The Foreign Service Journal, November 2013

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | NOVEMBER 2013 47 In order to convince people within the organization that I wasn’t just “blowing smoke,” I modeled the behavior that I promoted. When I said overtime was for extraordinary situa- tions, I didn’t undercut that message by staying in the office until all hours. When I assigned tasks, I made sure they had the resources to accomplish them and let them know they could consult me if they ran into problems. I then left them alone until the project was due. None of these things can be measured, but the impact can be seen. Employees take more interest in their jobs and turn in better work when they feel trusted. Those gains can be measured. Getting Bogged Down by the Numbers Foreign Service managers often become fixated on metrics, using them to justify budget and manpower requests. Without numbers to crunch, we find ourselves hard pressed to get a hearing from those up the chain of command. The danger in this attitude is that unmeasurable factors are likely to be ignored, no matter how important they are. If absenteeism is low and the number of complaints to manage- ment is within acceptable limits, we assume that morale is high and the job is getting done. This is not necessarily so, however. An organization can have zero absenteeism and still produce shoddy work. Sugges- tion boxes can be empty because employees suffer in silence, allowing simmering resentment to negatively affect output. Turning an organization around in a situation like this is a daunting task. Since managers are conditioned to focus on the numbers, the remedies aren’t obvious. And even where there are clear solutions, they’re not the ones most Foreign Service leaders are taught to use. You can’t measure respect, but you certainly know when you’re not getting enough of it. There’s no chart to tell you what level of trust from your boss is required for you to feel like a valued employee; but if you sense that your boss doesn’t respect you or care for you as a person, it will eventually affect your performance. Similarly, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this type of dilemma. Each leader has to assess the situation and work through it, usually through a process of trial and error. Keep Numbers in Their Proper Place Measurements have their place, of course. We need to know the wait times between visa applications and issuance, or how long it takes to process travel vouchers. Financial Management Officers and General Service Officers must master the metrics of their domains. But getting the numbers right is a task, not the core mission of a diplomatic service. We are expected to husband the resources we’re given and not waste them, but saving money and conserving resources are not our mission. When we become obsessed with measur- ing output and performance, this can easily be forgotten. Remember that an American citizen who lost his passport and ran afoul of local law is not concerned with saving money. He just wants to get out of jail and on a plane home. The family depending on a consular officer to find their daughter, who hasn’t checked in for the past several months and was last seen on a boat in the Gulf of Thailand (a haven for pirates), doesn’t want to hear about resource conservation. Regardless of cone, every FSO could probably give similar examples. So the bottom line is this: Don’t waste resources, or even expend them needlessly—but do what is necessary to accom- plish the core mission. Let me offer two examples to illustrate this principle. The first shows how numbers and measurements almost got in the way of getting an essential task done, while the other explains how the imponderables are often more important than the things you can count. During my second year as ambassador to Cambodia, Phnom Penh was still a relatively unstable city, and armed invasions of residences that were unguarded or only lightly guarded was endemic. The embassy community had expe- rienced relatively few robberies because we had residential guards around the clock. This motivated the criminals to pick softer targets, sometimes including homes next door to an embassy official’s residence. Someone with green eyeshades back in Washington decided that the low level of incidents indicated that we no longer needed 24-hour security, and ordered the contract terminated. Fortunately, there was a scientific way to test our theory that we were relatively incident-free thanks to the guard ser- Mission ProgramPlans asked for plenty of numbers, but also required a lot of narrative to put that data in context.