The Foreign Service Journal, September 2021

54 SEPTEMBER 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Revitalizing the Core Precepts Granted, the “core precepts” that AFSA and department management negotiate every three years are probably not the most exciting thing to write about. But they are incredibly important: they are the main criteria promotion boards use to decide whether a Foreign Service employee is able to serve at the next level. They are not to be confused with the “proce- dural precepts,” the detailed instructions to the promotion boards on how to organize themselves and conduct their work. Procedural precepts are negotiated every year, and AFSA has just completed this process, while the core precepts are negotiated every three years. We are setting our sights on the core precepts, which AFSA will negotiate in the next few months. They will be effective for promotion boards in the 2021-2022, 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 evaluation cycles. What Our Members Say. We know from the results of an AFSA retention survey con- ducted in the winter of 2020- 2021 that employee evalua- tion reviews (EERs), the slow pace of promotions, and the process in general, are among the top drivers of discontent in the Foreign Service. The AFSA bias survey, conducted in the summer of 2020, asked respondents to list what advocacy elements AFSA should promote. The largest group recommended gender-neutral, name-free EERs. AFSA was able to bring the need to improve State’s institutional culture into negotiations on the pro- cedural precepts this year, securing agreement from the department to support the transition of the current per- formance pay box on the EER for the Senior Foreign Service to one focused on institution building, including creating culture that values diversity and inclusion. Negotiating Priorities. As AFSA begins this “core precepts” cycle, we want to reflect on how we can make themmore understandable and more clearly tied to what we know from our surveys about our members’ experi- ences with the EER, the evalu- ation process and bias in the workplace. First, AFSA believes we can make the core precepts simpler. There are currently 32 criteria divided among six overall skill sets for senior, midlevel and entry-level employees. Who among us has not tried to shoehorn their workplace accomplish- ments into this framework so that as many of these criteria as possible are addressed? Reducing the number of criteria and skill sets would likely lead to a more targeted (and probably more honest) appraisal of employee accom- plishment. Second, to deal more effectively with bullying behavior attention needs to be paid to peer and subordinate feedback. Too often those who engage in this behavior are not held to account and, as long as they are producing for their bosses, have little to worry about. AFSA understands that this is no easy task. It will require a major change not only to the EER form but to a department culture that still tolerates an environment that is too quick to turn a blind eye to bullying. Perhaps a first step would be to find a way to discuss this behavior in the core pre- cepts. Even if it’s not formally part of the EER form, perhaps another mechanism can provide this feedback. Bottom line is that it is not enough to hear from your boss and your boss’s boss. Promotion boards should also hear what your peers and subordinates have to say. Other government agencies, including the military, use this 360 approach to determine promotability and senior leadership. Third, diversity, equity and inclusion need to be emphasized even more than they are now. Currently, the core precepts have a section under “Managerial Skills” that discusses adherence to equal employment opportunity principles, fostering a diverse environment and the like, but only in a very limited, general sense. Especially for the mid- and senior ranks, perhaps these exhortations can be made more specific so that the cur- rent formulation sounds less like a throwaway line. It might make sense to move this cri- terion to the “Leadership” skill set and/or discuss it in several areas of the precepts, given its importance to the future of the department. AFSA is encouraged to learn that Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, the new chief diversity and inclusion officer at State, will participate in drafting the core precepts. We plan to coordi- nate closely with her to make certain DE&I is appropriately reflected. What Do You Think? AFSA would be grateful to hear your views about what the core precepts should look like. This is especially true as the current leadership of the department is focused on fun- damental change to make the department more diverse and family friendly. Please write us at n Diversity, equity and inclusion need to be emphasized even more than they are now. Contact: | (202) 647-8160