This is how we’ve always done it…

NoDoubleStandards, in new FS blog, Calling a Spade a Spade (Rants of a Foreign Service Officer on the things that matter to you — and matter to you not at all) has an excellent post on The Challenge of Effective Consular Management of Locally-Employed Staff. NDS writes:

“Imagine being a member of that local staff. Every three years or so, a new manager. Every two years or so, new American officers working under him/her. Different personalities, different styles, different competencies. Some are outgoing; some hide in their offices. Some are great at setting expectations; others seem to avoid feedback like the plague. Some you may like; some you can’t stand. One thing’s for certain, though: if you don’t like your current rotation of bosses, just sit tight. They’ll all be gone sooner or later, hopefully replaced by more agreeable personalities.”

NDS has some great tips for those managing local employees including my favorite:

“- Don’t dump personnel problems on your successor, just because you don’t have the cajones to deal with them yourself. There are few better ways to secure your “corridor reputation” as a spineless weenie.”

NDS talks about a pretty common phenomenon especially when dealing with senior local employees, who have been on their jobs for 20, 30 some years:

“Very territorial, irrationally married to the status quo because “that’s how we’ve always done it” and, implicit in that rejection of change, imbued with the belief that they know better than you do.”

This, of course, reminds me of one of Eduardo Galeano’s stories from “The Book of Embraces,” where he spins the story of a small bench guarded by a soldier in a courtyard of the barracks. The bench was guarded around the clock, every day, every night, and from one generation of officers to the next the order was passed on and the soldiers obeyed it. No one expressed any doubts or ever asked why. “If that’s how it was done, and that’s how it had always been done, there had to be a reason.”

Until one day, some colonel or general decided to look up the original order. After a good deal of looking around, he found it. Thirty-one years, 2 months and 4 days earlier, an officer ordered a guard to stand next to the bench that had just been painted so no one would sit on the wet paint.

I tell this story every chance I get, but most especially when the crew is enamored with the concept of “this is how we’ve always done it.”

Read NoDoubleStandard’s whole post here.