The Foreign Service Journal, November 2013

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | NOVEMBER 2013 45 THE TYRANNY OF NUMBERS Charles A. Ray retired from the Foreign Service in 2012 after a 30-year career that included ambassadorships to Cambodia and Zimbabwe. Ambassador Ray also served as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for prisoners of war/missing personnel affairs, deputy chief of mission in Freetown and consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, among many other assignments. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Ambassador Ray spent 20 years in the U.S. Army. He currently chairs AFSA’s Profes- sionalism and Ethics Committee, and does freelance writing and speaking. Performance metrics are an excellent management control tool. But to confine one’s attention to columns of numbers is naïve, if not downright dangerous. BY CHARL ES RAY FEATURE cians with the requisite skills to install the equipment and teach its use weren’t included in the shipment. For those too young to remember, the Wang OIS was a hardwired computer system with a central processing unit, to which desk units were connected with what seemed like miles of cable. (In some larger posts, it was miles of cable.) The disks in the CPU had to be backed up frequently, and the system was noisy and produced so much heat that it had to be kept in an air-conditioned room. While the OIS beat the old process of having to feed paper into an IBM Selectric typewriter, the units did not talk to each other. So if you wanted to share a document with a colleague, you had to print it out, or have the colleague come to your desk and read it on the green-and-black screen. There were at the time a number of things that had to be measured, such as visas issued, supply inventory, etc., but this was all done manually. So unless something badly amiss cropped up during manual counts, metrics didn’t figure too highly in our daily work. Number Crunching The Mission Program Plans I recall from those early days in the Foreign Service did ask for numbers, but they also required a lot of narrative to put them in context. After many name changes (the last one I remember was the Mission Strategic Resource Plan), numbers came to rule. In fact, the narrative was generally, in my experience at least, disregarded. P erformance metrics are the mantra of modern management. Everything has to be measured, and if it can’t be measured, it often either gets short shrift, or is com- pletely ignored. I’ve even had colleagues say with all sincerity, “If it can’t be mea- sured, it can’t be managed.” It wasn’t always this way, however. When I joined the For- eign Service in 1982, after 20 years in the U.S. Army, my obser- vation was that the Department of State wasn’t just behind in the race to effectively incorporate the newly emerging IT platforms. It wasn’t even in the race. At some point during my second year in service, State began deploying the clunky Wang Office Information System to overseas posts. Boxes of equipment, cables and inscrutable instruction manuals were shipped to places like Guangzhou, where I was a first-tour consular officer. Unfortunately, techni-