year to keep a U.S. govern- ment employee overseas, we need to make each employee as productive as possible. Just as the military seeks force multipliers to enhance the capability of each warfighter on the front lines, the State Department must ease the logistical burdens, provide more tools and deliver better training opportuni- ties to maximize the effectiveness of our diplomats. First, centralize human resources and support functions to reduce points of contact for every employee. Unfor- tunately, many State Department processes and procedures were not designed with the employee experience in mind. Most slowly evolved from past practice; and if designed at all, they were fashioned to meet bureaucratic, compliance or liability requirements. Take one look at the human resources forms, and this becomes clear. Moves to create one-stop-shop customer service centers overseas to handle human resources and adminis- trative needs should be expanded. To find the answer to a question, it can be difficult to know whether to email the HR (now Global Talent Management) Service Center, Help Desk, PayHelp or one of the many people a typical For- eign Service employee regularly inter- acts with, including local HR represen- tatives, travel technicians, assignments officers, career development officers and more. While these resources are meant to be supportive, the onus is placed on individual employees to understand and navigate the bureaucratic labyrinth, which detracts from employees’ core responsibilities overseas. The most suc- cessful employees become masters of bureaucracy rather than masters of their substantive responsibilities. State should consider mimicking companies that divide human resource responsibilities, offering employees two HR contacts: one for career develop- ment and one for everything else. Those two individuals would then manage the internal bureaucracy to find the right answer to any question for each employee. This would enable U.S. dip- lomats to focus on diplomacy instead of spending, for example, nine months and sending more than 30 emails—as I once did—to receive a $50 reimbursement. To implement this change, we should introduce more “design thinking” in government. Design thinking is an iterative method for creative problem solving that begins with empathy for the user (in this case, the diplomat) to iden- tify pain points and diagnose underly- ing problems. The department should use this human-centered approach to study the difficulties employees have navigating the fragmented talent man- agement support structure, especially through frequent overseas moves. Ser- Andrew R. Moore is a Foreign Service officer in Jerusalem. He recently completed J.D. and MBA degrees at Stanford University and worked as an Eagleburger Fellow at Google X. He previously served overseas in Melbourne and Islamabad, and in Washington, D.C., as a line officer in the Executive Secretariat and as a desk officer for Australia and the Pacific region. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State.