The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2014

46 JULY-AUGUST 2014 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL STATE VP VOICE | BY MATTHEW ASADA AFSA NEWS Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP. Contact: | (202) 647-8160 | @matthewasada Bidding and 360s The 2015 summer assign- ments cycle has begun, so I want to highlight efforts to improve the assignments process—in particular, the 360-degree evaluation com- ponent. Each year AFSA negotiates with the State Department the procedures governing the assignments season. AFSA’s goal is to ensure a level play- ing field and maximize the efficiency and transparency of the process for the depart- ment, the individual employee and bidders as a whole. All employees should have a fair shot at positions for which they are qualified. That is why the process of remov- ing positions from the overall pool (i.e., linked assignments) is so troubling. In addition to meeting the department’s goal of “trying to get the right person, with the right skills, in the right position,” it is important to consider the employee’s own professional development and personal concerns in the assignments process. Ideally, such a process would maximize overall employee utility, and do so in the most efficient man- ner possible. However, the decentralized decision- making system; the absence of a sophisticated matching program; and the lack of full information about employee preferences, performance and potential, all contribute to overall system inefficien- cies. Although regional bureaus will likely continue to control assignments, there is some interesting work being done on the development of a matching algorithm. Particu- larly at the entry level, where assignments are directed, such an approach could save time and prevent sub-optimal matches. Several years ago, medical schools successfully intro- duced such an algorithm into the resident-residency matching process. A Foreign Service bidding algorithm could yield similarly produc- tive results. Even if such an algorithm were to exist, however, posts and bureaus would still suffer from incomplete informa- tion about an employee’s performance and potential. Enter the 360-degree evalu- ation and several bureaus’ attempts to address this information deficiency. CBAT–Another CA Inno- vation . Last year, the Bureau of Consular Affairs piloted its Consular Bidding Assessment Tool for officers bidding on senior supervisory positions. This year it has refined the tool (CBAT 2.0) and expanded participation to all employees bidding on consular positions overseas (State 65852) . The Bureau of Human Resources built its own deputy chief of mission/ principal officer assessment tool (called DAT), modeled on the first-generation CBAT, and is piloting it this year with MC-level DCM/PO positions (State 65200) . Finally, the Bureaus of Near Eastern Affairs and South and Central Asian Affairs continue to refine their joint 360 bidder reference portal, relaunching it this year as the 360 Community Lobbying Center. The center further simplifies the process for candidates and their references for assignments in regional and functional bureaus that have opted to use the single system. While AFSA would like to see a more holistic review of the assignments process to address employee and management concerns, we are encouraged by briefings on CBAT 2.0. CA decided to scrap the traditional 360 in favor of this improved tool. The beauty of CBAT is that both management and the employee receive the sum- marized feedback from the anonymous contributors. In addition, the tool informs management’s selection pro- cess and the employee’s own professional development. AFSA sees value in this professional development tool and has worked with CA to address concerns regard- ing access, data retention and use. In our view, access to the raw data and final product must be strictly limited, disposed of within the year (not retained) and only used in the assignments process. The CBAT report should not become part of the official performance file; nor should it be used for other assess- ment purposes. DCM/PO Assessment Tool. The Bureau of Human Resources’ DCM/PO assess- ment tool is a good start. However, it lacks the CA tool’s professional development value because the employee does not receive a copy of the results. AFSA hopes that DAT 2.0 will also include an employee feedback mecha- nism and, if found success- ful, will replace rather than supplement the existing 360 reference process. 360 CLC. NEA and SCA’s effort to optimize the existing 360-degree evaluation process with a centralized reference portal is an improvement over the status quo. If you are going to request 360s, why not make them easier for all to collect? Moreover, it is exciting to see the intrabureau cooperation on this organic effort. However, it is worth asking whether the 360 evaluation process is worth doing at all. Might there be an altogether better way of improving infor- mation about an employee’s performance and potential, and providing the employee with constructive feedback? In this regard, CBAT 2.0 looks promising. We will have to see how the expanded rollout goes. I’m thinking of bidding on a consular posi- tion just to test it out. n Next month: Promoting Diversity in the Foreign Service